It’s hard for us to connect with Biblical grace, because it’s so counter-cultural. The word itself doesn’t help – we associate it with giving thanks for a meal which we probably feel we have every right to attend. However, the ‘grace and favour’ apartments around royal palaces might be nearer to the mark; given to those who are not performing a service, but who know the king or queen. We receive grace, but only recognise it for what it is through knowing the King of kings.
For the most part our lives are about what Adam experienced when he fell from grace – a lot of hard work to meet his needs. What was handed down was a system based on merit, so we collect exam results and CV experience and earn our way through life.
Grace is starts with knowing that God is not a hard and exacting judge, but good and generously disposed.
• For extra study of this point, read Psalms 25:7, 96:5. 119:68, Matthew 7:11.
In example after example in the Bible God is seen to give us what we have not qualified for, especially when we go wrong, in a way that prompts us to ask “What is the catch?”
Instead of a catch, there is a choice – to know God in a very personal relationship through recognising our need to be forgiven for our independent and selfish lives, which we do, not by any human effort but rather by believing and trusting what His Son Jesus did for us. It is not a light choice, to surrender our sense of lordship to another, but it is a freewill decision – a response to God’s grace, not a condition of it.
As the Bible becomes more familiar, you might think that grace is something talked about in the New Testament whereas the Old Testament was about law. For example, John introduces his gospel account by drawing a contrast: that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, John 1:17. In instructing believers in Rome he teaches that they are no longer “under law, but under grace”, Romans 6:14.
But there’s plenty of grace to be seen in the OT and law creeps into the earl;y church. The letters, especially Galatians, record the battle with legalism and the apparent attraction of a legalistic framework we can understand and easily replicate, which is how faith in God through Jesus degrades into just another religion.
The doctrine of grace originated in the Old Testament, or the time of the old covenant, long before Paul taught its importance to believers who were experiencing the New Covenant. Abraham is a good example. There is no hint in Scripture that God chose Abraham on the basis of his merit or his good works — quite the opposite. The Bible teaches us plainly that Abraham “believed the Lord, and He counted it to Him as righteousness,” Genesis 15:6. Paul uses this as a central part of his teaching that justification, being in right standing with God, is bestowed on us by God’s grace in response to our taking Him at His word, Romans 4:2-5 and 16.
There are some individuals who we know because they were used and honoured by God, despite their flawed character – Rahab, the Canaanite woman described as a prostitute who was rescued by God’s grace, and King David who had an affair with an officer’s wife and got him killed in battle to cover it up. Jonah was called as a prophet and preacher to go to a city notorious in the Bible world for its atrocities, Nineveh, and he flunked it and ran off in the opposite direction – partly because he suspected that God would have mercy on them if they listened to his message, and that didn’t fit with his sense of justice. When God got him back there, he spoke out what he had been given, the shortest and most direct sermon ever recorded, and the city repented and avoided the destruction that was going to happen otherwise. God grace was in empowering disobedient Jonah, in the response of the people – and not least, their deliverance. The description of God as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster,” from Exodus 34:6-7, is quoted numerous times in the Old Testament as well as in Jonah 4:2.
That’s where the grace of God that brought Jesus to our world, took Him, shamed and bloodied, to a horrific death on the Cross and thereby brought us new life in Him and eternal life to come, is the same grace that has always been the hallmark of God’s character of showing unconditional love. His grace finds us, chooses and us and leads us to turn to Him in submission as we recognise our need for a new spiritual birth, unearned, undeserved –and also unrestricted.