Summary: Grace is a terribly misunderstood word and defining it sufficiently is notoriously difficult. E. Stanley Jones once said: “Grace is free, but when once you take it you are bound forever to the Giver.”
Ephesians 2:4 – 9
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Grace is a terribly misunderstood word and defining it sufficiently is notoriously difficult. Some of the most detailed theology textbooks do not offer any concise definition of the term. Someone has proposed an acronym: GRACE is G od’s R iches A t C hrist’s E xpense. That’s not a bad way to characterize grace, but it is not a sufficient theological definition. One of the best-known definitions of grace is only three words: God’s unmerited favor.
A. W. Tozer expanded on that idea by saying, “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits on the undeserving.” Berkhof is more to the point when he says’ grace is “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit”.
The key word in what these great minds have said is this, “unmerited” – grace, my dear friends, is completely undeserved and therefore it leads to the conclusion that grace is in essence a free gift given to us by God through Christ.
I would like you to imagine for a moment that we’re standing at the gate of Nain, through which a casket is being carried with the corpse of a young man, the only son of his mother, and she a widow. A great crowd follows in observance of the Jewish precept of “attending the dead unto the grave.” Heads are bowed and faces manifest the deepest sorrow for the bereaved. Bitterly the mother weeps as she walks behind the casket, for he, her only son, had been her only support.
Then suddenly the mourners are interrupted by a man who hurries forward, “here let me deal with the dead, I can bring him back to life.” Instantly the procession halts and with mystified faces gaze upon the speaker as he elbows his way through the crowd.
“All this man needs is education,” explains the man while boldly approaching the casket. And from his books of science and philosophy he attempts to teach the young man in the coffin. But in vain he watches for the flush of life to return; there is no response. Education has failed.
Another man approaches the scene, confidently proclaiming that he can bring the young man back to life, and so he begins, “Now young man, make up your mind that you are going to live. Exert your will, and choose to live – the choice is yours. You can get up if you only will”. But there is no response as the previously confident man looks upon the lifeless face of the young man. Free choice and will-power has failed.
Then another man came toward the crowd, calmly and with a sense of peace about him. For a few moments no one moves. Then the man speaks, “My friends, do you not know that what this man needs is religion? Through the knowledge of the Torah he will be revived”. And he sat down by the coffin’s side.
Taking a scroll from under his arm he declares, “Now I will reveal to the young man the precepts of the law, for if he will keep them faithfully he will live again”. “But” inquires one of the bystanders, “how can a corpse observe the laws since he cannot even hear your words? Until he is first alive, all the Jewish precepts will avail nothing”.
Sorrowfully the rabbi walks away, religion has failed.
Then from the crowd steps the figure of One who walks with perfect confidence and composure to a scene of certain failure. A sudden hush falls on the expectant throng as he stands for a moment beside the coffin.
Then He speaks, his voice calm but authoritative. “Young man, I say unto thee, arise!”
Eagerly the people draw close. Who is this? What power is there behind his simple words? What manner of man is this? But then their questions are suddenly answered.
The eyelids quiver, the flush returns to the cheek; the heart throbs once more, and the young man rises to his feet.
What had happened? Jesus imparted life. The man was dead and it was life that he needed. This is the one great essential. Education will not do; nor will free choice or human rights; not even religion, however sincere it may be, will ever make the grade. None of the things we regard as being of value is equal to the task of restoring life.