Often, when observing or commenting upon a person who is in some dire circumstance, we may say something like, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The intent of this statement is to give God the glory for having rescued us from such a life or situation. It is an acknowledgement that mankind, when left to its own devices, tends to wind up in the gutter. Whether we overtly think of it or not, it is a reflection of the prophet’s statement, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
Those who have experienced God’s grace are understandably joyous about it, and cannot help but give thanks for it at every opportunity. We understand from the scriptures that grace is God’s favor bestowed upon us when we did nothing to deserve it. This favor is summarized by Paul in Rom. 5:8, where he said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This grace is also declared in Rom. 6:23, which says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Without God’s grace none of us would have the hope of salvation.
All who consider themselves to be Christians embrace grace as a fundamental concept in the Christian faith, but many, unconsciously perhaps, think of grace in a skewed manner. While it is true that grace is that which we do not deserve, it is not granted arbitrarily to one, while another is excluded. Neither is it given against one’s will. Such ideas come from the doctrines of John Calvin, whose teaching is summarized in the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. We do not catch grace like we catch the flu. It is offered freely to all, but it does nothing for us unless we respond in obedience to God’s will.
In 1 Cor. 15:9, 10 Paul said, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” Before his conversion to Christ, Paul was a persecutor of the church and vehemently opposed to Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, he says, he became an apostle of Christ. That grace was offered and responded to when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and told him to go into the city to be told what he must do (Acts 9:3-6). When Ananias came to him, he was told, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16). Saul immediately obeyed this command, and thus, by the grace of God, became an implement in the Lord’s service instead of an enemy of Christ.
The same thing is true for each of us, beginning with our obedience to the gospel. The grace of God is given by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, which paid the price for our sins. Until we obey the gospel, that grace is useless to us and has no effect on us. When we are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, we then receive His grace and become a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). Our response to grace is what makes the difference in our lives. We are rescued from the domain of darkness and are transferred into the kingdom of God’s dear son (Col. 1:13). As we continue to obey God’s word from that day forward, His grace abounds toward us and we can say as Paul did, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am.”