What is meant by the grace of God?

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EXPLORE
GOD’S LOVE
What
is meant by the grace of God?

When
we speak of God’s grace, we mean all the good gifts we enjoy
freely in life. There are so many. We could spend a lifetime
celebrating them: blackberries, buttercups, moonlight, salamanders,
etc. A more summary approach is to affirm that life itself is
the fundamental gift, with all its delights. For us, the gift
of life includes the wondrous gift of being human, finding ourselves
plopped down in the midst of the larger gift of creation. That
is the bedrock of grace—creation, life, human being. As humans,
we are given a unique place in the created order. The creation
stories in Genesis are ways of celebrating this original grace.
In the stories, God pronounces all creation, including humankind,
very good, that is, full of grace.

We
also use the word grace to mean the secondary gifts we perceive
in the skill and intelligence of creatures. The gospel says the
boy Jesus grew in grace and favor, meaning he began to exhibit
his unique personality and potential to contribute to his community.
We speak of the beauty of a lion or a dancer, saying they exude
an animal grace, discerned in the vitality and fluidity of their
movement. When we use the word graceful to describe a creature,
it’s because the creature is being expressive of its God-given
self.

There
is another way of speaking about grace that is more about redemption
than about creation. Whereas God pronounced original grace, the
other side of the story is when we head off on our own, ignoring
the Giver. This headstrong straying we have called original
sin
, meaning our freedom to choose the not so good, to turn
aside from original grace. Ironically, this freedom is itself
the most unique grace given humankind by God, the capacity to
choose our own way, which must necessarily entail the possibility
of choosing poorly. Because we have not
always chosen the most graceful path, we have ended up in some
miserable, blind alleys along the way. When we grasp our
predicament and call for the help we had previously spurned,
amazing grace comes to the rescue.

As
in the beloved old hymn, the amazing kind of grace is God’s
gift of redemption, the grace which prompts us to repent,
causing us to think again when we find ourselves in a bad
way, and which prompts us to return, putting us back on a
more godly path. This
turning and returning we call conversion. As another simple
hymn says, conversion is turning, turning, til we come round
right. When we forget grace and our need of it, amazing grace
prompts our memory and then upholds our will, our intention
to right our lives, to make amends. The process of continual
conversion is the grace most associated with the Holy Spirit.
It is also called sanctifying grace. The action of this kind
of grace is summarized as repentance, confession, and amendment
of life. We rely on grace to make us whole, personally and
communally, over time.

Redemptive
grace is focused most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection
of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians call Christ, meaning the
one chosen to deliver this particular grace. We might refer to
Jesus as Grace himself, as Grace in the flesh, as Grace walking
around. The grace of Christ can inspire us in such a transformative
way as to change our awareness of ourselves, of our potential
as human beings and as humankind, and our awareness of God’s
gracious purpose for us and through us for all creation. It is
this changed awareness which recognizes a still more specialized
form of grace—the grace made available to all who choose to
serve God’s hope for all in Christ. This is the grace which makes
us disciples and is available as spiritual power for goodness’
sake. Jesus exhibited this kind of power and challenged us to
do the same.

The
spiritual power demonstrated by Jesus, and the saints who have
sought to imitate his cooperation with God, is the energy which
continues to heal the world, to bring it into more and more wholeness.
This specialized grace is available to any who want to offer
themselves in gratitude, to enlist in God’s vision for humankind
and to discover our proper place in creation as we serve. This
is the grace that makes us into earth stewards for Christ’s sake.
This grace is the assistance given us when we choose to become
the people that God means us to be, giving ourselves over to
whatever goodness we are meant to create, to redeem, to sustain.
This kind of grace comes with the breathtaking awareness that
we are participating in the very life of God, and it’s awesome
good!

The
Rev. Dr. Katherine M. Lehman

I will come at this question in two ways: first, “grace” as it is
defined in the Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan
Richardson, and second, as I personally understand it and am blessed by it.

In
the Word Book article written by N.H. Snaith, it is stated that
there is a sharp distinction between the use of the word grace
in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it can be
used to designate kindness and graciousness in general, with
no particular tie or personal relationship between the individuals
involved, and generally shown by a superior to an inferior when
there is no obligation to do so. It is also used in the OT, however,
to signify a specific kindness that gives pleasure to both giver
and receiver, thereby implying some sort of special relationship
between them. On the other hand, in the New Testament, grace
indicates quite specifically God’s redemptive love, which is
always active to save the people and to keep them in relationship
with God. In this way, it implies God’s continual, unfailing
faithfulness both to his covenant and to his people forever.

Yet
how do we understand, how do we experience grace today? I often
think of it in terms of a statement I once heard: “You are
accepted.” You and I are accepted, fully and totally accepted
by God, now, always, without condition, without deserving, without
question. To be accepted in this way means to be cherished, to
be loved, to be guarded from ultimate evil. It means that who
we basically are is valued, honored and respected. It means that
we don’t have to earn or deserve such care; it is simply there
for us, ours as a gift outright. The grace of God is given to
us at God’s initiative. It is an expression of God’s love for
us, of God’s desire, of God’s unconditional acceptance, an expression
of the very nature of God’s being.

The
author Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking,
puts it this way: “The grace of God
means something like: Here is your life. You might never
have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been
complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible
things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing
can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe.
I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift,
the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and
take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift
too.”

–The
Rev. Margaret Gunness

Grace
is basically a gift. It does not come as
a result of something a person did or in recognition of an
accomplishment or milestone. So, unlike a birthday or Christmas
gift that one receives in recognition of an event, grace
is given to us by God for no reason. All of us are recipients
of the grace of God regardless of how “good” or “bad” we
are.

–Emily

When
I think of the grace of God, I think of steadfast love, compassion,
mercy—a kind of unconditional
acceptance that is unlike human love. To me,
Psalm 103 describes the way in which God reaches out to us with
this forgiving, all-encompassing love. The other powerful illustration
of “grace” is the way Jesus treated persons– accepting
those who were considered outcasts by eating with them, healing
them, listening and talking with them.

–Susanne

Grace
is the unconditional love of God for us, exactly as we are, apart
from our own efforts. This is the accepted definition of “grace,” with
the ending phrase reassuring us that we have no worries about
our present state of sinfulness.

Still,
my soul tells me there is a caveat.

We
must accept this grace in a special way known to God and us as
partners. (Once you start talking to God as You, this becomes
easier and easier.) This acceptance must include, “How can
I thank You?” For above all, we must return His love. Then
listen and wait.

You
will hear, “Love your neighbor.”

Do
it.

–Margie

Grace
is God’s protection of his children–his umbrella. We can be
aware of it or not.

–Jim

The grace of God is evident all around us. One Sunday one of our priests was
asked to lead services for about 100 homeless men and women. The priest
started to recite the 23rd Psalm, and after a pause of just a second, every
man and woman joined in the recitation. These people know well the valley
of the shadow of death. I heard the grace of God that day.

–Christine

Grace is the difference between Man and God. God has the ability to “forgive
and forget.” Man, on the other hand, has the ability to forgive, but not
forget. Another difference is that God always forgives, while not all of us
are capable of forgiveness.

–Crady

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