The Definition of Grace
By Jodi Hiser
The popular hymns describe grace as a “wonder”, “greater than all my sin”, and “deeper than the mighty rolling sea”.
But really, what is so amazing about grace?
The current Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grace as ‘a virtue from God; an assistance given by God to humans for their regeneration or sanctification’.
Assistance. How could grace be such a source of hope if it merely refers to assistance?
If we take a trip back in time and look inside Webster’s 1828 dictionary, grace is defined as ‘the free and unmerited favor of God; the spring and source of all the benefits that mankind receives from Him’.
This concept of grace reveals more than simple virtue, and more than mere assistance towards regeneration. This idea of grace is so much more.
Grace is total and complete. It doesn’t work on halvsies. It is the full kit-and-caboodle. Grace is the spring and the source of all our benefits. There’s nothing left to give when grace has arrived. It is already given—fully, completely.
So why does this distinction matter?
When we think of grace as mere assistance, we buy into the false idea that our work delivers us. We work hard, and grace makes up the rest. This false belief presses us to be more, do more, try harder, work longer, be smarter, look prettier, and perform better. We think that we have to make up the difference.
But grace covers all our differences and beyond. It leaves no room for human effort.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).
Why is it so hard for us to recognize that God has freely given us all we need? Why do we run ourselves ragged with trying to be someone that we weren’t created to be? Why do we refuse to be open and honest with our Creator and recognize that we don’t have it all together, and that we desperately need Him?
We secretly carry the pride that Eve exhibited in the garden. She didn’t just want a relationship with God. She wanted to be God, and her pride has been grafted into every sinful generation after her.
When it boils down to the root of it all, we cannot accept God’s gift of grace because we would like to be the Giver rather than the one to whom it has been given.
…not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:9).
God knows the tendencies of the human heart and makes a way for us to shed our sinful pride. When we receive His grace, we step aside and recognize that He is God and we are not. We acknowledge that we can’t accomplish anything that can make His grace more applicable. It is simply there in all its completeness, for us to enjoy. And when we receive it, He gets the glory. But why does He offer this?
The answer is His love.
For you are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10a).
God’s love is so vast and weighty, so high and deep, so long and wide that we cannot even fathom it. And out of the vastness of that love comes His grace for humankind through His Son, Jesus Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not mere assistance. He is the source and spring of every benefit we receive. He is the grace we need.
Let us be the ones who sing:
“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling; Naked, come to thee for dress; Helpless, look to thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior or I die!