“What Is Grace?”

Categories: Doctrine: Grace


What Is Grace?

Ferrell Jenkins

It’s probably just a preacher’s story, but it conveys the right idea about grace. I heard the lamented Jack McElroy tell it when I was yet a teenager. An old Indian was asked to explain grace. He made a circle of dry straw around a bug and lit a fire. The bug moved first one way and then another, but there was no way he could escape. Then the wise old man took a stick and placed one end within the burning circle. The bug soon climbed on the stick and was lifted to safety. Said he, “That’s grace.”

Most illustrations have their weaknesses. God did not start the fire around man; man sinned in violation of the clear law of God and is responsible for his own lost condition. It is God who provides a way of escape when man is incapable of devising one for himself. The word “grace” means undeserved or unmerited favor. Grace is the opposite of merit. God’s mercy, grace, love and kindness are closely associated in providing salvation for man (Ephesians 2:1–10).

The grace of God makes possible all kinds of blessings, both physical and spiritual. In Him we live, and move, and have our very being. In this sense God blesses all, sending rain, sunshine, and fruitful seasons upon the just and the unjust. It is the spiritual blessings, however, in which we are most interested now. Perhaps no passage of Scripture more clearly demonstrates what grace is than Ephesians 1:3–14.

In Ephesians chapter one the apostle Paul shows the ways in which God has shown His grace toward man. It must be observed that Paul is writing to saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus (verse 1). The things he says are true of those who are already Christians. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (spiritual or heavenly realm) in Christ (verse 3). Notice some of the ways in which He has blessed us.

1. He chose (or elected) us in Christ before the foundation of the world (verse 4). This election took place in Christ who is God’s elect (Luke 9:35; 1 Peter 2:4). We may choose whether to be in Christ. Without God’s grace there would have been no choice.

2. He foreordained (or predestined) us (verse 5). This was not done on an individual basis, but in Christ. The saints have been foreordained unto adoption as sons of God through Christ.

3. He provided redemption (forgiveness of sins) through the blood of Christ (verse 7). Note that this was according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us.

4. He made known to us the mystery of His will (verse 9). God’s secret plan for the salvation of man, which had been hidden for ages, is now revealed to the saints.

5. He made us a heritage (verse 11). Rather than the concept that we have obtained an inheritance, the footnote (and the American Standard translation) seems to be the correct idea. God has made us His own possession. This same thought is brought out in verse 14, “the redemption of God’s own possession.” What a tremendous thought! We belong to God. Out of all that He created, only the saints will live with Him throughout eternity.

6. He sealed us with the Holy Spirit (verses 13–14). As a result of our having heard the word of His grace, and having believed it, God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. This means that He has marked us as His own. From our view-point the Holy Spirit is a pledge or earnest of the inheritance we will someday receive.

It is no wonder that Paul three times exclaims that all of this is according to the grace of God (verses 6, 7, 14). “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound.” Joseph Scriven said it for many of us in his beautiful song:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.


Originally appeared in the June, 1984 issue of Christianity Magazine.