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Amazing What? 6 Questions about Grace Answered

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Gospel, Grace, Sanctification, Sermons

Amazing Grace has to be one of the most familiar Christian hymns of all time. I haven't done any studies on it, but it seems to find it's way into all kinds of Christian and secular movies. If you start the song on a Sunday, everyone present will sing along, not just those who grew up in your church. It is a vivid reminder that something is "amazing" and worth singing about, namely, "grace." But what exactly is "grace"? Let's define it and then look to the New Testament to answer six important questions about it.

And by the way, something to consider is to read the top portion as a family. Then you could ask one of the questions below and have your children use the texts given to answer them. It might be a little advanced for some of our children, but not all of them.


Defining "grace" is not easy, because the term is used in different ways in the New Testament. Broadly it has to do with God's generosity in giving to us out of his abundance. In one sense, then, grace is whatever God gives to us that is freely given and an overflow of his goodness. That's why we can speak of things like "common grace," which are things like rain, sunshine, technology, advances in medicine--all of which are good gifts from God given to both the believer and the unbeliever.

We can also speak of "means of grace," which are things that we do as Christians or experience as Christians that God uses to accomplish his good purposes in our lives. Bible reading, prayer, attendance at corporate worship on Sundays, Christian fellowship, and other such activities are ways that God's grace comes into our lives and so we call them "means of grace."

In a recent sermon I said that grace is "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." The definition is easy to remember with each word based off a letter of the word "grace." The good side of this definition is that it highlights the uniqueness of saving grace or that grace given specially to Christians. This includes the gifts of salvation, faith, spiritual gifts, and the ongoing grace to run the race given to us. All of these are gifts from God and so they are part of what his grace is. They are also given because of the sacrifice of Christ ("at Christ's expense").

John Piper preached on the subject in 1994 (before most of you were born, I know) and he said this:

Grace is something that comes from God. What makes grace grace is that it starts "from God," freely, without being merited or earned. So the little phrase "from God" is rich with meaning. Grace is the overflow of God's total self-sufficiency. He has no deficiencies that we could remedy by our works, and so he cannot negotiate with us for some good we could offer....Grace is the overflow of God's free goodness and power and wisdom. Saying that God is a God of grace is a way of saying that God is God—that he is the infinite, all-sufficient, self-existent, complete source and sustainer and owner of all being and all value and all worth in the universe. When goodness comes from him, it comes freely. It can come no other way. Therefore all his goodness is grace.

These are helpful words and point us to the sheer free generosity in God that makes grace grace. This helps us see that grace is the very opposite of a reward or a wage or anything else that is earned and therefore merited. For grace to be grace it must be a gift. Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology captures a similar idea when he says, "Grace is the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to it."

In other words, grace is not just God's freely given goodness toward us as Piper says, but it's given to those who deserve unending wrath and suffering. That's what makes it "amazing grace." Jerry Bridges' book The Discipline of Grace brings a lot of the above ideas together:

Focusing on our performance, we forget the meaning of grace: God's unmerited favor to those who deserve only His wrath. Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they have earned God's blessing through their behavior. Guilt-laden believers are quite sure they have forfeited God's blessing through their lack of discipline or their disobedience. Both have forgotten the meaning of grace because they have moved away from the gospel and have slipped into a performance relationship with God.

That phrase of Bridges is an important one, "to those who deserve only His wrath." Not only is grace called grace because it is given freely by God, but it is called grace because we deserve exactly its opposite. We don't deserve to receive according to his abundant goodness. No, far from it. Instead we deserve unending wrath and judgment and a complete absence of all that is good. That's why Phariseeism is so wrong: We could never earn his blessings through our behavior. And it's why a guilt-racked conscience is so sad: We never were good enough to receive his blessings, so why despair when we realize again that we aren't?

As we think through some questions about the grace of God, let's keep three ideas together. The grace of God is (1) God giving to us freely out of his own abundance, (2) it is given to sinners who deserve nothing but enending wrath, and (3) it is given most fully and perfectly because of Christ's sacrifice and includes the gift of Christ himself.


When did his unrivalled goodness begin to function in your life? Was it when you became a Christian? Was it when you began to have your quiet-times? Was it the first time you heard about Jesus? The Bible says, no. God's grace in your life began "before the foundation of the world":

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:3-6)


We sometimes think that we began to change and soften toward the Lord and then he responded with his grace. Nope. Listen to Paul in Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-- by grace you have been saved-- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:1-7)

When grace invaded your life you were "dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked." You were a child of wrath, "like the rest of mankind." You had nothing going for you in any way spiritually. But in just that state of being God made you alive in Christ, and you responded to his grace. From first to last and everywhere in between, your Christian life is a work of his grace.


As Christians we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that God's grace saves us, but after that, it's up to us. We start with grace, but after that it's about our holiness and obedience and good works. That's a recipe for despair, failure, and worse. Grace is always, always, always the foundation of our lives:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

Most of Paul's words in these verses speak to our Christian life, not our pre-Christian life. Yes, grace brought "salvation for all people." But then it kept right on working in our lives to make us holy, to enable us to wait for Christ's return, to be "zealous for good works." Grace is a 24-7 kind of thing, not just a ticket into the show. We need grace like we need oxygen--all the time in all situations. Which leads to...


This free goodness of God came to us before the foundation of the world, brought us from death in sins to life in Christ, and continues to work to make us holy. But there's another side to God's grace. It is also a word that captures his ongoing help in our times of need. So, when should we ask for more grace? Whenever we're in a place of need:

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)


We said that grace means God's goodness is freely given. Likewise, to us it is freely received. And sometimes we even say that "God's grace is totally free." That's true, but it's also not the whole story. The fact is, the highest price ever paid for anything in human history was paid so that grace could come freely to us:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:23-26)

The price for grace coming to us was nothing less than the death of the Son of God. Christ, who existed eternally in glory in perfect fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, set that all aside to come to earth and live among us. He took on the frailties and limitations of humanity. He eventually faced the brutal death of a Roman scourging and crucifixion--just as any despised criminal of the day. His blood was shed, and his body was broken. That is the awesome price paid so that grace could come to us. Yes, indeed, it is "amazing grace."


Some gifts I receive by reaching out my hands and picking up the box and unwrapping them. Then I treat that gift as if it actually belongs to me. God's grace is a gift, but I receive it differently. I trust in Christ. By that act of faith I receive his grace for salvation, but faith is also how I continually receive grace.

John 1:16 says that "from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." Receiving Christ I receive "grace upon grace," and I receive Christ through faith. Places like John 6:35 make that clear:

 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Believing and receiving abundant life are brought together in this verse. This is similar to the idea of "abiding" in Christ that appears in John 15:4, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me" (cf. John 6:56). 

When I live life actively trusting in Christ I am connected to an unending source of grace. He gives "grace upon grace" out of the overflow of his fullness. He is the bread of life that never fails to satisfy. He is the vine that provides for branches like you and me an unending source of life and strength and spiritual vitality.

So just as I receive salvation by grace through faith, so do I receive ongoing sanctifying and sustaining grace through faith.

The verses above also remind me that the ultimate grace I receive is not separate from God, it is God. God himself in Jesus Christ is the ultimate grace you and I can receive. John 3:16 taps into this idea as well as it speaks of Jesus as the gift given: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

"Grace upon grace" (1:16) comes to us in Christ because we are given Christ himself through the gospel, and that means we live connected to an everlasting supply of abundance. For this reason, actively relying on and trusting and depending on Jesus Christ is how we continually receive grace.


It is critical for our spiritual health to preserve a sense that grace is amazing and it is ours in Christ. We don't want to be a Pharisee-type who ignores grace or a guilt-laden type who forgets that we have it. Jerry Bridges helps us to do this in one of the most memorable portions of The Discipline of Grace:

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace.

So whether you're in the middle of your worst day or your best day or one of the many days in between, remember God's grace.

And finally, what better way to close than how the apostle Paul closes all thirteen of his letters to the churches:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1 Thess. 5:28)

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