Choosing a name for this blog was difficult, despite my certainty about its focus on grace. Simply scads of blogs and books and ministries exist that use grace in their names, I discovered. As I meditated on Acts 11:23-24, remembering how God has repeatedly used these verses like a compass to reorient me to my purpose and passion, I sought a concise phrase that encapsulates Barnabas’s aim then and mine now. I typed out and discarded quite a few before On the Trail of Grace emerged.
When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Acts 11:23-24
The phrase on the trail evokes the ideas of seeking, following, hunting, and detecting. All of these words imply to me an intentional search, careful examination of what is found, and purposeful action as a result of what is seen or learned. That is, in fact, how I want to engage with God’s grace in my daily life.
I have no desire to merely observe grace and remain unmoved, if such a thing were possible. When we see God’s grace for what it truly is, we cannot help but be changed by it; and as we are, we become agents of life-changing grace in other people’s lives, just as Barnabas was in Antioch. By God’s design, that’s how his grace works.
So, how do we begin? If we are on the trail of God’s grace, looking for it wherever it may be found, I believe we must first know something about it. If we can’t define it or describe it in at least a rudimentary way, how will we know it when we see it? How would you define God’s grace?
When I was growing up in church, the classic Sunday School answer to that question was, “Grace is God’s unmerited favor.” Also acceptable was this reply: “Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve.” While grammatically on shaky ground, the second answer is easily understood and just as theologically sound as the first. (Its requisite corollary, of course, is, “Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve.”)
Understood this way, grace is an act of God for the benefit of his creation that is all the more wonderful and valuable because we, the objects of that action, are utterly unworthy of it. In fact, it’s only grace because we don’t deserve it. If we earned any action from God toward us, that action could not be called grace. It would be wages. Understanding grace begins with acknowledging that God alone is good. We are not (Rom. 3:23).
This inevitably brings to mind what the Bible says we have earned from God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Our sin has earned judgment and spiritual death from a perfectly just, holy God.
Yet, out of his perfect goodness and love, he mercifully offers an alternative, a gift of grace—forgiveness of sin, salvation and regeneration, relationship with him, and abundant, eternal life. There is no more outrageously extravagant gift than God’s saving grace to sinners. And that’s only the beginning!
In the New Testament, the Greek word for grace is charis. My favorite summary of the term’s various nuances is this one listed on Blue Letter Bible: “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”
Future posts will examine the second half of this description, but as we begin on the trail of God’s grace together, be assured of this: If you have accepted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, then “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Grace is an undeserved act of love from the God who is love (1 John 4:8-10). When we humbly receive it in faith, confessing and repenting of our sin, receiving and believing on Christ, we begin a new life of “grace upon grace” (John 1:16, Amplified). Charles H. Spurgeon, one of history’s greatest preachers, gave this call to everyone in need of saving grace 140 years ago on January 2, 1876:
Even so the proud, self-righteous Pharisee cannot receive; but you poor, good-for-nothing, empty sinners can receive; and here is the mercy—”to as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed on his name” [John 1:12]. Open that empty hand, open that empty heart: God grant they may be opened now by his own divine Spirit, and may you receive, and then I know you will join with us in saying, “Of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” [John 1:16, King James Version].
Grace, as we increasingly comprehend it through a life of faith, only becomes more overwhelming to our hearts, never less. As we observe its effects, grace becomes ever more dazzling to our eyes, never less. It becomes more compelling to us to seek, enjoy, and share. Never less.
I hope you’ll join me again on the trail of grace. There is always more.
For more on how to have a relationship with God, please visit Steps to Peace with God.