Grace is the single attribute that distinguishes the Triune God of Christianity from all other gods. No other religion is based on grace. No other religion claims a God who is known by His grace. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17, NIV).
What is grace anyway? How would you define it? The most common grace is defined is God’s unearned favor. Grace is giving blessing when what is deserved is cursing. You might well define grace as getting what you don’t deserve.
God’s Grace is distinct from His mercy in that the focus of mercy is in not treating someone harshly when they deserve it. The popular Christian band, Newsboys, sing a song called Real Good Thing. The chorus goes like this:
When we don’t get what we deserve That’s a real good thing. When we get what we don’t deserve That’s a real good thing.
The first line is talking about mercy—not getting what we deserve which is punishment for all our sins. The second line is talking about grace—getting what we don’t deserve which is salvation and all the blessings that come with it.
Mercy and grace are very closely related to each other. They are often mentioned together. It is very difficult to separate them from each other. Both are undeserved. Both are unearned. Both are expressions of God’s goodness and love towards us. The difference is in the focus. The focus of mercy is relieving from trouble or pain—regardless of whether or not that pain or trouble is deserved. The focus of grace is granting undeserved kindness when from the point of view of justice none is deserved. Mercy removes a negative. Grace gives a positive.
God’s forgiveness is an expression of His grace. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7, NIV). “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved [forgiven], just as they are.” (Acts 15:11, NIV), “God saved [forgave] you by his special favor [grace] when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God,” (Ephesians 2:8). Forgiveness is grace in action. When you flex the muscle of grace what is produced is forgiveness.
By its very definition God’s grace is never deserved. You cannot earn grace. Earned grace is a contradiction in terms. That’s tantamount to saying a bachelor is a married man. Grace is always a free gift. It can only be accepted.