If you would have asked me when I was a Christian teenager two decades ago about God's grace, I could have easily explained it. I might have told you about the acronym "God's Riches at Christ's Expense," or maybe I would've explained the idea of "unmerited favor." I may have outlined some of the theological squabbles about grace and salvation among various Christian traditions. And I definitely would have quoted Ephesians 2:8–9 to make sure you understood that it's free.
But now, decades later with some life under my belt, I've learned grace is bigger, deeper, and more expansive than a simplified acronym or a theological transaction. Grace is much more and does much more than I was able to understand in my youth. And I'm certain that decades into the future—when I've walked through more joys and heartaches and hopes and fears—my experience of grace will be even richer.
Understanding the God of grace
In Scripture, "grace" draws together several key biblical concepts. In the Old Testament, it's the "favor" God shows (hen in Hebrew); it's being merciful and compassionate (hanan); it's steadfast love (hesed). In the New Testament, the Greek word charis builds upon these concepts to communicate the favor of God understood, particularly, through the lens of the forgiveness and redemption we find in Jesus' death and resurrection.
But understanding grace is about more than dissecting biblical terms; it's an understanding we gain as we grow in intimacy with our God of grace. When God revealed himself to Moses, God described himself this way: "Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin" (Exodus 34:6–7). God is just, righteous, and holy—but grace is also central to his character. It's in God's DNA—at the very core of God's being. And as we journey through life with this God of compassion, mercy, unfailing love, and forgiveness, we experience his grace . . . and it changes us.
1. Grace forgives us.
In one of Scripture's most shocking stories, God paints a picture of just how big his grace is. During the eighth century b.c. when God's people were embracing a culture of idolatry, corruption, and injustice, God chose Hosea to be his prophet and speak truth to his people. But God asked Hosea to go way beyond mere words. He called Hosea to also tell the story of grace with his life: God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.