The grace of God. That is a phrase we often use but its meaning is not always clear. The purpose of this post is to offer some insight to what is the grace of God?
When we say, “Eve is a graceful dancer” we saying she is pleasing to watch. Grace has also become synonymous with words such as elegant and can also be used in describing how people act, such as in “Adam lacks social graces.”
We also talk about a grace period when referring to additional time we are given to accomplish something such as turning in a form or making a credit card payment. This phrase came about because those who had the deadline extended were thankful.
When hearing about the misfortune of another, my mother-in-law would often say, “Oh, by the grace of God go I.” I thought she was saying, “Thank God I am not in that mess!” but she was offering a prayer of thanksgiving. She was acknowledging that God is in full control and only by a free, unmerited gift given to her, she could be in the same misfortune as the other person.
When we use grace in Church-speak, we are talking about a wonderful gift from God for which we did not merit (do anything to earn). The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines grace in article 1996,
Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.
Grace of a Sacrament
The standard definition of a sacrament is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” The 7 sacraments are outward signs (something is publicly done to show the sacrament is occurring) that were either directly or indirectly instituted by Jesus to help us experience His graces.
Some of our Protestant brothers and sister confuse this definition concluding that the sacraments are the ends by which we receive the grace. Not true; they are the sensual means by which we are able mark the point when we received His graces.
At Baptism, we do not become freed from the original stain of sin based on the water’s ability to clean our soul. The signs, symbols, and sayings (the sensual means) help us convey what is occurring during the Baptismal rite. The grace comes not at the hands of the one baptising but from God. No human can give God’s grace.
There are graces in each sacrament that take us more than a lifetime to take advantage of, which is why it is important for us stay close to the sacramental life offered by the Holy Spirit through the Church.
We Cannot Earn The Grace of God
The price of our salvation (eternal life in Heaven) was fully paid by Jesus by His life, death, and resurrection. That is basic Christianity theology that has been taught since Pentecost.
When a Protestant asks if you have been saved, they are asking if you has accepted the grace of salvation Jesus earned for you? If you have been baptized, you have been saved – yes, even as a baby.
Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as [children] of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” CCC 1213
Leading up to the Reformation in 1517, some were practicing a hearsay that the grace of salvation had to be earned, and the best way to do that was to pay off clergy. Martin Luther fought extensively against this and attempt to change the Bible to ensure the reformed church — what we call today Protestantism — would never be able to fall into this hearsay. Which is more noble: fighting a hearsay or rewriting the Bible to conform it to your viewpoint?
The Church responded to the Reformation with the Council of Trent. At that council, the practice of paying off clergy for salvation was condemned and the right teaching about the grace of salvation was re-affirmed.
Over the last 100 years, mainline Protestants and the Romans Catholics have acknowledged that we share a common understanding of the grace of salvation; however, some fringe groups still claim Catholics believe Heaven must be earned.
We cannot earn salvation but since it is a gift, we can reject His graces. Philippians 2:12 says:
So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
While Jesus purchased our access to Heaven by paying a price we could not pay, we must make the choice to walk the path to Heaven. Accepting the God’s grace requires effort on our part. Matthew 25:31-46 teaches that our willingness to accept God’s grace requires action on our part. This is what Saint Paul was talking about in working out our salvation.
The Grace of God
This image of the cross as a bridge hung in the Lutheran church I grew up in during the ’70s. 40 years later, it still is a power image for me in understanding grace. While backwards from the story in Matthew 25:31-46, the image shows the the path sheep take to Heaven via the cross and goats take the path to perdition.
As Jesus foretold, there are far fewer sheep than goats.
The grace of God are freely given in excess to us out of His love for us and not because we have earned them. Because we cannot earn His grace, God is under no obligation to give them. Goats will complain God is not fair and He owes us an easy life. Nope, not true.
By His grace, we have the promise an abundant life. Our response is to conform ourselves to the image of Jesus.