Grace is the broad term for all that God does to save us. Grace is not a commodity; the word means gift. Giving grace means giving gifts. It implies some cost on the giver’s part and is always good for the receiver. Each part of salvation is a grace, a gift. Love is a gift, forgiveness is a gift, Christ’s imparted righteousness is a gift, and so forth.
However, grace is such a broad and rich concept, it is easily overused. In defining grace, we should know what grace is not.
Grace is not lenience. Lenience is the withholding of a justly deserved punishment. Lenience implies going easy on offenders, like pardoning a thief or condoning cruelty in a child. Unlike mercy, lenience is wrong.
We might think that choosing not to correct an errant child, student, or church member is grace. It may be right or wrong to punish; neither is grace per se. Tolerance can be wrong; it can give the wrong idea of God and His love. God is always merciful, never lenient.
Grace is not kindness. Kindness is what makes one happy, even if it is not best. Pampering and spoiling a child may be kindness but not grace. Often what is best for us makes us unhappy. We might think that keeping someone happy shows them grace. While it is good to make people happy, as a rule, there are times we ought to be sad, angry, or grieved.
Sometimes grace must hurt. It hurts the giver as well as the receiver. For us, Jesus suffered deeply throughout His life into His death. We join in Christ’s sufferings in order to receive the sanctifying power of His earned righteousness in our souls. Suffering can be grace.
Grace is not license. As lenience is the bad side of mercy, so license is the bad side of freedom. In Christ we are free to enjoy every gift and follow the desires of our heart; we are not free to follow every whim and impulse of human nature. The Scripture is our guide to true freedom. and our guard against sin.
Grace is too wonderful to misunderstand. We need to bathe our minds in God’s grace and let it pervade our words and actions. The result will not be softness, indulgence, or moral laxity. True grace produces people who work hard and sacrifice lovingly for each other, who define sin and goodness biblically, and who see every day as a chance to build the kingdom of God.