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Lesson One: What Is Grace?
Luke 18:9-14

We are all familiar with this parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee. I think it is a favorite of ours because we can all recognize what it is like to be on our face before God, crying out for His mercy and grace. But we can also see ourselves in the Pharisee, thinking that we are pretty good in the eyes of God. Perhaps looking down at others because they are not as "spiritual" as we are. If we are honest with ourselves it is true that we can identify with both the Tax Collector and the Pharisee.

It is with this parable in mind that I would like to start a series of messages called "Living By Grace". Too often as Christians, even mature Christians, we lose focus of what grace is and what it means to our lives. And many times when we do lose this focus, we project less than desirable burdens on new Christians and those who are still "high" on God's grace. So for some of us, this series will be a review. A coming home to an old friend. To others it will be a revelation, a breath of fresh air in their Christian lives. But hopefully to all of us it will be a strong wakeup call to live every day of our lives by grace. Amen.


We all know that grace is something God gives freely. We know it is something that every Christian receives and something every nonChristian desperately needs. But what is grace? To put it simply, grace is unmerited favor. Grace means getting something you don't deserve, or not getting something you do deserve! Grace is a free gift with no strings attached.

This may sound juvenile and foolish, but look at the two examples below and decide which one describes what grace is:

  • A father tells his son that he will buy him a bicycle if his grades are good on his next report card. The boy brings home straight A's and the father buys him the bike.

  • The same boy brings home a terrible report card, and even though his father is very upset about it, he still buys the boy the bike out of his love and kindness.

    As you probably guessed, the second example demonstrates grace. The first example is that of works. In our Christian lives, this is the biggest battle we will have. Pitting grace against works, what we do opposed to what God has done. But to truly live by grace, we have to understand that it is something we can never earn. It is a gift from God.

    Ephesians 2:8-9

    According to these verses we are saved by grace through faith. It is a free gift from God. It is not something we can earn. If it were, people would brag or boast. But because it is unmerited favor, there is no room for anyone to think they are better than someone else. We all deserved hell and punishment, but because of God's love, we instead receive something we don't deserve, grace and eternal life.


    Now that we have a better understanding of what grace is, how do we go about getting it? We know it is a gift, but how do we get God to give us this gift? We are told how in Romans 4:1-5:

    What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.But to him who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness...

    In verse 3 we are told why Abraham was accepted before God-because He believed God. Now look at the difference between verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 describes those that attempt to earn God's favor by their works. Verse 5, on the other hand, shows that our works will never do the trick. Only by faith will be accepted by God.

    So by believing we receive God's favor or grace. We do not have to do anything to earn it. It is free, or unmerited, meaning we don't earn it ourselves. Even though we don't deserve it, God gives it to us anyway.


    We receive God's grace by faith, not by works. We will never be saved by thinking we can earn salvation. It comes from God's unmerited favor. It is a gift from God, so no one can brag and say they deserved it. No, we receive grace freely because we don't deserve it! Even our most good and worthy deeds are nothing in God's eyes. They will never, ever convince God to let us into heaven. The only way to eternal life is for the Lord Jesus to give it to us.

    1. Does knowing God loves you by grace make you feel more sure of His favor? Why?
    2. Have you ever felt bad because you needed help from someone and were unable to pay them back or return the favor? Why do we feel that way? Do you think it is the same reason why people have a hard time accepting the fact that God's grace is a gift they cannot earn?

    1998 Pomona Youth Chapel/Pastor Tim Shultz