How Does Scripture Explain Saving Grace?

Borrowed Light
How Does Scripture Explain Saving Grace?

I know a girl named Grace. She’s quite graceful when she dances, and yet she is incredibly mean to all the other dancers. That’s why we pray for her at the dinner table when our family says grace. We’re hoping that God will be gracious to her and change her heart. If not, I fear for what’s she’ll become. Will her charm and elegant dancing be her saving grace? Or will her nasty personality throw off any pretense or social grace which might be afforded her?

Apologizes to anyone I actually know named Grace, especially if you’re a dancer. I don’t think I actually do know a girl named Grace who dances. I used the name Grace to show how many different ways we use that word.

What about in the Bible? Are there different “graces,” and are some of them “saving” while others aren’t? We will explore those questions today.

Are There Different “Graces” in the Bible?

In the Bible, the term "grace" can refer to different kinds of unmerited favor from God. At its most basic, “grace” is to bestow favor and honor upon someone. Unsurprisingly, the dominant usage in the Scripture is when God kindly shows favor to humanity. But that does not necessarily mean that it is “saving” grace.

The usual word in the New Testament for grace is charis. It might surprise you that the word does not appear in Mark or Matthew. It’s only appearance in John is at 1:14-17. It shows up occasionally in Luke and Acts but it is often in the profane usage. To say “profane” doesn’t mean that Luke uses it as a naughty word — that’s simply a way of saying that it isn’t used in a religious sense. You can see one of these usages in Acts 2:47 when Luke speaks of the early disciples having favor with people. Luke’s religious usages are rooted in Old Testament concepts, such as finding grace.

Paul loves the word grace. In Paul's writings, the concept of "grace" (χάρις) is central to his understanding of salvation. While it sometimes means "thanks" (e.g., Romans 6:17), it primarily represents the free and unearned gift of salvation through Christ. This grace contrasts with the law and highlights salvation by faith alone (Romans 3:24). Grace also empowers Christian living and ministry (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul also uses it in reference to spiritual gifts. In Romans 12:6 these are “grace gifts.” He also speaks in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as a general grace that is given to Paul to endure his struggles. Grace also encompasses God’s sustaining power in our daily lives.

In sum, yes there are different usages of “grace” in the Bible.

Does the Bible Speak of Grace That Isn’t Saving?

While the Bible may not use these specific terms connected with “grace,” theologians have understood there to be different types of grace. Not all of these are “saving” graces. Some speak of grace that is given even to unbelievers, we might think of those this way:

Common Grace: God's general benevolence and provision extended to all humanity, such as the sunshine and rain, as well as societal order (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17).

Prevenient Grace: The grace that precedes human decision, enabling individuals to respond to God's call (John 6:44).

It should be noted that not all theologians recognize prevenient grace. Some theologians might speak of other “graces” that are not particularly saving. These are:

Efficacious Grace: The grace that effectively brings about the intended outcome of salvation in the lives of the elect (John 6:37).

Saving Grace: The unmerited favor of God that brings about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Sanctifying Grace: The ongoing work of God in believers to make them holy and conform them to the image of Christ (Philippians 2:13).

Sustaining Grace: The grace that provides strength and support in times of need (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What, then, is saving grace? How does the Bible define it?

What Is Saving Grace?

While some might refer to saving grace as a sole redeeming quality, the Bible means something far greater. Saving grace is that which comes from God as an unmerited favor. This grace is what reconciles sinners to a holy God, through the work of Jesus Christ. Grace is giving someone something that they do not deserve. It is blessing someone who ought to be under a curse.

According to Ephesians 2:8-9, grace is why we are saved. God decided to bestow honor and blessing upon us, even though we are sinners. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast." Grace is the means by which God is able to justify sinners and declare us righteous. Saving grace, then, is fundamentally linked to the work of Christ; this is how grace fits with justice.

Saving grace is closely associated with the redemptive work of Christ. Romans 3:23-24 states, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." This passage highlights that grace is the means by which God justifies sinners, declaring them righteous because of Christ's atoning sacrifice. Thus, saving grace is fundamentally linked to the cross and the resurrection, where God's grace is most profoundly demonstrated.

The Bible also speaks of saving grace as being transformative. In Titus 2:11-12, Paul writes, "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age." Grace, then, is not only the means of initial salvation but also the power that enables believers to live out our new identities. Grace is what enables us to honor the God who bestowed unmerited honor upon us. Grace changes us.

It also brings about our perseverance. Though, Philippians 1:6 is talking about more than the initial work of salvation, its words are still appropriate here. God, who decided to bestow honor upon us and bless us, is dedicated to bringing this to completion. Grace begins, sustains, and will ultimately finish what has been started.

The Christian life is saving grace from beginning, middle, and to the end.

How Do We Know if We’ve Received Saving Grace?

You overhear a couple of dudes at the gas station talking about free tacos. As you put your ear closer, things get a little mumbled. “All you have to do for the free tacos is ;lkasjdflj;asf….” Now you are left wondering what ;lkasjdflj;asf was and whether or not you have one. People are giving away free tacos, but do I qualify for them?

That is the central concern of a few books in the New Testament. No, not whether or not we can get free tacos (though questions about heaven might pertain here). The question is whether or not we qualify for all of these riches. That was a big concern for the Colossians. A group of false teachers convinced them that they weren’t qualified — that they hadn’t done the right things in order to be fit for receiving the blessings of God.

Paul’s answer is to talk about the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus. That might seem like a strange answer. For a people wondering if they qualify, it seems like a strange move to talk about how qualified Jesus is. But that is precisely Paul’s point. He wants the Colossians, and us, to understand that the sole qualifying factor is to be in union with Jesus Christ.

We could talk about some of the marks of assurance — like an increased love for others (especially believers), a different view of sin and holiness, a love for God, a transformed life, etc. But as a pastor I’ve found that when someone is struggling with this question, in their mind they’ll fail these tests every single time (even if they shouldn’t).

We can get confused on this point by looking into the past (did I pray this prayer the right way?) and into our history (am I growing?) Those certainly are tests. And they can provide assurance, but we’re talking about those really low moments when you aren’t sure about much of anything. Keep it simple. Am I trusting in Christ right now? Am I crying out to Him, “Have mercy on me a sinner”? Friend, if you are doing that — even if it is a really weak faith — you are laying hold of a strong Christ.

Romans 8:16 also provides a bit of assurance, saying, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children." This inner witness of the Holy Spirit affirms our relationship with God, providing assurance that we are on the receiving end of God’s grace. Again, simply ask Him for it. Ask Him for grace. And then trust in the promises; everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/SvetaZi

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.