Grace is enabling power sufficient for progression. Grace divine is an indispensable gift from God for development, improvement, and character expansion. Without God's grace, there are certain limitations, weaknesses, flaws, impurities, and faults (i.e. carnality) humankind cannot overcome. Therefore, it is necessary to increase in God's grace for added perfection, completeness, and flawlessness.
More broadly, divine grace refers to God's gifts to humankind, including life, creation, and salvation. More narrowly but more commonly, grace describes the means by which humans are saved from original sin and granted salvation. This latter concept of grace is of central importance in the theology of Christianity, as well as one of the most contentious issues in Christian sectarianism.
Grace is often distinguished from mercy in that mercy is seen as not receiving punishment that one deserves to receive, whereas grace is receiving a positive benefit that one does not deserve to receive. Divine Grace also can be defined as God's empowering presence in ones life enabling them to do and be what they were created to do and be.
Most Christians of any of the major Western denominations agree that humankind is born in a state of sin. This is a consequence of original sin; a sinful nature is inherited; it is part of man's condition. Traditionally, original sin is explained as a result of the fall of man through the first sins of Adam and Eve in Eden. Some would now reject the story from Genesis as history. But even those who reject it still agree that men are born in sin. The original state of grace enjoyed by the once-good people God created has been lost, for them and for their descendants. We are born having forfeited any claim to salvation. (By contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy does not subscribe to this particular doctrine of original sin.)
God's grace responds to this otherwise hopeless situation. God, at His initiative, sent prophets and other teachers to reveal His existence to mankind. He gave the Torah, the Law of Moses, to the Jews, and made them his chosen people to provide a moral example to the rest of mankind.
It was also through the Jews that God's grace sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who sought to make redemption for the sins of mankind through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. God's grace is freely given, on behalf of the men He has called to salvation. God is not obliged to save anyone; men cannot make themselves good enough to earn their way into Heaven on their own initiative, or give rise to a duty on God's part to save them. It is only through the redemption bought by Christ's sacrifice that anyone is saved, and the path of salvation for men lies in participating in that redemption. Indeed, some denominations of Christianity paraphrase grace as "God's Rewards At Christ's Expense" to represent this.
The apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians makes this teaching clear, "For by Grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (ESV).
It is by God's Grace (unmerited favor), therefore, that salvation is granted to man, on the condition that we put our faith (Greek pisteus, meaning belief or confidence, in other words, trust) in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that is, belief that Jesus is from God, Jesus is the Messiah (anointed one, also the Hebrew word for Christ) and that his death on the cross has the power to take away our sins, thus making us blameless in the sight of God.
Grace, then, is God's initiative and choice to make a path of salvation available for men. On this, almost all Christians agree, though they may disagree on the meaning of some terms, or on which parts of the narrative of grace to emphasize. But from here out, it gets more contentious.
Grace is an attitude of God towards mankind by which He provides a benefit, without consideration of merit. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in the fact that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4.
From the nontheist perspective, grace appears to be the same nonexistent entity as luck. While some interpret certain events as a deliberate act of kindness from a benevolent God, others, such as the rationalist, the naturalist and the humanist interpret them as positive events with no proscriptive force behind them.
One such concept is named by the Hebrew word chesed, which in one of William Tyndale translated as loving-kindness, a word of his own coinage. The core concept here centers on the faithfulness and forbearance needed to make the covenant relationship continue, despite the several incidents of backsliding by the covenant people to which the Hebrew Bible bears witness.
Other Hebrew concepts used to describe the grace of God include a group of words whose basic element is hen or hanam (pronounced like the ch in Bach), which means the spontaneous gift of affection; and raham, which implies mercy and compassion, including the merciful restoration of a broken relationship. All of these concepts are used especially by the Hebrew prophets to describe God's choice of Israel as his chosen people, and His refusal to abandon them despite their violations of the covenant.
The Psalms are a good example of use of the concept of Grace in the Hebrew Bible. The psalmist, traditionally seen to be King David, calls out to God to intercede in both his personal affairs and with the concerns of the nation.
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20) tells of a man (who in the traditional Christian understanding, represents God) who hires some workers early in the day, some later, and some an hour before quitting time, then pays each of them the same amount. When the workers who worked all day balk, the employer's explanation is, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? … So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few are chosen. Matt. 20:15-16 (K JV).
Similarly, the well known parable of the Prodigal Son, is traditionally understood by most Christians as containing the teachings of Jesus on grace. A son demands the family fortune and wastes it, then returns home expecting little in the way of good treatment. The father welcomes him handsomely, over the objections of his other son who stayed at home and served dutifully.
Many throughout Christian history have perceived a common thread in these parables of Jesus: the grace of God is something that upsets settled human notions about merit, about what is deserved, and what is due as recompense.
The New Testament exhibits a tension between two aspects of grace: the idea that grace is from God and sufficient to cover any sin, and the idea that grace does not free Man from his responsibility to behave rightly.
Many parables of Jesus preach grace broad enough to forgive any sin, and to be available regardless of the seeming unworthiness of its recipient. Examples of this included the parable of the Prodigal son and lost sheep. However, Jesus also said:
Later, St. Paul of Tarsus wrote that For by grace ye are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV) For St Paul, salvation, like the wages of the labourers in the parable, is God's gift at God's sole prerogative. Were it achieved by works (erga; any human effort that intends earning; see Rom. 4:4), men could take pride in their efforts toward holiness, and God's gift of grace would be diminished in contrast to man's efforts. This stands in tension to his teaching in Romans 2:6:
A more works-oriented perspective is presented by the , concluding that faith without works is dead. By "works," James here appears to include both acts of charity, and righteousness according to the code of laws; the preceding text mentions charity to the poor as well as sins against the law of Moses. An inward change, the forsaking of old sinful ways, and being reborn in a spirit of generosity is to James the true test of conversion. Without these things, claiming to have "faith" is a sham. Grace must be something that steers the Christian to avoid sin and practice charity. Without these signs, it seems likely that grace was never there. James speaks of works after salvation, as a result, and Paul speaks of the lack of works in gaining salvation.
The First Epistle of John maintains this tension throughout. On the one hand, it repeatedly claims that those who "walk in the light" do not sin and do enjoy fellowship with God, while those who "walk in darkness" have no fellowship with God. However, it also describes receiving forgiveness of sins through confession and God's grace. Verse 3:4 (NIV) states: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness."
After the close of the New Testament period, the Christian Church underwent a number of dramatic changes in its relationship with the surrounding society, and with the Roman Empire, the principal government of the area where the Christian movement operated. To simplify greatly, these changes took the church from a period where the persecution of Christians was an ever-present threat, to a time when the Emperor Constantine ended all persecutions of Christianity and made its practice legal. The Roman Emperor, moreover, took an active interest in the way the Christian church was run, calling the first Council of Nicaea to resolve a dispute in church doctrine over Arianism. Many historians believe that he was motivated to encourage unity in the Church as a way of preserving unity in his Empire.
The history of Christianity at this point is of a remarkable reversal of fortune. No longer a rejected minority, Christians enjoyed political clout. The rulers took an active interest in who the church leaders were. Cæsar acted to settle disagreements between them. Former pagans, seeing that their emperor now favored the Christians, lined up to join.
At this time, the Roman Empire's days as a unified political entity were already numbered. There were cultural divisions between the Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire and the Latin Empire in the West. There were also substantial economic and military discrepancies between the relatively prosperous East and the relatively exposed West. This division would lead to the collapse of the Latin Empire in less than two hundred years. This, too, affected the fortunes of Christianity as an institution.
These changing relationships with the Roman Empire and civil authority in general likely changed the focus of the church's teachings. When the Church was an outlawed society, its writings often focused on legalism, since a large issue was the permitted scope of Christian liberty within the context of the larger pagan society outside its boundaries. When the Church became a powerful institution enjoying the favor of the imperial state, and indeed an arm of the Empire, it seemed more important to focus on the danger of antinomianism, in order to bolster its authority in a crumbling Empire.
Pelagius, a British monk, was concerned about the retention of man's moral accountability in the face of God's omnipotence. He strongly affirmed that men had free will and were able to choose good as well as evil. Pelagius denied that original sin had extinguished God's grace in Adam's heirs, and that consequently mankind had the power to do good, to convert themselves from sin by their own power, and the ability to work out their own salvation. Religion's purpose is to teach us virtue, from which we can expect reward from God. By great efforts, it is possible for those in the flesh to achieve moral perfection.
Pelagius's seemingly optimistic creed in fact burdens weak mortals with a burden too great to bear; or at least this was part of the response of St Augustine. More importantly, it does not clearly explain why Jesus Christ had to die for anyone's sins; if men can redeem themselves by their own efforts, atonement by Jesus on the Cross was at best a vague sort of moral example. The taint of original sin in fact did extinguish God's grace in men's souls; no matter how righteously they conducted themselves, their virtues could never make them worthy of the infinite holiness of God. Men are massa peccati, a mass of sin; they can no more endow themselves with grace than an empty glass can fill itself. While we may have "free will" (liberum arbitrium) in the sense that we can choose our course of conduct, we nevertheless lack true freedom (libertas) to avoid sin, for sin is inherent in each choice we make. It is only by God's sovereign choice to extend His grace to us that salvation is possible.
Pelagianism was repudiated by the Council of Carthage in 417, largely at Augustine's insistence. Some still hold to Semi-Pelagianism like the Eastern Orthodox Church, by accepting the teachings of John Cassian), which holds that though grace is required for men to save themselves at the beginning; they do not believe in total depravity, but believe that there remains a trace of moral ability within men that is unaffected by original sin, and that men must work together (synergism) with divine grace to be saved. A similar teaching is Arminianism, but Arminians believe in total depravity.
From a contemporary perspective, it is impossible to tell what Constantine intended. But the theology assumed in this explanation suggests that the concept of grace as understood by Constantine may have been altered into something Protestants find hard to fit into the New Testament's treatment of the concept.
Rather than God's property to be offered at His sole discretion, in Western Christianity at least, grace had become a sort of spiritual currency, and the Church was its banker. Believers acquired grace by participating in the Church's sacraments. The sacraments were effective in conferring God's grace by virtue of their being performed, provided that the liturgist was authorized by the Church to perform them. The grace offered through the sacraments enabled Christians to lead better lives and to deepen their faith. In addition to sanctifying grace, merit was earned by good works; by this merit, believers can earn the right to rewards from God.
Conversely, sins reduce one's merit before God and incur a debt to Him in the divine economy. According to Roman Catholicism, sufficiently serious sins not only remove merit, but also extinguish sanctifying grace in the baptized believer's soul, which can be restored by the sacrament of penance. These sins are mortal sins or deadly sins. Less serious sins, venial sins, incur loss of merit. Believers whose accounts were overdrawn at the final accounting went to Hell; believers without enough merit for Heaven went to Purgatory, where they could work off the debt they owed to God.
Fortunately, some saints achieved so much merit in their lifetimes on Earth that they got into Heaven with some to spare. This surplus was called works of supererogation, the Church's treasury of surplus merit. The Church can offer the excess merit in its treasury to be applied to the deficits in merit suffered by its penitent sinners. Pope Clement VI proclaimed this to be a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in 1343.
Orthodox theology does not embrace the concept of irresistible grace, but rather teaches that it is necessary for the human will to cooperate with divine grace for the individual to be saved. This cooperation is called synergy.
It was open to serious question, though, whether the notion of grace as spiritual currency was authentic to the teachings of the New Testament. The doctrine also proved subject to a number of abuses.
Martin Luther's posting of his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 was a direct consequence of the mechanical sacramentalism and treasury doctrines of the mediæval church. The act was precipitated by the arrival of Johann Tetzel, authorized by the Vatican to sell indulgences.
The effectiveness of these indulgences was predicated on the doctrine of the treasury of grace proclaimed by Pope Clement VI. The theory was that merit earned by acts of piety could augment the believer's store of sanctifying grace. Gifts to the Church were acts of piety. The Church, moreover, had a treasury full of grace above and beyond what was needed to get its faithful into Heaven. The Church was willing to part with some of its surplus in exchange for earthly gold. Martin Luther's anger against this practice, which seemed to him to involve the purchase of salvation, began a swing of the pendulum back towards the Pauline vision of grace, as opposed to St James's.
Luther taught that men were helpless and without a plea before God's justice, and their acts of piety were utterly inadequate before His infinite holiness. Were God only just, and not merciful, everyone would go to Hell, because everyone, even the best of us, deserves to go to Hell. Our inability to achieve salvation by our own effort suggests that even our best intention is somehow tainted by our sinful nature. This doctrine is sometimes called total depravity, a term derived from Calvinism and its relatives.
It is by faith alone (sola fide) and by grace alone (sola gratia) that men are saved. Good works are something the believers should undertake out of gratitude towards their Savior; but they are not necessary for salvation and cannot earn anyone salvation; there is no room for the notion of "merit" in Luther's doctrine of redemption. (There may, however, be degrees of reward for the redeemed in Heaven.) Only the unearned, unmerited grace of God can save anyone. No one can have a claim of entitlement to God's grace, and it is only by His generosity that salvation is even possible.
As opposed to the treasury of grace from which believers can make withdrawals, in Lutheranism salvation becomes a declaration of spiritual bankruptcy, in which penitents acknowledge the inadequacy of their own resources and trust only in God to save them. Accepting Augustine's concern for legal justification as the base metaphor for salvation, the believers are not so much made righteous in Lutheranism as they are considered covered by Christ's righteousness. Acknowledging that they have no power to make themselves righteous, the penalty for their sins is discharged because Jesus has already paid for it with His blood. His righteousness is given to those who belong to him.
These distinctions are particularly strong among the Calvinist interpretation of the Catholic Bishop - Saint Augustine of Hippo - in teaching man's total inability to save himself, and our complete dependence upon God in every aspect of salvation (a concept perhaps best summarised in the words of John Newton's well known hymn Amazing Grace).
The notion that God has foreordained who will be saved is called predestination, generally; the Calvinist concept of predestination is its most controversial expression, largely because it is the most unflinching statement of the doctrine. The good news that God has freely granted the gift of salvation to those who believe has here been clarified by the thought that what He can freely grant to some, He can withhold from others.
Calvin sought to provide assurance to the faithful that God would actually save them. His teaching implied what came to be known as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, the notion that God would actually save those who were his Elect. The actual status and ultimate state of any man's soul were unknown save to God. When assurance of election was rigorously pressed as an experience to be sought, especially by the Puritans, this led to a legalism as rigid as the one Protestantism sought to reject, as men were eager to demonstrate that they were among the chosen by the conspicuous works-righteousness of their lives.
Calvin's extreme position provoked a reaction. In 1547, the Council of Trent, which sought to purify Roman Catholicism from the Protestant controversy, established Roman Catholic teaching on grace and justification as distinguished from Protestantism. It taught that justification and sanctification were parts of the same process. Grace actually enables believers to become more righteous through the power of the Holy Spirit. Various actual Protestant doctrines were stated in extreme forms and mixed with older heresies and generally condemned by the Council, whose work formed the basis for the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation.
In 1618 James Arminius put forth a contrary position that sought to reaffirm man's free will as opposed to the eternal decrees of Calvinism. Arminius taught that God's grace was offered to all, and that it could be rejected by a man's will. It was possible for a believer to lose faith and backslide, losing the salvation that believer once possessed. These positions came to be known as Arminianism. With respect to the Calvinist Reformed churches, they were rejected by the Synod of Dordrecht (1618 - 1619).
Later, John Wesley also rejected the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. His most comprehensive pronouncement on the subject was his sermon "Free Grace," preached at Bristol in 1740. In Wesley's position, the believer who repents and accepts Christ is not "making himself righteous" by an act of his own will, such as would alter his dependency on the grace of God for his salvation. Faith and repentance, rather, are the believer's trust in God that He will make them righteous. Wesley appealed to prevenient grace as a solution to the problem, stating that God makes the initial move in salvation, but human beings are free to respond or reject God's graceful initiative.
Wesley's rejection of Calvinism was more successful than Arminius', especially in the United States of America, largely because it was spread through popular preaching in a series of Great Awakenings. The churches of New England, with roots in Puritan Calvinism, tended to begin to reject their Calvinist roots, accepting Wesley's version of Arminianism, or overthrowing their historical doctrine entirely to depart into Socinianism. Arminianism is, of course, the standard teaching of Methodist churches, and the doctrine of prevenient grace remains one of Methodism's most important doctrines.
Classical Calvinism teaches that the sacraments are "signs and seals of the covenant of grace" and "effectual means of salvation", and Lutheranism teaches that new life, faith, and union with Christ are granted by the Holy Spirit working through the sacraments. However, for a large portion of the Protestant world, the sacraments largely lost the importance that Luther (and to a slightly lesser degree, Calvin) attributed to them. This happened under the influence of ideas which first began development among the Anabaptists but spread to Calvinists through the Congregationalist and Baptist movements, and to Lutherans through Pietism (although much of Lutheranism recoiled against the Pietist movement after the mid-19th century).
Where the sacraments are de-emphasized, they become "ordinances," acts of worship which are required by Scripture, but whose effect is limited to the voluntary effect they have on the worshipper's soul. This belief finds expression in the Baptist and Anabaptist practice of believer's baptism, given not to infants as a mark of membership in a Christian community, but to adult believers after they have achieved the age of reason and have professed their faith. These ordinances may even be considered works-righteousness, which is contrary to salvation by grace, a hindrance to faith, and certainly not necessary to being a Christian. The ritual as interpreted in light of such ideas does not at all bring about salvation, nor does its performance bring about the forgiveness of sins; the forgiveness which the believer has received by faith is merely pictured, not effectively applied, by baptism; salvation and participation in Christ is memorialized, not imparted, by the Eucharist. Consequently, the Church loses primacy in the believer's experience, and holds only voluntary worth.
The church of Christ believes that the grace of God that saves is the plan of salvation, rather than salvation itself. This plan includes two parts, 1) the perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, 2) the gospel/New Testament/the faith.
Concerning Ephesians 2:8 which states: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:" it is noted that the word "it" is a pronoun and refers back to a noun. As the word "saved" is a verb, "it" does not refer to "saved" but to Grace, giving the definition of grace as "the gift of God". Furthermore, as the book of James distinguishes between a dead faith (a faith without works) and a living faith(a faith accompanied by works of obedience), it is believed that by God's gift operates through an individuals living faith resulting in that individual being saved.
The church of Christ believes that since according to Titus 2:11 God's grace had (at the writing of that letter) appeared unto all men and that God wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9), and recognizing that not all men will be saved (Matt. 7:13-14), grace can not be salvation according to scripture.
The church of Christ believes that by examining the specific properties of Grace as described in the Bible, especially the New Testament, what this unearned gift of God that saves actually is.
1. Grace is contrasted with the Law of Moses (Romans 6:14; Hebrews 10:4; John 1:17) and the church of Christ believes that Paul's contrast between work and faith is as described under the Efforts to resolve the tension section, a contrast between works of the Old Covenant and obedient faith under the New Covenant.
2. Grace saves (Eph. 2:5); justifies (Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7).
3. Grace can be fallen from (Gal. 5:4).
4. Grace teaches (Titus 2:11); can be preached (Eph. 3:8).
5. Grace calls us (2 Tim. 1:9; Gal. 1:15).
6. Grace is brought by revelation (1 Pet. 1:13).
These properties are all accredited to the gospel/New Testament itself:
1. The New Testament is contrasted with the Old Testament (Hebrews).
2. The gospel saves (Rom. 1:16); engrafted word saves (James 1:21); the faith (Gal. 2:16).
3. Can be fallen from (1 John 3:4).
4. Teaches (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 3:16) - the very essence of doctrine is teaching.
5. Calls us (2 Thess. 2:14).
6. Is brought by revelation (Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 3:23; and many more).
Continuing this comparison between the gospel and divine saving grace is Gal. 1:6 which states
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:"
The Galatians were removed from the calling of the gospel (Gal. 1:15; 2 Thess. 2:14) unto another gospel (another message) which verse 7 says is not a gospel at all but a perversion.
In that they believe that grace is not salvation, but the plan of salvation, the church of Christ believes that the difficulties supposed between God not having respect towards any individuals (Acts 10:34) yet the truth that not all men are saved (Matt. 7:13-14) is resolved. God has presented His gift to all men just as Titus 2:10 teaches. Christ died for all men (2 Cor. 5:14-15) and the gospel is available to all men and in fact was preached to them all in the life time of the Apostles (Col. 1:6,23; Rom. 10:18), but not all men respond to the gospel in obedient/living faith which is also required for salvation (Heb. 11:6; Eph. 2:8), therefore not all men are saved.
The church of Christ believes that grace provides the following plan, which if followed results in salvation, entrance into the body of the saved (Eph. 5:23) which is Christ's church (Eph. 1:22-23), not by "earning" salvation, but by the obedience of servants in hope and trust in the faithfulness of their master to fulfill His promises according to His word.
One must hear the gospel/word (Rom. 10:17). Believe the gospel (Mark 16:15-16). Repent of their past sins (Acts 2:38). Confess their faith in Christ before men (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9-10) Be immersed in water into Christ for the remission of those sins (1 Pet. 3:21; Romans 6:3-18; John 3:3,5; 1 John 5:6,8; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; etc.) Living faithfully even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10; Rom. 11:17-22; James 5:19-20)laws and ordinances of the gospel and the need for the pure love of Christ in conjunction with the receipt of the gift of grace, which comes “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi also emphasizes that after the law of Moses was "fulfilled in Christ," the Nephites "need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away," understanding that the law of Moses would be fulfilled through Christ's atonement and resurrection, as He also taught. (2 Nephi 25:24,27)
Latter-day Saint doctrine also emphasizes Jesus’ mention of the Final Judgment, where works will be a determining factor in personal assignment to degrees of glory, such as the Celestial Kingdom. Such works must be motivated by love for Jesus Christ and others, not focused on appearances for the sake of pride or trusting in the "arm of flesh" (2 Nephi 4:34), but focused on Christ's grace and His power to change men's hearts as they look upon Him "with faith, having a contrite spirit." (Helaman 8:15) Nephi taught, "Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth." "And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free." (2 Nephi 2:6,4) "Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; ... all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden." (2 Nephi 26:27,28) Christ says, in effect, that He has given all men the gift of His grace as the opportunity to access His power to cleanse them, heal them, and make them whole (perfect), but to access that power, the divine law of mercy requires that they come unto Him "with full purpose of heart" through faith and repentance (3 Nephi 18:32).