Understanding Christianity: Grace

What do Christians believe? Why is the cross the symbol of their faith? In this series Pastor Tim Schouten of the Prince George Canadian Reformed Church explains some of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. Questions? Email pastortim@pgchurch.ca.

We cannot take anything from God against his will. We can only receive what he willingly gives.

As we have seen in the earlier parts of this series, Christians believe that God is a completely independent Creator, while people are dependent creatures. God has all the power and the rights, while we have none, except for what he gives us. We can wrestle nothing from his control, but are dependent upon his favor.

The refusal to accept this is what led our ancestors to commit the first sin. They wanted the power and the rights for themselves. This has been part of the basic human desire ever since.

This human desire makes it very difficult to accept the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Receiving grace requires us to acknowledge that we have no power or rights. It requires us to humble ourselves and ask God for something that we know we cannot do, and then simply accept what he gives as a gift. We are like a drowning man in the ocean, who cannot swim to shore. He can only cry for rescue, and cling to it when it comes.

It is important to make this point clear when it comes to what we looked at last time: the Christian belief that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Christians don’t simply believe that forgiveness and life are made possible by grace. They also believe that these things can only be received by faith, as a gift (not earned). God is not only gracious in making eternal life available, but also in the way that he dispenses it, that is, through faith alone.

When a man is drowning in the ocean, the rescue team does not simply bring a boat within shouting distance, and then tell the man to swim on over. He is too far gone for that. Instead, they place the life preserver directly into his hands.

Our spiritual rescue is “by grace alone, through faith alone.” This is a central belief of Christianity, and sets it apart from every other religion. Every religion deals in some way with the problem of getting right with God, but every religion except for Christianity deals with that problem through our merit or supposed goodness.

Christianity denies that we have any goodness to merit God’s favor. Nor do we have any rights to forgiveness or power to attain it. We can only come humbly before God saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

God’s grace means that this plea for mercy will be answered. Jesus says about the one who made this plea, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified.”

Author Rev. Tim Schouten

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