What Is Grace?
The simplest definition is “unmerited favor.” To receive grace is to gain what is undeserved; it is to obtain what can never be earned or gained by our own efforts.
The world has its own idea of what defines grace, but like all virtues, grace is rooted in the character of God. He is the original author and only true source of grace. All our human efforts of extending grace to one another are either poor imitations performed in our natural flesh, or an overflow of the grace we’ve received through salvation in Jesus Christ, who is Himself, full of grace and truth. Jesus is the gift of grace God gave to the world – the highest standard and greatest example of grace.
Moses was a man who walked with God, speaking to Him as a friend, face to face. The name Moses might not come to mind immediately if we’re talking about grace; after all, it was Moses who received the Law as he led the children of Israel through the wilderness, and in our minds, grace and law are two separate, distinct things which cannot be reconciled. The Jews considered Moses a highly respected prophet, so much so that the book of Hebrews addresses what was essentially worship of Moses because of his intimacy with God and connection to the laws that governed their religious observances.
On closer examination, Moses is the perfect example of God’s grace. During the time of his birth, his people were enslaved in Egypt. Fearing that the Hebrews would become too numerous and decide to overthrow him, the Pharoah ordered that all male Hebrew babies were to be murdered by the Egyptian midwives who delivered them. By God’s grace, the midwives feared God more than the Pharoah and chose to disobey this wicked command, and so Moses arrived safe and sound, delivered into his mother’s arms. By God’s grace, his mother hid him for three months. By God’s grace, he was placed in a basket and floated on the river. By God’s grace, his sister watched him be drawn from the water by an Egyptian princess, and by God’s grace, was able to suggest his own mother as a wet nurse when the princess decided to adopt him. By God’s grace, Moses was well-educated as an Egyptian son, but also told of his Hebrew heritage. By God’s grace, he escaped with his life after slaying an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. By God’s grace, he became a shepherd for forty years away from the Egyptian influence, where he was able to hear and learn what God wanted to do in, and through, his life.
Up until this point, Moses experienced the grace of God without pursuing it. God’s goodness and benevolence protected him until the time when he would meet the God of grace in a very personal way. An unusual meeting with God would grow into an intimate relationship that caused a deep hunger in him to know the grace of God more fully.
Isn’t that how it happens with many of us? Once our eyes are opened spiritually and we come to faith in Jesus, we look back over our lives and see the hand of God’s good grace at every turn, in every crisis that we faced and every good thing that brought us any kind of joy. Once we recognize this, we desire more and more of God’s grace and goodness.
The Bible describes two separate encounters between Moses and God that give us a more complete picture of grace. In the first event, Moses discovers what grace looks like practically: what God does. But in the second event, he discovers an even greater truth: grace is who God is.
Moses discovered grace when God asked him to go.
Exodus 3:7-8a – The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
While pasturing his father-in-law’s flocks in the wilderness, Moses comes upon a bush that is burning with fire, yet it is not consumed. He knows this is a “marvelous” thing and stops to investigate further. To his surprise, he hears God speaking to him, telling him to remove his shoes, that he is standing on holy ground.
The first thing God does is to identify Himself as the God of Moses’ forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Moses’ people are enslaved to the Egyptians, but God is reminding Moses that He has not forgotten them, nor His covenant with them. God’s grace had been working for generations to carry out His sovereign plan to build a nation out of Abraham’s descendants.
God’s grace chose Abraham to bear a son in his old age, Isaac.
God’s grace chose Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife.
God’s grace chose Isaac’s son, Jacob, the younger twin.
God’s grace chose Joseph to suffer in Egypt so that his family could be saved during a famine.
God’s grace chose the children of Israel to greatly multiply, even under slavery.
Now God’s grace was going to act once more. His words to Moses are simple, profound, and prophetic, and they define for us what the grace of God is all about.
I have seen their affliction.
I have heard their cry.
I am aware of their sufferings.
I have come down to deliver.
I will bring them up.
Has not God seen our affliction, our sin-sickness? To “see” is to observe, to give attention to, to gaze at.” God looks at us, even in our unworthiness and unholiness. Grace does not turn its face away, but looks us directly in the eye, assuring us, He sees.
Has God not heard our cry? He “hears with attention, with the intent to listen.” Our prayers are not simply the background noise of heaven. Grace does not tune us out, but focuses on the cry of our hearts, for He listens.
Is God not aware of our sufferings? To be aware is “to know, to recognize, and to consider.” Grace identifies with our pain and sorrow. Grace feels what we feel. He knows.
Has God not come down to deliver us? Christ on the cross is the One who rescues. Grace stoops low to show kindness to the lowly. He delivers.
Has God not raised us up, seating us in the heavenlies at the present time? Our citizenship is in heaven, and one day grace will carry us into the presence of God, for He will bring us up.1
God’s grace is practical and real, and acts on behalf of those whom God has chosen. God chose Moses to go and be His servant to rescue the children of Israel out of slavery, a vivid and practical illustration of the time when Jesus would go at His Father’s request to rescue God’s children from the slavery of sin.
Moses discovered grace when He asked to see God’s glory.
Exodus 33:18-23 – Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”
Exodus 34:5-6 – The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.”
A few verses earlier we see that Moses has recognized that God has found favor with him and knows him by name. In response, he asks God, “Let me know Your ways that I may know You.” What is God’s answer? My presence will go with you. Yet, Moses is hungry for more. He has experienced God’s favor but persists. I want to see Your glory. God graciously walks by, covering Moses with His hand, lifting it just as He passes, allowing Moses a glimpse of His back. And as He passes, the LORD proclaims His name:
The LORD (Jehovah).
The LORD God (Jehovah God, the self-existent One).
Slow to anger.
Abounding in lovingkindness.
Abounding in truth.
The Old Testament Hebrew word for “gracious” (chanan) means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior.” It is “to bestow favor, to show kindness or pity.” It is to “have mercy on the object of one’s favor.”
God is not only the giver of grace; He is grace. Moses begged to know God, and when he caught a glimpse of the goodness and glory of God, it was named grace.1
Do you see that grace is not just a “New Testament” concept? God’s grace is woven throughout all of scripture, from the moment He spoke our world into existence. God’s works were finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3); He knew from the beginning that we would need grace. The Old Testament law was evidence of God’s grace, as it revealed man’s innate sinfulness and need of salvation. The corresponding requirements of the sacrificial laws were also grace, as God provided a temporary covering for their sin and a way to live in relationship with Him until the once-for-all sacrifice was made on the cross by Christ.
The New Testament word for grace, charis, contains the similar idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved, but also carries the additional sense of that which affords joy and delight. We understand the joy grace brings to us, but did you know that God gets pleasure and delight in showing us grace?
Salvation by grace is evidence of God’s favor in choosing us and His mercy in forgiving us, but it also reveals His delight as He carries out His sovereign plans and purposes which reveal His glory. As Moses learned, God’s glory and His grace are intimately connected. The gracious God of the Old Testament who chose Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses is the same God of the New Testament who freely bestows grace on us, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:6).
God is the source of grace, for God is gracious.
God is the giver of grace, for His every action is motivated by grace.
Moses met the God of grace on the back side of a wilderness mountain when the voice of God called out to him from a burning bush. He encountered Him again on another mountain, hidden in the cleft of the rock as God walked by and declared His name: Jehovah God, gracious and compassionate.
We too, can meet the God of grace on the mountain, as we kneel at the cross of Mount Calvary. Jesus is God, full of grace and truth, acting on our behalf with unlimited, incomparable grace that redeems and saves.
1Excerpts in italics taken from Grace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God.
This article first appeared on the Bible Study Tools website. Original post here.