By Aldrin Relador
What is grace?
God’s nature is love. Jesus Christ the Son freely chose to save us from sin through His death and resurrection while we are still sinners. In this way, we are saved by grace as a gift from God. As a gift, grace cannot be earned and nothing is possible without it. This is because God is our Creator and we are His creation. All creation exists because He creates and sustains everything by His nature including our every action.
As a gift, grace also cannot be owed. We no longer have any debt to clear with God. Jesus has paid for our sins by His death on the cross. God also has no debt to clear with us. God by His nature requires nothing from us. His love is totally-giving.
Now, if we are saved by grace, does this mean that we do not play any role at all in salvation when we’re still alive? No. Grace is still a gift. Yet, an unreceived or unopened gift is only a gift in name. An unopened gift makes no difference in one’s life. It makes a difference only if we receive it by living a holy life through doing good works. Good works show that our faith in His grace is not dead (James 2:17).
Can I earn salvation by my own merits?
Some believe that we can be saved solely by our merit. This is a false belief – also known as Pelagianism – which puts mankind rather than God at the centre of salvation. It says that the death and resurrection of Christ do not necessarily save us and salvation is possible solely by what we do.
The truth however is that we cannot save ourselves. This is because as human beings we face the consequences of original sin. Original sin greatly limits us from being truly free. That is why we sometimes choose wrongly even if we want to choose rightly (Romans 7:19). So if we want to be more like Christ we cannot do so without the help of Christ. Christian holiness is not self-help. Everything requires God’s grace. This does not mean that we play no role at all in salvation. Salvation also requires us to respond to grace.
Imagine receiving a wedding invitation from a best friend. If you don’t RSVP, you will not be able to attend the wedding even if you have an invitation. Similarly, if we don’t respond to God’s grace, we cannot participate in God’s work of salvation even if He desires you to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).
Since everything requires grace, our ability to respond also requires grace. This however does not mean that God coerces us to respond to Him. We are free, after all. So, if we choose to respond to His grace, we also do so by His grace. Only grace frees our choices from the grip of sin. In this way, grace is not a coercion but liberation of our wills. This relationship between God’s grace and human freedom is a radical shift away from a worldly understanding of freedom. While freedom is typically defined as the ability to choose unrestrictedly whatsoever, Christian freedom is defined as the ability to choose God’s grace over sin. This teaching thus shows that we will always require God’s grace in everything we do to be truly free.