As Christians, we often toss the word “grace” around casually without really knowing what it means. It’s a very important concept that’s one of the core tenets of our faith. Here are 10 guidelines that break down what grace really is, as well as some things that it’s not:

1. Grace Is a Gift from God Through Jesus

The simplest definition of grace can be found right in the Bible:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8

2. Grace Is Something We Don’t Deserve

Let’s face it, we’re all sinners. Even those of us who strive to lead good lives slip up every now and then. It’s human nature. We’re like naughty children who know how we should behave, but who just can’t resist talking back to mom or sneaking a cookie before dinner. We all say and do things that show our unworthiness.

3. Grace Is Given Unconditionally

Fortunately, God is like the loving parents who care about their children unconditionally. They love their youngsters just as much when they’re being destructive, defiant, or just plain bratty as they do when the kids are behaving like perfect little angels. That doesn’t mean they approve of the behavior, but they don’t reject their children because of their bad acts. God doesn’t close us out when we behave badly, either.

4. Grace Is Not Reserved for a Chosen Few

It’s tempting to get a little self-righteous and believe that God picks and chooses those who receive His grace. Some Christians say it’s only for those who follow a particular version of the faith or who live and act in a certain rigid way. That directly contradicts the Bible:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. —Titus 2:11

5. Grace Is Cause for Rejoicing

When you look at grace as a word, you’ll see that it comes from the Greek word “charis,” which is related to “chairo,” or “to rejoice.” How fitting for such an amazing gift from God!

6. Grace Is Not Something to Be Abused 

Just because God loves us no matter what doesn’t mean that we should take advantage of His grace. Look at the example of the naughty child or defiant teenager who acts out and does what he pleases because he knows that his parents will support him, no matter what. He might not lose their love, but he brings on his own consequences.

Mom and dad might love that bratty youngster, but no one else will. She won’t have many friends in school or get invited to other children’s homes. She’ll earn punishments at school for talking back or being disruptive and rude to others, and she’ll get failing grades if she refuses to do her work.

The teen who doesn’t listen to his parents and sneaks out at night to hang out with the wrong kind of friends can have it backfire even more harshly. Getting caught drinking or doing drugs could mean a stint in the lockup. Worse offenses mean worse consequences doled out by the court system. Sometimes teenage rebellion can result in an event that shatters a young man or woman’s life, like killing someone while driving drunk. Even if it’s unintended, the end result is still the same.

We end up with the same result and cause our own suffering when we act contrary to the will of God.

7. Grace Is Not an Excuse to Sin

On its surface, grace sounds like a “get out of spiritual jail free” card. However, it’s not an excuse to sin. Too many Christians view it that way, as described by a term coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany who was hanged in 1945 by SS guards. He called it “cheap grace,” a way for people to continue living their lives as before, even when they come to know Christ. They justify it by saying, “Well, God forgives us anyway.” Unfortunately, they’re blind to what Christianity really means.

8. Grace Is an Important Concept in God’s Eyes 

Just in case you had any doubts about the importance of grace, note that it’s mentioned in the New Testament over 150 times in relation to God favoring sinners who don’t deserve it. It’s obviously a concept that He wanted to emphasize to His children.

9. Grace Is Meant to Be Shared

Just as God forgives us, He expects us to forgive others, even when we’re not deserving. He reminds us many times in the Bible, and Jesus also emphasized it in His teachings:

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. —Matthew 6:14

We’re expected to give grace as freely as God bestows it upon us.

10. Grace Is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense 

All of these factors are part of grace, but there’s an easy way to remember what it means. Think of it as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. If you ever need an easy way to explain it, those five simple words sum it up nicely.

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