What does it mean to be saved by grace?

Grace is undeserved and unmerited favor from God. It enables us to be saved and have eternal life in Jesus Christ. We all have failures and shortcomings, and no one can truly say that they have lived such a life that would cause them to deserve God’s unmerited favor. His grace is not based on anything we could do: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). It is not a mix of works and grace that saves us. God’s grace is all or nothing. His grace covers our sins one hundred percent. Christians understand that it is by grace through faith that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8–9).

God sent His Son Jesus to die as the payment for our sins before we ever acknowledged Him. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8). His perfect sacrifice made the way for us to receive God’s grace, bringing with it eternal life, righteousness, and freedom from the sins and bondages of our fleshly nature (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God’s grace is totally unmerited. None of us deserve it, because we are all sinners (Romans 3:10–12, 23). In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus gives us an example of what God’s grace in action looks like. In this story, a wealthy man’s son demands his inheritance early. His father gives it to him and the son goes off and squanders it all on reckless living. At his lowest point, the son is out of money and is feeding pigs and longing to eat the same food they are, but no one gives him anything. He finally decides to return to his father’s house and ask to be a servant—at least he would have food and shelter. When he returns, his father has a much different idea:

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20–24).

The prodigal son brought nothing but shame and a marred reputation to his father, but his father ran to him when he saw him returning from a long way off. This is the kind of grace God shows to us. We have all made so many mistakes. We have rebelled and thought that our ways would be better than His. When we realize that they are not, we are able to turn to God and He accepts us joyfully and willingly as His children (John 1:12–13; 3:16–18).

Some people think that once they have been saved by the grace of God it means that they can sin as much as they want, because they are “covered” by God’s grace. It is quite the contrary! God’s grace is not an excuse for us to sin. Rather, it is God’s grace that saves us and it is God’s grace that trains and enables us to live righteous lives: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).

Others think that after being saved by grace we must do good works to maintain our salvation. But, again, it is quite the contrary! We are maintained by God’s grace, not our own efforts. As noted above, good works do result from salvation, but they are the fruit of God’s work in us. We will still fail as believers, but God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). We can trust that we are justified by His grace and eternally secure in it (John 6:39–40).

If we were left on our own, we would continue sinning and running from God, but He draws us to Himself (John 6:44). When we choose to put our faith in Christ and His redemptive act of being crucified for our sins, God justifies us with His grace and credits our faith as righteousness (Romans 4:5). God justifies us when we don’t deserve it. Thank God for His never-ending grace toward us!