We talk about grace a lot. We preach grace from the pulpit, say grace from the table, and strive to stay in each other’s good graces. “Grace” is one of the richest words in our Christian vernacular, and yet, that’s often all it remains—a word.
But is grace more than something we confess in a statement of faith? Is it more than just a word on our worship screens or in our vernacular?
Thomas Brooks was a man who not only talked about grace; he lived it. He felt the power of God’s grace and saw the effects of it in his life. His book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, identifies the various schemes of Satan and the ways Christians fight against them. But just as much, Brooks hopes the reader catches a glimpse of the true grace of God—a grace that does something.
For Brooks, grace was more than a theory. It was real. It was visible and visceral. He notes that one of Satan’s primary devices for keeping Christians in a state of despair and doubt about their faith is “suggesting to them that their graces are not true, but counterfeit.”
Certainly, for us to feel that we have been “duped” by grace that’s not really there would be devastating to our faith. But God desires that we live in assurance, knowing that if we belong to Christ, nothing can separate us from Him (Rom. 8:38-39).
TEN WAYS TO IDENTIFY “TRUE GRACE”
To really live in grace, we must learn to distinguish what Brooks calls “true grace” from a false imitation. So how do we tell the difference between the two? Luckily, Brooks provides ten particulars that help us better define what true grace is. Here are Brooks’ ten statements with some personal commentary:
“True grace makes all glorious within and without.” Grace is a transformative reality. It does not leave us unaffected or stagnant, but like the breath God breathed into Adam, it rouses and awakens us to a new life. True grace, Brooks argues, is not like a lion becoming caged, where his environment or circumstances change but his nature does not. It is rather like the lion becoming a lamb. Our nature is made new by grace. The old is gone, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
“The objects of true grace are supernatural.” When we have been captured by true grace, our motivations and affections move to supernatural objects. Having a changed nature, we also have a changed allegiance, a changed mission, and a changed perspective on what the world can offer us. We now, by God’s transforming grace, seek a kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36), treasures hidden in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:17), and crowns of glory not made by human hands (1 Pet. 5:4).
“True grace enables a Christian, when he is himself, to do spiritual actions with real pleasure and delight.” Grace transforms internally, but it does not stop there. Grace changes us at the level of our actions. We do not act a new way merely because it’s our duty, but rather, because we delight to act in response to the grace we’ve been shown. Our service is not a burden but a joy to be spent for the souls of others (2 Cor. 12:15).
“True grace makes a man most careful, and most fearful of his own heart.” Grace has a way of turning our focus off of the shortcomings and defects of others. It levels the playing field. None can claim superiority to another in light of grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Grace does not jump to conclusions or make snap judgments.
“Grace will work a man’s heart to love and cleave to the strictest and holiest ways and things of God, for their purity and sanctity, in the face of all dangers and hardships.” There is a cost associated with following Jesus. We face internal pressure from our sin nature to put back on the old self and external pressure to cave to the world and all its opposition. But grace beckons us to behave in the world “with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Cor. 1:12).
“True grace will enable a man to step over the world’s crown, to take up Christ’s cross; to prefer the cross of Christ above the glory of this world.” Apart from grace, life is a quest to prove our worth and chase achievement. But because of grace, we have the freedom to boast in Christ alone. He makes us worthy. Our achievement is this: God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do (Rom. 8:3). We don’t need the world’s fool’s gold; we have an imperishable inheritance.
“Grace puts the soul upon spiritual duties, from spiritual and intrinsic motives…that doth constrain the soul to wait on God.” When our enemies Immediacy and Efficiency tempt us to despair, we have grace in our corner to remind us that Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). What’s more, the work he gives us to do, he is bringing to completion in his time (Phil. 1:6). This does not depend at all on our impressiveness. Grace frees us to wait on him.
“Grace will cause a man to follow the Lord fully in the desertion of all sin, and in the observation of all God’s precepts.” We kill sin and follow the law because we have been given the privilege to do so. The wages of sin is death, and we came into the world totally bankrupt (Rom. 6:23). But now, because of grace, not only have our debts been paid—but we also have the opportunity to live righteously, with our whole hearts.
“True grace leads the soul to rest in Christ, as his chiefest good.” Grace enables us to draw near to our Lord’s throne with confidence and comfort (Heb. 4:16). Without grace, we would have every reason to be on edge, anxious, and fearful. But His love has cast out fear (1 John 4:18). His grace is a deep breath to the weary Christian.
“True grace will enable a soul to sit down satisfied and contented with the naked enjoyments of Christ.” Grace does not leave us lacking. We are like the sheep laid beside still waters by our Shepherd; we shall not want (Ps. 23:1). He is our Daily Bread and Living Water. Grace is unmerited favor, and it not only feeds the soul but fills it. It does not need to be dressed up. Grace alone is enough.
Believer, do you find it hard to have confidence and assurance that you stand approved before God? Are you wondering what God thinks of you and whether or not you’re doing this Christian life the right way? How the grace of God has affected a person can tell you a lot about their spirituality.
If you’re finding yourself struggling to be sure of God’s grace in your life, run a diagnostics test. Ask yourself these questions:
- Has grace transformed your nature?
- Has grace changed your perspective?
- Has grace changed your actions?
- Has grace made you look inward?
- Has grace created a desire for holiness in your heart?
- Has grace freed you from having to prove your worth?
- Has grace caused you to wait on God in your life?
- Has grace made obedience to God a delight?
- Has grace allowed you to rest in Christ’s finished work?
- Has grace grown your contentment in Christ?
Your answers will help you determine what grace is really up to in your life.
GRACE IS NOT GRAY
A final note on grace that we cannot leave unnoticed as it relates to our assurance: When Jesus died for sinners, he did not do so in part. The grace found in salvation does not vary from person to person. Calvary eliminated the gray area. There is no one who has lived a good enough life or been a good enough person to make them “sort-of” righteous. And there is no one who has been justified and forgiven who will only have access to some of God’s grace. There is no scale from zero to ten that determines how much grace we’ve been shown; it is either a zero or a ten.
It’s fitting to close with one more word from Brooks:
“We have all things in Christ, and Christ is all things to a Christian. If we be sick, he is a physician; if we thirst, he is a fountain; if our sins trouble us, he is righteousness; if we stand in need of help, he is mighty to save; if we fear death, he is life; if we be in darkness, he is light; if we be weak; he is strength; if we be in poverty, he is plenty; if we desire heaven, he is the way.”
Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.