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In Christianity, grace is "unmerited favor" from God. Divine grace is a not only a description of the character of God but also the very essence of God and who He is. Grace then isn't just an attribute and character of God. God is grace. Which is displayed by God's gifts to humanity. Grace describes the means by which humans are granted salvation (and to some, saved from original sin). Grace is of central importance in the theology of Christianity, as well as one of the most contentious issues in Christian sectarianism. The principle of grace is considered as fundamental to Christianity as justice is to Law. The terms “salvation” and “grace” therefore become "virtually synonymous." Yet, grace has never been made part of any Christian creed except for the Westminster Confession.
Theologian J. I. Packer describes grace this way:
What is grace? In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards men who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. ‘(God) hath made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’
– J.I. Packer
Grace is often distinguished from mercy in that mercy is seen as not receiving punishment that one deserves to receive, whereas grace is the receipt of a positive benefit that one does not deserve to receive. Grace is also distinguished from knowledge of the Bible. In John Bunyon's classic allegory Pilgrim's Progress, the character named "Talkative" says that great knowledge of biblical mysteries is evidence of the work of grace in the soul. "Faithful" admonishes "Talkative" by saying, "...knowledge, great knowledge, may be obtained in the mysteries of the Gospel, and yet no work of grace in the soul. Yea, if a man have all knowledge, he may yet be nothing, and so, consequently, be no child of God."
- 1 Shared concepts of grace
- 2 Biblical concepts of grace
- 3 Differing concepts of grace
- 3.1 Grace in Catholicism
- 3.2 Grace and merit
- 3.3 Grace in Eastern Christianity
- 3.4 Grace in the Protestant Reformation
- 3.5 John Wesley
- 3.6 Churches of Christ
- 3.7 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
- 4 Non-Christian conceptions of grace
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
Catholics maintain that humanity is born in a state of sin. This is a consequence of original sin; a sinful nature is inherited; explained as a result of the fall of man through the first sins of Adam and Eve in Eden. Some who reject the story from Genesis as history still agree that humans are born in sin, but the meaning and connotation of this phrase varies widely. The original state of grace enjoyed by the once-good people God created has been lost, for them and for their descendants. The West characterizes this situation by saying men are born having forfeited any claim to salvation; the Orthodox view the question of "claims" as inappropriate. Eastern Orthodoxy does not subscribe to this particular doctrine of original sin.
God's grace responds to this otherwise hopeless situation. God, at His initiative, sent prophets and other teachers to reveal His existence to mankind. He gave the Torah, the Law of Moses, to the Jews, and made them his chosen people to provide a moral example to the rest of mankind.
It was also through the Jews that God's grace sent his Son, Jesus Christ. In the Western interpretation, He sought to make redemption for the sins of mankind through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection; for the Orthodox, he redeemed mankind by his Incarnation and Resurrection. A Calvinist-tinged reading has it that God's grace is freely given, on behalf of the men He has called to salvation, but God is not obliged to save anyone; men cannot make themselves good enough to earn their way into Heaven on their own initiative, or give rise to a duty on God's part to save them. It is only through the redemption brought by Christ's sacrifice that anyone is saved, and the path of salvation for men lies in participating in that redemption. Indeed, some denominations of Christianity paraphrase grace as "God's Rewards At Christ's Expense" to represent this.
Biblical concepts of grace
Ideas of grace in the Hebrew Bible
While a single word rendered into English as grace is not strictly speaking present in the Hebrew Bible, a number of concepts used to describe God in Biblical-era Judaism are forerunners to the Christian concept of grace.
One such concept is named by the Hebrew word chesed, one which William Tyndale translated as loving-kindness, a word of his own coinage. The core concept here centers on the faithfulness and forbearance needed to make the covenant relationship continue, despite the several incidents of backsliding by the covenant people to which the Hebrew Bible bears witness.
Other Hebrew concepts used to describe the grace of God include a group of words whose basic element is hen or hanam (the h pronounced like the ch in Bach), which means the spontaneous gift of affection; and raham, which implies mercy and compassion, including the merciful restoration of a broken relationship. All of these concepts are used especially by the Hebrew prophets to describe God's choice of Israel as his chosen people, and His refusal to abandon them despite their violations of the covenant.
The Psalms are a good example of use of the concept of Grace in the Hebrew Bible. The psalmist, traditionally seen to be King David, calls out to God to intercede in both his personal affairs and with the concerns of the nation.
New Testament ideas of grace
The New Testament word that is usually translated "grace" is in Greek charis (χαρις), which literally means "that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness". The word was not often used by Jesus himself; in the canonical Gospels it is attributed to him only in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John. However, the parables attributed to Jesus in the Gospels make clear that Jesus did in fact teach the concept of grace. More importantly, He told stories that underlined that grace was God's to give, God's sole prerogative, and that it was freely offered.
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard tells of a man (who in the traditional Christian understanding, represents God) who hires some workers early in the day, some later, and some an hour before quitting time, then pays each of them the same amount. When the workers who worked all day balk, the employer's explanation is, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? … So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few are chosen.
Similarly, the well known parable of the Prodigal Son, is traditionally understood by most Christians as containing the teachings of Jesus on grace. A son demands the family fortune and wastes it, then returns home expecting little in the way of good treatment. The father welcomes him handsomely, over the objections of his other son who stayed at home and served dutifully.
Many throughout Christian history have perceived a common thread in these parables of Jesus: the grace of God is something that upsets settled human notions about merit, about what is deserved, and what is due as recompense.
Tension between grace and works in the New Testament
The New Testament exhibits a tension between two aspects of grace: the idea that grace is from God and sufficient to cover any sin, and the idea that grace does not free Man from his responsibility to behave rightly.
Many parables of Jesus preach grace broad enough to forgive any sin, and to be available regardless of the seeming unworthiness of its recipient. Examples of this included the parable of the Prodigal son and lost sheep. However, Jesus also said:
- "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." -- the introduction to the Antithesis of the Law in the Gospel of Matthew
Later, St. Paul of Tarsus wrote that For by grace ye are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV) For St Paul, salvation, like the wages of the labourers in the parable, is God's gift at God's sole prerogative. Were it achieved by works (erga; any human effort that intends earning; see Rom. 4:4), men could take pride in their efforts toward holiness, and God's gift of grace would be diminished in contrast to man's efforts. This stands in tension to his teaching in Romans 2:6:
- "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God."
A more works-oriented perspective is presented by the James 2:1-26, concluding that faith without works is dead. By "works," James here appears to include both acts of charity, and righteousness according to the code of laws; the preceding text mentions charity to the poor as well as sins against the law of Moses. An inward change, the forsaking of old sinful ways, and being reborn in a spirit of generosity is to James the true test of conversion. Without these things, claiming to have "faith" is a sham. Grace must be something that steers the Christian to avoid sin and practice charity. Without these signs, it seems likely that grace was never there. James speaks of works after salvation, as a result, and Paul speaks of the lack of works in gaining salvation.
The First Epistle of John maintains this tension throughout. On the one hand, it repeatedly claims that those who "walk in the light" do not sin and do enjoy fellowship with God, while those who "walk in darkness" have no fellowship with God. However, it also describes receiving forgiveness of sins through confession and God's grace. Verse 3:4 (NIV) states: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness."
Grace according to conservative and evangelical theology
In Christianity, grace is "unmerited favor" from the God of the Bible. It is referred to in and multiple other places. In Christian theology, salvation roots in the grace of God:
Salvation roots in the grace of God. For bankrupt sinners with no ground of their own upon which since then, with nothing of their own to hold up to God for his reward, it is their only hope, but it is their sufficient hope. The encouragement to "come boldly to the throne of grace"is offered to offenders who are known so thoroughly to God that he discerns "the faults and intents" of their hearts as they stand "naked and exposed to the eyes of him with whom it is our account." We cannot conceal our sin nor self-remedy it. Our one hope, our sure hope, is in the sinless One who not only can feel for humanity in our weaknesses but who has conquered precisely where we have failed.
– Frank Stagg
God has personally intervened in human history in such a way that the ground of man's approach to God, and of all his relations with God, is not to be found in man's fulfillment of the divine command, but in a final act of self-commitment on the part of God in which he has given himself to man through sheer love and in such fashion that it cuts clean across all questions of human merit and demerit.
– James Moffatt
Differing concepts of grace
A distinctive of the Christian faith from other religions is its doctrine of the grace of God. Christians believe that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The concept of grace differs from the Old Testament to the New Testament. It also differs significantly among Christian groups. It has been termed "the watershed that divides Roman Catholicism from Protestantism, Calvinism from Arminianism, modern liberalism from conservatism." Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that its sacraments and priests are the mediators of grace. Protestants generally do not hold that view. Calvinists emphasize the total helplessness of humanity apart from grace. Arminian doctrine teaches that the grace of God somehow cooperates with human's abilities and will. Modern liberalism "gives an exaggerated place" to one's abilities to decide one's own fate and to achieve salvation completely independently from God's grace. Conservatism says that God's grace is necessary for salvation.:pp.9-11
Grace in Catholicism
Grace is not just God's loving kindness, favor or mercy, but God's divine life itself, which enables the work of Christ to flow through us. Through Adam, we have been dis-graced and separated from God, and in Christ, we are restored to grace and reconciled to God. Through grace men become new creations, "partakers of the divine nature."Justification is by grace alone, through faith working in love. The essence of grace is that it is a freely offered gift, normatively given through the sacraments, particularly baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and reconciliation . Man does not earn or deserve or merit grace and as such, cannot claim it as a right.
Grace has been divided by some theologians into two forms, Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace. Sanctifying grace is the divine life that infuses our soul at justification (normatively at baptism) and, through the spirit of adoption, transforms the sinner into a holy child of God. As such we participate in the Divine Childship of Jesus Christ. With this divine childship comes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (who is the divine personification of the bond of love between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ). Sanctifying grace is a permanent part of the soul as long as one does not reject one's adopted childship by committing a mortal sin, which severs one's bond to the Father. However, God is infinitely merciful, and sanctifying grace can always be restored to the penitent heart, normatively in the sacrament of reconciliation. Since the end and aim of all efficacious grace is directed to the production of sanctifying grace where it does not already exist, or to retain and increase it where it is already present, its excellence, dignity, and importance become immediately apparent; for holiness and the sonship of God depend solely upon the possession of sanctifying grace, wherefore it is frequently called simply grace without any qualifying word to accompany it as, for instance, in the phrases "to live in grace" or "to fall from grace". Actual Grace is a supernatural help of God for salutary acts granted in consideration of the merits of Christ. A theological debate has opposed Catholicism, both internally and to Calvinism, concerning the nature and exact role of the efficacious grace. Augustinism and Thomism asserted that efficacious grace did not contradict human's free will. They claimed that although man always retained the willpower to resist to divine grace, by the effects of the efficacious grace, he did not want to resist to it. Thus the ambiguous doctrine of an "irresistible grace", which led to important debates first during the Vth century, opposing Pelagianism to Augustinism (see following section) and then again during the 16th and 17th century, explaining in particular the creation of the Congregatio de Auxiliis as the Jesuits denied the existence of an "efficacious grace," while the Dominican Order, Augustinists and Thomists asserted its trueness. The debate, which took place in the context of the Counter-Reformation, was revived during the formulary controversy between Jansenists and Jesuits.
Pelagius vs. Augustine of Hippo
In the fifth century, a debate that affected the understanding of grace in Western Christianity, and that was to have long reaching effects on subsequent developments in the doctrine, took place between Pelagius and St Augustine of Hippo.
Pelagius, an ascetic who is said to have come from Britain, was concerned about the retention of man's moral accountability in the face of God's omnipotence. He strongly affirmed that men had free will and were able to choose good as well as evil. Pelagius denied that original sin had extinguished God's grace in Adam's heirs, and that consequently mankind had the power to do good, to convert themselves from sin by their own power, and the ability to work out their own salvation. Religion's purpose is to teach us virtue, from which we can expect reward from God. By great efforts, it is possible for those in the flesh to achieve moral perfection.
Pelagius's seemingly optimistic creed in fact burdens weak mortals with a burden too great to bear; or at least this was part of the response of St Augustine. More importantly, it does not clearly explain why Jesus Christ had to die for anyone's sins; if men can redeem themselves by their own efforts, atonement by Jesus on the Cross was at best a vague sort of moral example. The taint of original sin did extinguish God's grace in men's souls; no matter how righteously they conducted themselves, their virtues could never make them worthy of the infinite holiness of God. Men are massa peccati, a mass of sin; they can no more endow themselves with grace than an empty glass can fill itself. While we may have "free will" (liberum arbitrium) in the sense that we can choose our course of conduct, we nevertheless lack true freedom (libertas) to avoid sin, for sin is inherent in each choice we make. It is only by God's sovereign choice to extend His grace to us that salvation is possible.
Pelagianism was repudiated by the Council of Carthage in 417, largely at Augustine's insistence. The Eastern Orthodox Church, as expressed in the teachings of John Cassian, holds that though grace is required for men to save themselves at the beginning; there is no such thing as total depravity, but there remains a moral or noetic ability within men that is unaffected by original sin, and that men must work together (synergism) with divine grace to be saved. This position is called Semi-Pelagianism by the West. A similar teaching is Arminianism, but Arminians believe in total depravity.
Jansenism versus the Jesuits
At about the same time that Calvinists and Arminians were debating the meaning of grace in Protestantism, in Catholicism a similar debate was taking place between the Jansenists and the Jesuits. Cornelius Jansen's 1640 work Augustinus sought to refocus Catholic theology on the themes of original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination, as he found them in the works of St Augustine. The Jansenists, like the Puritans, believed themselves to be members of a gathered church called out of worldly society, and banded together in institutions like the Port-Royal convents seeking to lead lives of greater spiritual intensity. Blaise Pascal attacked what he called moral laxity in the casuistry of the Jesuits. Jansenist theology remained a minority party within Catholicism, and during the second half of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was condemned as a heresy, though its style remained influential in ascetic circles.
Grace and merit
According to Eusebius, the Roman emperor Constantine I was not baptised until shortly before his death in the year 337. To some this might suggest that his commitment to Christianity was lukewarm; in an attempt to rebut this suggestion, a contrary suggestion was made. Christians at the time of Constantine, or at least at the time this explanation was devised, believed that the performance of the ritual itself conferred forgiveness of sins. This, however, was a one shot deal; post-baptism sins cannot be forgiven in a second ritual, and could only be resolved by penance. By postponing baptism until the last illness, it made it unlikely that the believer committed a serious sin between baptism and death. Another explanation is that many men at that time followed a very strict interpretation of the passages in 1 John that said Christians do not sin; since they thought themselves unlikely to stop sinning upon their conversion, they put off their conversion and baptisms until shortly before death. Thus, postponing their baptisms was understood as an act of humility.
From a contemporary perspective, it is impossible to tell what Constantine intended. But the theology assumed in this explanation suggests that the concept of grace as understood by Constantine may have been altered into something Protestants find hard to fit into the New Testament's treatment of the concept.
Rather than God's property to be offered at His sole discretion, in Western Christianity at least, grace had become a sort of spiritual currency, and the Church was its banker. Believers acquired grace by participating in the Church's sacraments. The sacraments were effective in conferring God's grace by virtue of their being performed, provided that the liturgist was authorized by the Church to perform them. The grace offered through the sacraments enabled Christians to lead better lives and to deepen their faith. In addition to sanctifying grace, merit was earned by good works; by this merit, believers can earn the right to rewards from God.
Conversely, sins reduce one's merit before God and incur a debt to Him in the divine economy. According to Roman Catholicism, sufficiently serious sins not only remove merit, but also extinguish sanctifying grace in the baptized believer's soul, which can be restored by the sacrament of penance. These sins are mortal sins or deadly sins. Less serious sins, venial sins, incur loss of merit. Believers whose accounts were overdrawn at the final accounting went to Hell; believers without enough merit for Heaven went to Purgatory, where they could work off the debt they owed to God.
Fortunately, some saints achieved so much merit in their lifetimes on Earth that they got into Heaven with some to spare. This surplus was called works of supererogation, the Church's treasury of surplus merit. The Church can offer the excess merit in its treasury to be applied to the deficits in merit suffered by its penitent sinners. Pope Clement VI proclaimed this to be a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in 1343.
Grace in Eastern Christianity
In Eastern Christianity, Grace is the Uncreated Energies of God. The Sacred Mysteries (sacraments) are seen as a means of partaking of Divine Grace because God works through his Church, not just because specific legalistic rules are followed; and Grace is the working of God himself, not a created substance of any kind that can be treated like a commodity. There is no distinction made between mortal and venial sins, no doctrine of Purgatory (this was a recurring controversy leading to the Great Schism between the West and the East), and no "treasury of surplus merit". Instead, the Eastern Church has emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life and has maintained ascetic disciplines such as fasting and prayer, not as a way to make satisfaction for past sins or to build up merit, but as a means of spiritual discipline to help reduce one's susceptibility to temptation in the future, to exercise self-control, and to avoid being enslaved to one's passions and desires.
Orthodox theology does not embrace the concept of irresistible grace, but rather teaches that it is necessary for the human will to cooperate with divine grace for the individual to be saved. This cooperation is called synergy.
Grace in the Protestant Reformation
Before considering criticisms that characterized the Protestant Reformation, of the notion of grace as a sort of spiritual currency, it may be worth a moment to pause to consider its virtues. It built up the Church, by providing men with a clear sense that their acts of service to the Church would be rewarded by God. It stressed the dire consequences of sin. It reassured men that the rituals of the Church effectively pardoned their sins committed after baptism and restored them to the state of grace.
It was open to serious question, though, whether the notion of grace as spiritual currency was authentic to the teachings of the New Testament. The doctrine also proved subject to a number of abuses.
Martin Luther's posting of his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 was a direct consequence of the mechanical sacramentalism and treasury doctrines of the mediæval church. The act was precipitated by the arrival of Johann Tetzel, authorized by the Vatican to sell indulgences.
The effectiveness of these indulgences was predicated on the doctrine of the treasury of grace proclaimed by Pope Clement VI. The theory was that merit earned by acts of piety could augment the believer's store of sanctifying grace. Gifts to the Church were acts of piety. The Church, moreover, had a treasury full of grace above and beyond what was needed to get its faithful into Heaven. The Church was willing to part with some of its surplus in exchange for earthly gold. Martin Luther's anger against this practice, which seemed to him to involve the purchase of salvation, began a swing of the pendulum back towards the Pauline vision of grace, as opposed to James's.
Luther taught that men were helpless and without a plea before God's justice, and their acts of piety were utterly inadequate before His infinite holiness. Were God only just, and not merciful, everyone would go to Hell, because everyone, even the best of us, deserves to go to Hell. Our inability to achieve salvation by our own effort suggests that even our best intention is somehow tainted by our sinful nature. This doctrine is sometimes called total depravity, a term derived from Calvinism and its relatives.
It is by faith alone (sola fide) and by grace alone (sola gratia) that men are saved. Good works are something the believers should undertake out of gratitude towards their Savior; but they are not necessary for salvation and cannot earn anyone salvation; there is no room for the notion of "merit" in Luther's doctrine of redemption. (There may, however, be degrees of reward for the redeemed in Heaven.) Only the unearned, unmerited grace of God can save anyone. No one can have a claim of entitlement to God's grace, and it is only by His generosity that salvation is even possible.
As opposed to the treasury of grace from which believers can make withdrawals, in Lutheranism salvation becomes a declaration of spiritual bankruptcy, in which penitents acknowledge the inadequacy of their own resources and trust only in God to save them. Accepting Augustine's concern for legal justification as the base metaphor for salvation, the believers are not so much made righteous in Lutheranism as they are considered covered by Christ's righteousness. Acknowledging that they have no power to make themselves righteous, the penalty for their sins is discharged because Jesus has already paid for it with His blood. His righteousness is given to those who belong to him.
Grace in Protestantism
Much of Protestantism seeks to hold to the Protestant interpretation of the Biblical idea of grace. This grace is expressed both in the provision of His Son as the only grounds of our atonement, and in the application of Christ's merits to those people. Infused virtues and actual grace are concepts largely rejected by Protestantism, as is the distinction between mortal and venial sins. In the understanding of Protestantism, the Holy Spirit is not taken from believers when they sin, though He can be grieved.
These distinctions are particularly strong among the Calvinist interpretation of the Catholic Bishop - Saint Augustine of Hippo - in teaching man's total inability to save himself, and our complete dependence upon God in every aspect of salvation (a concept perhaps best summarised in the words of John Newton's well known hymn Amazing Grace).
Calvinism, Wesley and Arminianism
Eager to give all the credit to God's mercy, Lutheranism therefore eliminates the role of humans in achieving their own salvation. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession says of baptism, “Lutherans teach that it is necessary to salvation and that by baptism the grace of God is offered and that children are to be baptized, who by baptism, being offered to God, are received into God’s favor.”John Calvin expanded these themes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.
- Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
The notion that God has foreordained who will be saved is called predestination, generally; the Calvinist concept of predestination is its most controversial expression, largely because it is the most unflinching statement of the doctrine. The good news that God has freely granted the gift of salvation to those who believe has here been clarified by the thought that what He can freely grant to some, He can withhold from others.
Calvin sought to provide assurance to the faithful that God would actually save them. His teaching implied what came to be known as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, the notion that God would actually save those who were his Elect. The actual status and ultimate state of any man's soul were unknown save to God. When assurance of election was rigorously pressed as an experience to be sought, especially by the Puritans, this led to a legalism as rigid as the one Protestantism sought to reject, as men were eager to demonstrate that they were among the chosen by the conspicuous works-righteousness of their lives.
Calvin's extreme position provoked a reaction. In 1547, the Council of Trent, which sought to purify Roman Catholicism from the Protestant controversy, established Roman Catholic teaching on grace and justification as distinguished from Protestantism. It taught that justification and sanctification were parts of the same process. Grace actually enables believers to become more righteous through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Various actual Protestant doctrines were stated in extreme forms and mixed with older heresies and generally condemned by the Council, whose work formed the basis for the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation.
In 1618 James Arminius put forth a contrary position that sought to reaffirm man's free will as opposed to the eternal decrees of Calvinism. Arminius taught that God's grace was offered to all, and that it could be rejected by a man's will. It was possible for a believer to lose faith and backslide, losing the salvation that believer once possessed. These positions came to be known as Arminianism. With respect to the Calvinist Reformed churches, they were rejected by the Synod of Dort (1618 - 1619).
Later, John Wesley also rejected the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. His most comprehensive pronouncement on the subject was his sermon "Free Grace,"  preached at Bristol in 1740. In Wesley's position, the believer who repents and accepts Christ is not "making himself righteous" by an act of his own will, such as would alter his dependency on the grace of God for his salvation. Faith and repentance, rather, are the believer's trust in God that He will make them righteous. Wesley appealed to prevenient grace as a solution to the problem, stating that God makes the initial move in salvation, but human beings are free to respond or reject God's graceful initiative.
John Wesley believed that God provides three kinds of divine grace:
- Prevenient grace is innate from birth. "Prevenient" means "comes before." Wesley did not believe that humanity was totally "depraved." He believed everyone is born with a modicum of divine grace—just enough to enable the individual to recognize and accept God's justifying grace.
- Justifying grace today is what is referred to as "conversion" or being "born again." God's justifying grace brings "new life in Christ." Wesley believed that people have freedom of choice—to accept or to reject God's justifying grace. Wesley defined his term Justifying grace as "The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL."
- Sustaining grace, Wesley believed that, after accepting God's grace, a person is to move on in God's sustaining grace toward perfection. Wesley did not believe in the "eternal security of the believer." He believed people can make wrong (sinful) choices that will cause them to "fall from grace" or "backslide." He said it is insufficient to claim God's salvation and then stagnate, return to sinning deliberately, or not produce any evidence (fruit) of following Christ. Wesley taught that Christian believers are to participate in the what Wesley called "the means of grace" and to continue to grow in Christian life.sustaining grace.
Wesley's rejection of Calvinism was more successful than Arminius', especially in the U.S., largely because it was spread through popular preaching in a series of Great Awakenings. The churches of New England, with roots in Puritan Calvinism, tended to begin to reject their Calvinist roots, accepting Wesley's version of Arminianism, or overthrowing their historical doctrine entirely to depart into Socinianism. John Wesley was never a student of the influential Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). The latter's work was not a direct influence on Wesley. Yet, he chose the term "Arminianism" to distinguish the kind of evangelicalism were to espouse from that of their Calvinist theological opponents. Many have considered the most accurate term for Wesleyan theology to be "Evangelical Arminianism." It remains the standard teaching of Methodist churches, and the doctrine of prevenient grace remains one of Methodism's most important doctrines.:p.100
The Protestant Reformation and ecclesiology
Protestantism in either variety, Calvinist or Arminian, emphasize God's initiative in the work of salvation, which is achieved by grace alone through faith alone, in either stream of thinking - although these terms are understood differently, according to the differences in systems. The Protestant teachings on grace suggest a question, however: what is the role of the Church in the work of grace? Such Reformation churches taught that salvation is not ordinarily found outside of the visible Church; but with the increasing emphasis on an experience of conversion as being necessary to salvation, Sola fide began to be taken as implying that the individual's relationship with Jesus is intensely individual; we stand alone before God. Since Protestants accept that men are saved only and decisively by their belief in Christ's atonement, they often rank preaching that message more than sacraments which apply the promises of the gospel to them as members of the Church. The sermon replaces the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. The church's authority comes from the message it preaches, practically to the exclusion of the sacraments. This is often reflected in the arrangement of the pulpit and altar at the front the church; as preaching becomes more important, the pulpit moves from the side to the center, while the altar for the Eucharist shrinks to the size of a small coffee table or is eliminated entirely.
Classical Calvinism teaches that the sacraments are "signs and seals of the covenant of grace" and "effectual means of salvation", and Lutheranism teaches that new life, faith, and union with Christ are granted by the Holy Spirit working through the sacraments. However, for a large portion of the Protestant world, the sacraments largely lost the importance that Luther (and to a slightly lesser degree, Calvin) attributed to them. This happened under the influence of ideas which first began development among the Anabaptists but spread to Calvinists through the Congregationalist and Baptist movements, and to Lutherans through Pietism (although much of Lutheranism recoiled against the Pietist movement after the mid-19th century).
Where the sacraments are de-emphasized, they become "ordinances," acts of worship which are required by Scripture, but whose effect is limited to the voluntary effect they have on the worshipper's soul. This belief finds expression in the Baptist and Anabaptist practice of believer's baptism, given not to infants as a mark of membership in a Christian community, but to adult believers after they have achieved the age of reason and have professed their faith. These ordinances may even be considered works-righteousness, which is contrary to salvation by grace, a hindrance to faith, and certainly not necessary to being a Christian. The ritual as interpreted in light of such ideas does not at all bring about salvation, nor does its performance bring about the forgiveness of sins; the forgiveness which the believer has received by faith is merely pictured, not effectively applied, by baptism; salvation and participation in Christ is memorialized, not imparted, by the Eucharist. Consequently, the Church loses primacy in the believer's experience, and holds only voluntary worth.
Churches of Christ
The church of Christ believes that the grace of God that saves is the plan of salvation, rather than salvation itself. This plan includes two parts, 1) the perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, 2) the gospel/New Testament/the faith.
Concerning Ephesians 2:8 which states: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:" it is noted that the word "it" is a pronoun and refers back to a noun. As the word "saved" is a verb, "it" does not refer to "saved" but to Grace, giving the definition of grace as "the gift of God". Furthermore, as the book of James distinguishes between a dead faith (a faith without works) and a living faith (a faith accompanied by works of obedience), it is believed that by God's gift operates through an individuals living faith resulting in that individual being saved.
The church of Christ believes that since according to Titus 2:11 God's grace had (at the writing of that letter) appeared unto all men and that God wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9), and recognizing that not all men will be saved (Matt. 7:13-14), grace can not be salvation according to scripture.
The church of Christ believes that by examining the specific properties of Grace as described in the Bible, especially the New Testament, what this unearned gift of God that saves actually is.
- Grace is contrasted with the Law of Moses (Romans 6:14; Hebrews 10:4; John 1:17) and the church of Christ believes that Paul's contrast between work and faith is as described under the Efforts to resolve the tension section, a contrast between works of the Old Covenant and obedient faith under the New Covenant.
- Grace saves (Eph. 2:5); justifies (Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7).
- Grace can not be added to (Gal. 5:4).
- Grace teaches (Titus 2:11); can be preached (Eph. 3:8).
- Grace calls us (2 Tim. 1:9; Gal. 1:15).
- Grace is brought by revelation (1 Pet. 1:13).
These properties are all accredited to the gospel/New Testament itself:
- The New Testament is contrasted with the Old Testament (Hebrews).
- The gospel saves (Rom. 1:16); engrafted word saves (James 1:21); the faith (Gal. 2:16).
- Practices righteousness (1 John 3:4).
- Teaches (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 3:16) - the very essence of doctrine is teaching.
- Calls us (2 Thess. 2:14).
- Is brought by revelation (Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 3:23; and many more).
Continuing this comparison between the gospel and divine saving grace is Gal. 1:6 which states
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:"
The Galatians were removed from the calling of the gospel (Gal. 1:15; 2 Thess. 2:14) unto another gospel (another message) which verse 7 says is not a gospel at all but a perversion.
In that they believe that grace is not salvation, but the plan of salvation, the church of Christ believes that the difficulties supposed between God not having respect towards any individuals (Acts 10:34) yet the truth that not all men are saved (Matt. 7:13-14) is resolved. God has presented His gift to all men just as Titus 2:11 teaches. Christ died for all men (2 Cor. 5:14-15) and the gospel is available to all men and in fact was preached to them all in the life time of the Apostles (Col. 1:6,23; Rom. 10:18), but not all men respond to the gospel in obedient/living faith which is also required for salvation (Heb. 11:6; Eph. 2:8), therefore not all men are saved.
The church of Christ believes that grace provides the following plan, which if followed results in salvation, entrance into the body of the saved (Eph. 5:23) which is Christ's church (Eph. 1:22-23), not by "earning" salvation, but by the obedience of servants in hope and trust in the faithfulness of their master to fulfill His promises according to His word.
One must hear the gospel/word (Rom. 10:17). Believe the gospel (Mark 16:15-16). Repent of their past sins (Acts 2:38). Confess their faith in Christ before men (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9-10) Be immersed in water into Christ for the remission of those sins (1 Pet. 3:21; Romans 6:3-18; John 3:3,5; 1 John 5:6,8; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; etc.) Living faithfully even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10; Rom. 11:17-22; James 5:19-20)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
The Book of Mormon declares: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God,” (Moroni 10:32-33) illustrating the need for compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel and the need for the pure love of Christ in conjunction with the receipt of the gift of grace, which comes “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). It should also be noted that in the Book of Mormon there is a people therein which said, after being converted to gospel of Christ, that "it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain" (Alma 24:11). In addition, the apostle Neal A. Maxwell stated "The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” ... are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us." (Ensign, Nov 1995) Together, these suggest that "all we can do" entails of repentance and giving our will to God. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi also emphasizes that after the law of Moses was "fulfilled in Christ," the Nephites "need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away," understanding that the law of Moses would be fulfilled through Christ's atonement and resurrection, as He also taught. (2 Nephi 25:24,27)
Latter-day Saint doctrine also emphasizes Jesus’ mention of the Final Judgment, where works will be a determining factor in personal assignment to degrees of glory, such as the Celestial Kingdom. Such works must be motivated by love for Jesus Christ and others, not focused on appearances for the sake of pride or trusting in the "arm of flesh" (2 Nephi 4:34), but focused on Christ's grace and His power to change men's hearts as they look upon Him "with faith, having a contrite spirit." (Helaman 8:15) Nephi taught, "Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth." "And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free." (2 Nephi 2:6,4) "Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; ... all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden." (2 Nephi 26:27,28) Christ says, in effect, that He has given all men the gift of His grace as the opportunity to access His power to cleanse them, heal them, and make them whole (perfect), but to access that power, the divine law of mercy requires that they come unto Him "with full purpose of heart" through faith and repentance (3 Nephi 18:32).
Non-Christian conceptions of grace
Hindu conceptions of grace
The Hindu philosopher Madhvacharya held that grace was not a gift from God, but rather must be earned.
Non-theist conceptions of grace
- Deffinbaugh, Bob. "The Grace of God, Part I." bible.org Aug. 26, 2009: <http://bible.org/seriespage/grace-god-part-i-ephesians-15-12-21-10>
- Ryrie, Charles C. The Grace of God. Moody Press, 1963.
- J. I. Packer, Knowing God. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973, p. 226.
- Bunyan, John (1628-1688). Pilgrim's Progress. Auburn: Derby and Miller, 1853. e-version available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Sept. 3, 2009 
- Stagg, Frank. "New Testament Theology." Broadman Press, 1962. ISBN 0-8054-1613-7
- James Moffatt, Grace in the New Testament. NY: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, 1932, p.5
- Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Platina CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1984. LCCN 84-051294 pp.257–261
- Gregory (Grabbe), Archbishop. The Sacramental Life: An Orthodox Christian Perspective. Liberty TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press, 1986
- Kallistos (Timothy Ware). The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books, 1963. pp.226ff. ISBN=0-14-020952-6
- John MacArthur, Jr. The Salvation of Babies Who Die--Part 1. 1986. Accessed Sept. 7, 2009.
- Matthew J. Slick. "The Five Points of Calvinism." Sept. 7, 2009 <http://www.calvinistcorner.com/index.html>
- "God's Preparing, Accepting, and Sustaining Grace." Official United Methodist publication. Sept, 7, 2009. 
- Cracknell, Kenneth, and Susan J. White. An introduction to world Methodism. Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0521818490. P.100
- Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, Ian McGreal
- Ability, Arnold S. Kaufman, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 60, No. 19
- Bishop Kallistos (Ware), The Inner Kingdom: The Collected Works (St. Vladimir's Seminary, 2000) ISBN 0-88141-209-0
- The Way of a Pilgrim and A Pilgrim Continues on His Way, Olga Savin, trans. (Shambhala, 2001) ISBN 1-57062-807-6
- Catholic Teaching on Sin & Grace (Center for Learning, 1997) ISBN 1-56077-521-1
- Stephen J. Duffy, The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought (HPAC, 1992) ISBN 0-8146-5705-2
- George Hayward Joyce, The Catholic Doctrine of Grace (Newman, 1950) ASIN B0007E488Y
- Vincent Nguyen, The Pauline Theology of Grace from the Catholic Perspective ASIN B0006S8TUY
- Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace (Kingswood, 1994) ISBN 0-687-00334-2
- Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge, 1998) ISBN 0-521-62481-9
- R. C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology (Baker Book House, 1999) ISBN 0-8010-1121-3
- Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan, 1997) ISBN 0-310-24565-6
- Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans, 2007) ISBN 978-0-8028-2897-2
- John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion - Book 2 Chapter 4"
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