Christians talk a lot about “grace.” We say, “Grace and peace be with you.” We extol God for His mercy and grace. We sing about His amazing grace. And when we endure severe trials and are asked how we ever did it, who hasn’t heard someone say… “It was only because of God’s grace!”
So grace is a word saturated in our vocabulary. But what exactly does it mean? What is the purpose of grace? Are their limits to it? And lastly, is it possible that we can abuse God’s grace so that it’s withdrawn from us?
First, let’s talk about what grace is and isn’t. Grace is never something you deserve. Nor is it based on all your good conduct or how great a person you are. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It occurs when you are given mercy and not punished for the bad things you did. It also occurs when you are given rewards and blessings, in spite of all your ungodly thoughts, words and deeds.
The fact is that the best of us suck as people. We never measure up to God’s holy standards. EVER. We lie, we deceive, we tell half truths, we hurt others as we play the victim. We pretty up our story while making others look extra bad. We fight brutal imaginary wars in our minds. We find excuses to play with our phones and ignore loving our neighbors. Many of us don’t even look up to say hello to our neighbors! And that’s just when we’re at our best.
At our worst, we destroy marriages with harsh words, thoughtless texts and horrific deeds. We discourage and crush other people’s dreams for our own selfish ends. (especially our family) And then we blame them when they lash out at us. As if we were the victim.
This is the problem with sin. Every one of us is in desperate need of a savior. And yet, no one deserves Him!
Our savior should be the Lord of our life. It’s not just about accepting Him when we walk down the church aisle. We need to commune with Jesus all the time! Jesus is here for your decisions large and small. He’s your lifeline when the times are good and when the times are horrible. And this is where His Grace comes into play.
The Purpose of Grace
Imagine that you have a stingy child who never shares. He demands a lot, he thanks you sincerely when appropriate, but for some reason, your giving to him never changes his character. He grows up physically, but deep inside he is always selfish and small.
Year after year you feed him, clothe him, and show him your kindness. You lavish him with toys, and you wipe away his tears.
As he gets older, you get him a job (and then help him keep his job), and you encourage him to delight in your love for him. But even at 30 he’s still hard-hearted. The years go by but nothing has changed. He’s still ungrateful. He still feels he’s been deprived. He still sees himself as the victim. And worse, he never passes on to others all the love and gentleness you’ve lavished on him.
As a parent, would you not grieve for your child? You wanted him to delight in the fact that you love him. You wanted him to embrace the fullness and the wonders of healthy relationships. But all he can do is clutch what you give him tighter and tighter. He is the light bulb that never shines. And for some reason he rejects everything you’ve tried to instill in him.
Your grace was totally free. But it wasn’t cheap was it? You gave him your time, you gave him your heart. You gave him your money. And it cost you dearly.
So I ask you, is there any reason to keep giving him these blessings? Does it really help him? Does it really help others? Won’t you at some point, decide that it’s time to put your resources elsewhere?
This is how God feels. The purpose of grace is not just so you can be happy and content. God gives us grace to continually drive us to sincere repentance. Repentance means more than just being sorry for the moment. Repentance is confessing your sin, and then asking God to change your heart so it becomes more and more like His heart. Nor is repentance a one shot. We sin continually, so God expects us to repent continually.
Romans 2:3-5 puts it this way: Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Am I Benefiting From Grace? (Do I Have Fruit?)
So grace is to lead us to repentance for when we fail. Grace is also to equip us to have more of God’s heart and less of our own evil heart. So consider this: If your heart is hard and impenitent, if you’re always justifying why you can hurt people…why it’s OK to be brutal, angry or stingy, rather than patient, gentle and kind…is it possible that you are not benefiting from God’s grace?
Indeed, the Bible says that God will give us the fruit of His Spirit. And that every true Christian will bear this fruit. Galatians 5:22 reveals to us that the fruit of the Spirit is not about our lofty talk or extensive Bible knowledge. Rather, our fruit is shown when we have more of God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The more we have of this fruit, the more we are benefiting from God’s Grace.
Now, you may not have the same fruit as the Christian next to you. But you should notice a change in yourself over time. If you don’t, (and neither do others) then go humble yourself before the Lord. Approach the God of Grace, and ask Him to transform your heart so it’s in His image. Ask Jesus every day to help you become more and more like Him. When you do this, He will help you to grow the fruit of the Spirit in your relationships, in your thought life and in your daily communing with God.
Are There Limits to Grace?
So what happens if you’re someone who doesn’t benefit from grace? Will God’s grace last forever? Many Christians will quickly tell you not to worry: They’ll say “since God has infinite love, then God’s grace must also be infinite.” But where are they getting this from? Yes it sounds nice. But what does Scripture say?
We know from Scripture that God’s grace is sufficient. We know from Scripture that God is a generous God who loves to lavish us with His grace. We also know from the Prodigal Son, that God has an immense reservoir of grace. Something totally unmatched by even the greatest of saints. We know that if we approach God with a humble and contrite spirit, He’ll give us even more grace! For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
So we have plenty of examples where grace never seems to run out. But that’s not the whole story. Based on Scripture, grace clearly has limits. In fact, even in the New Testament, Jesus gives us examples of when God takes away His grace.
Does This Mean I Can Become Unsaved?
Please note that taking away His grace is not the same as removing your salvation. God gives grace to both the believer and the non-believer. For the believer it may simply mean that life becomes very dry, very hard and very bleak. Or, perhaps, God takes you out of the world quickly because there’s no point in you remaining. This is what may have happened to both Ananias and Sapphira. The Bible doesn’t say they were never believers. But it does say they were killed on the spot for profaning God’s goodness. For it was a critical time in the early church when they chose to lie about the money they got from selling their land. And it was at that moment, their grace ran out.
As for non-Christians, God is full of mercy and grace as well. But there does come a time where God allows their own desires to take control over His. And yes, He even allows them to choose Hell, because of the consequences of their decisions.
In Prov. 1:28-31 the Lord says: Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me early, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, they would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof. Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.
The Scriptures are very clear that grace is not infinite. Especially for those who abuse it. The scary part is that we don’t know the limits. Only God does, which is why only God is allowed to make these judgments.
God factors in the background and the motives of each person-what they knew, what they did, why they did it, and the impact it has on others.
As in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, or Uzza touching the Ark, your limit of grace may even depend on the time period when you were born! If it impacts God’s plan, He takes it very seriously. This means that different people may get different measures of grace, even when commiting the same wrongs, with the same knowledge and the same intent!
So here we have yet another reason to repent frequently and earnestly. God is full of grace. But He is also holy and wise. We cannot predict Him, and we certainly cannot game Him. God is not to be trifled with.
Can We Abuse Grace?
Grace was given for a purpose. But like anything else, grace can be abused. God is patient and slow to anger. Yet for those who willfully disregard God’s purpose, there comes a time when God says ENOUGH.
Here’s What Scripture Says about Withdrawing Grace:
If you are forgiven much but don’t forgive, you too will not be forgiven. See Matt 5:18 (where a servant forgiven his own huge debt learns it’s been reinstated due to his lack of mercy.) Also Mark 11:25 (If you want to be forgiven for your trespasses, you must forgive others.)
Notice that God’s unmerited favor (grace) is connected with bearing fruit. Scripture says that if you bear no fruit from grace, even what you have will be taken away from you. See Luke 13:6-9 (The master will cut down the barren fig tree unless it bears fruit.) See also Matthew 25:14-30 (A servant did nothing with the fortune he was given, so his master took it away.) See John 15:1-11 (Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.)
Finally, even entire churches can abuse God’s grace. See Revelation 2:1–7 where on the outside, the Church of Ephesus continued to do great works. But on the inside, they’re hearts were almost dead to God. So God warns them: Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
The Bottom Line
You have little to fear if you continually repent and humble yourself. This is the recipe for receiving vast amounts of grace! But coasting on previous grace won’t cut it. God opposes the proud, the stiff necked, and the hard-hearted. If you as a Christian have no fruit of the Holy Spirit, or if you are too bitter to forgive others for what they’ve done to you, it could be that you are abusing God’s Grace.
If that’s you, just get on your knees and ask Jesus to help you humbly abide in Him. Confess your hard heart to Him, and ask Him to transform it to be more like His. When you do this as a lifelong habit, God will open up the floodgates of His unmerited favor. And then, you will never have to worry about running out of His Grace.
For more blogs see
Fruit & Growth (Christian-SOS)
No One But You (Hillsong Worship)
Joyful Joyful We Adore You (Casting Crowns)
For The Love of God (Andrew Ripp)