Many recognize that is it God’s divine grace, His unmerited favor, that makes redemption of humanity possible through the Son, Jesus Christ. However, it must also be recognized that it is God’s divine grace working throughout the redemptive process of sanctification to transform us into the image of Christ bringing newness of life to every believer. In this article, I want to talk about some of the ways that divine grace works in the transformation process changing believers to become more Christ like.
Divine Grace Makes It Possible for God to Give You a New Identity
God’s grace makes it possible for God to bestow upon believers a new status as the children of God, as members of His eternal family, so they may relate to God as their heavenly father (Gal 4:4-6). The Apostle John, in his gospel, writes,
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
The Christian’s status as a child of God is far more significant than most realize, for Christians have been given an entirely new identity that not only impacts their eternal destiny but their life on earth as well. Biblical scholar, Klyne Snodgrass, in his book on Christian Identity asserts that the overarching biblical narrative should be considered when defining Christian identity. The biblical emphasis placed on history with regards to identity points to a larger history, the history of God’s effort to have a people of His own, into which we as Christians are born into the family of God. Snodgrass states,
The New Testament stresses that Christians by faith have adopted someone else’s story to be determinative of our own. Our true history is the history of Christ into which we are grafted. His history, within which and to which our personal history is subsumed, is our defining history. That is what faith, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are about. Christians lay the story of their lives—damage and all—in the hands of God, confess that parts of their story are not good, affirm that they do not direct their own story, and ask that their story be taken into and conformed to the narrative of what God is doing in Christ.1
According to Snodgrass, Christians basically trade their history and stories in for the story of Christ, assuming His family heritage and identity for their own; “laying the story of their lives—damage and all—in the hands of God.” Paul asserts in his letter to the church in Rome,
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ….
Because of God’s grace through the atoning work of Christ, believers have been adopted into the family of God. This adoption is not a forever adopted status, because Christians become fully legitimate Sons and Daughters of God in Christ.
Michael Milton, discussing the hardships of adopted children, writes about the attitudes that go with the concept of adoption and how adopted children are often viewed by society. He writes about the distinctions people make between “real children” and “adopted children” and how people in their minds and hearts make adoption an ongoing identity rather than a single event in life. Milton writes,
They elevate bloodline over covenant, a wrongheaded, human way of thinking in fleshly juxtaposition to the concept of family presented in the Bible. Unchecked and unexplained, this misguided talk about adoption can ultimately lead to the appearance of malignancies of the human soul, mental anguish, a crisis of person-hood, and a host of other diseases of the heart and mind. This is true for both the child and the parent.2
Just as it is emotionally damaging for a child to be considered adopted throughout their lifetime, it is equally damaging for a Christian to continue to consider themselves adopted into the family of God. Christians who continue to view themselves as adopted thrust upon themselves emotional damage that prevent spiritual growth and maturity and prevents them from moving forward in victory in the spiritual life and in the war against sin. We have been adopted (past tense), and are now (present tense), “the Sons and daughters of God in Christ.”
Paul, applying Old Testament prophecy to believers in Christ writes, “’And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18). According to Scripture, believers in Christ have full placement and are no longer adopted, but rather Sons and Daughters of God.
To comprehend the significance of full inheritance in Christ can be liberating opening up doors and possibilities and setting our hearts and imaginations free. In Christ, our earthly family is no longer our primary family, for we have been placed in God’s household and are His beloved children. Regardless of what family history we may have previously been held, and no matter how dysfunctional our earthly family, our new family in God’s household is perfect and we are perfectly loved. Therefore, through God’s grace, believers find a new identity as Sons and Daughters, heirs to God’s eternal kingdom by which we can throw off the yolk of bondage and live in freedom. When temptation comes, we do not have to fall back into the worthless things of the world, but we can respond in the newness of life found in our new identity. We are no longer without a home, for we have a home as the beloved children of God (Galatians 4:9).
Divine Grace Changes Our Character and Relationships
God’s grace changes both our character and relationships with others. The believer’s reception of God’s grace is conditioned upon our humble submission to the Lordship of Christ and growing in the knowledge of Him (James 4:6). God’s grace, as it is reflected in the life of Christ, is to also be reflected in the lives of believers through their character and relationships. It is for this reason Peter writes, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;” (2 Peter 1:2) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….” (2 Peter 3:18). As such, believers grow in grace as they grow in the knowledge of Christ because Christ is the embodiment of God’s grace. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ and God’s grace, our character changes and we become more like Christ. With this, our relationships are also transformed as we learn to respond to others with grace, humility, love and respect (1 Peter 2:17).
Most people, whether they will admit it or not, spend much of their life looking for a place to belong. The want to be part of the club, whether it’s at work, gym or church, they have this sense of wanting to belong to something and be part of the group. C. S. Lewis spoke much about this human need and sense of belonging. Lewis says that he believes that in all “men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local ring and the terror of being left outside.”3
The good news is, through God’s grace, Jesus comes to us and He tells us He’s answered that desire. This is what he says in John 15:15: “No longer do I call you servants.” So, we are no longer on the outside. We’re no longer on the outer circle. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s shocking that the Son of God calls us His friends. “For all that I have heard from my father, I’ve made known to you.” In other words, you’re in on what’s going on with the secrets. You are now in the “in” crowd. You’re now “in the know” so to speak. Jesus says, because of your association with Him, you’re part of that inner group, and you no longer have to strive to be popular or part of this group or that group. This is such good news. The striving to be noticed is over.
Because of this, we can be free from feelings of alienation and isolation. Why? Because we are no longer alienated or isolated because God the Son became one of us and calls us His friend. Much more, we are now free to love our neighbor because we’re not trying to work our way into the “in” group, so we are free to reach out and embrace others and bring them into our group because we’re no longer worried about our own popularity with men because we are already popular with God. This is a work of the Holy Spirit because of God’s grace working in us and through us changing us from the inside-out and our relationships with others.
Divine Grace Changes Our Behavior
Grace has an ultimate purpose by grounding the origin of the Christian life in predestination to its end in glorification (Rom 8:29-30). In Ephesians 2:10 we read that good works have been prepared by God beforehand for believers to perform. This tells us that being saved by grace is more than just a notion or a passing idea. The gracious work that God has done in Christ has real implications toward the ultimate goal of our future glorification.4 Moreover, this work of growing and changing has already begun if we, by faith, pursue God and allow Him to do this work in us. Peter admonishes believers to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul, writing to Titus, admonishes believers, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” (Titus 2:11–12)
The grace of God not only saves, it “instructs” or “teaches.” The paideia word group used by Paul for the Greek word “instructing” is the comprehensive Greek term for education. The specific term from the Greek manuscript is παιδεύουσα or paideuousa and the meaning focuses on the forming of habits for godly behavior.5 It conveys the meaning of a disciplined kind of formational type of training for life. Yet even our modern concept of education and training still fail to communicate the breath of meaning loaded into this Greek term. The description contained in verse 12 of what this training should accomplish demonstrates the meaning of the verb better than any single English word. There are two goals: to renounce ungodliness and worldly desires; and to adopt sensible, righteous and godly living in the present age (v. 12).
God’s grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to pursue righteous living. It trains us to positively embrace the Christian life in a way that is self-controlled, upright [or just] and godly with our relationship to self, others and with God. Grace instructs us to live godly lives here and now in anticipation for the soon return of Christ.
In Hebrew thought, memorizing facts, learning history, and mastering the teachings of the Law were all intended to provide the means to live for the God who delivered their ancestors from Egypt. This had immediate implications in obedience to the Law God had taught them. Behavior was the necessary fruit of knowledge. As Walter Liefeld states, “The goal was not to be an educated person, even in the best Greek sense, but to be a good son or daughter of the covenant.”6 Instruction in Jewish thought, then, was not merely an academic venture, but rather was centered on the Exodus narrative and focused on the grace that saved and instructed them.
Divine grace, then, has a much larger meaning and role in the life of the believer than what most understand it to have, for it extends well beyond the definition of “God’s unmerited favor,” and it serves to instruct believers so they may forsake worldliness and grow in sanctification.
Therefore, God’s saving grace does not end at the point of salvation but accompanies us on the further journey of our new life, providing the wisdom and direction needed to grow in the knowledge of Christ and be transformed into His image.
Food for Thought
- What is your understanding of grace? Is your understanding limited to conversion, or do you see it playing a larger role instructing believers so they may grow in Christ?
- Have you been living in a state of adoption, or full placement into God’s family?
- Are you growing and do you continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ, or have you stalled and stopped growing in spiritual maturity and Christ likeness?
- Klyne R. Snodgrass, Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 74.
- Michael A. Milton, What Is the Doctrine of Adoption?, ed. Sean Michael Lucas, Basics of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012), 8.
- C. S. Lewis, The Inner Ring Commemoration Oration delivered at King’s College, University of London, December 14, 1944 in Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal 2, no. 1 (2008), 60.
- Carl R. Trueman, Matthew Barrett, and R. Kent Hughes, Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taughts…and Why It Still Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 44.
- paideuousa Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 413.
- Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 342–343.
- Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from The New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.