When we don’t believe in grace


I went to church for years and never understood it. Never heard much about it. And surely never believed much in it.


I finally discovered it, and wow! Now I can’t hear enough about grace and the freedom it brings me.

But why are there many in our churches who still don’t believe in grace?

“The thought means nothing to them; it does not touch their experience at all. Talk to them about the church’s heating, or last year’s accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word ‘grace’ points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness. . . .

They do not accuse you of talking nonsense, but . . . the longer they have lived without it the surer they are that at their stage of life they do not really need it.
– J. I. Packer

In chapter 13, “The Grace of God,” in Knowing God, J. I. Packer suggests these four reasons why many can’t grasp grace.

4 reasons we don’t appreciate grace:

1. We think we’re good enough without it.

Instead of us being made in the image of God, we tend to create God in the image of us. And we think highly of ourselves. We’re pretty good people, yes?

“Modern man, conscious of his tremendous scientific achievements in recent years, naturally inclines to a high opinion of himself. He views material wealth as in any case more important than moral character.”

2. We see no need for it.

We’d rather put off any thoughts of punishment. Ignore evil as much as possible. So we assume God feels like that, too. With no worldview of punishment, who needs grace to counter it?

3. We believe we can talk our way out of trouble.

Who can say no to us? Aren’t we capable of repairing our own relationships—even with God? We have the power within ourselves, right?

“. . . by putting God in a position where He cannot say ‘no’ any more. Ancient pagans thought to do this by multiplying gifts and sacrifices; modern pagans seek to do it by churchmanship and morality.”

4. We think God is obligated to love us anyway.

To quote a French freethinker, “God will forgive—that’s his job.” We feel he is bound to show us pity because of who he is.

But, but, but . . .

As Packer points out, we aren’t as good as we think we are.

We are guilty, unclean. So we do need grace to cover our otherwise deserved punishment. God is the one with the power, not us, to mend our broken relationship with him. We are dependent upon him for mercy—he doesn’t owe it to us—but by his own choice and goodness, he gives it to us.

“Justification is the truly dramatic transition from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance.”

Thank God for his grace.
Believe it.
Receive it.

Be changed by it.

“For love awakens love in return.”

* * *

Are you early or late to grace? I’m late, but better late than never! Please share in the comments.

Previous chapters:

Next week:

  • Chapter 15 and 16, “The Wrath of God” and “Goodness and Severity”


7 thoughts on “When we don’t believe in grace

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Great post, Lisa. I had never really places grace into conscious mind, save simply accepting it and getting on with life.

    I try to do the best I can, but I know that it simply won’t be enough, and know that the bridge called grace will carry me the rest of the way home.

  2. Barbara H.

    I just finished this chapter this morning and am wondering how I totally missed the sentence in your graphic. What a neat analogy. I’ve heard about grace ever since I started going to the church I went to in high school, but one error I run into most often is “grace and…” People say they are saved by grace and dependent on God’s grace to live, but then they elevate their personal standards to almost the same level of the ten commandments and severely judge everyone else who doesn’t do the same. They seem to miss that their standards should be an outflow of their desire to live for God’s glory, not a means of obtaining His favor, and that He desires us to show that grace to others as well. We can so easily get off track – I am so thankful that He graciously keeps working with us and correcting us.

  3. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! I am very fortunate to have been raised in a tradition that always included grace. Where would I be without it? Grace, to me, is the very love of God poured out on me to make me more like Him. I can decide to grab it, or ignore it, but it’s there.
    Why would I ignore such a gift? Give me grace all the days of my life 🙂

  4. floyd

    I grew up in a legalistic church and it turned me off, or gave me an excuse to live the prodigal life. I grasped grace most of my life even when I wasn’t living like it. To glimpse the nature of this flesh and know that God has chosen me, provides and protects, leaves me with the deep understanding of his unmerited favor that He calls grace.

    Excellent reminder and post, Lisa.

  5. Jean Wise

    Grace, grace and more grace. I am so thankful this gift from God. I sometimes think we don’t feel we deserve it either so it isn’t discussed . so glad I too attend a church where grace is preached. Now just to live that way every moment.. good thoughts, Lisa!

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