I haven’t always known what grace looked like. I could recognize what “Amazing Grace” sounded like, but I couldn’t have told you what it really looked or felt like. Mainly because I didn’t know what grace really meant.
Growing up in church, I always heard grace and mercy explained and differentiated like this: “Mercy is not getting something you do deserve, while grace is getting something you don’t deserve.” And those “somethings” usually referred to judgment and salvation, respectively. Our sin separates us from God, and left to our own devices, we deserve to go to hell; therefore, mercy is not going to hell, and grace is boiled down to receiving salvation and eternal life even though we sin.
And it’s true—we don’t deserve saving grace, and we don’t deserve to have a personal relationship with Jesus either. But there are also so many other things in our daily lives we don’t deserve. God’s grace extends beyond our salvation, beyond an escape from death, and heaven is not the only thing I have received that I haven’t earned. When we limitgrace to spiritual salvation and eternal life, we assume that we deserve pretty much everything else in our lives. This limited notion of grace says that we don’t deserve heaven because of our sin, but that somehow, maybe because we still do some good things, we deserve all the other graces of our daily lives.
Further, an incomplete understanding of grace based solely around sin and salvation is almost entirely focused on the future. This grace has little do with every day, ordinary life, as it seems to only apply after we die. It is exclusively spiritual and feels like a theoretical concept, something you learn about in church but don’t see and experience in real life. As a result, it’s hard to describe what real grace actually looks like, sounds like, and feels like.
But the way author and pastor Paul David Tripp defines grace changed my perspective and changed my life. While going through his devotional New Morning Mercies, Tripp consistently challenged my previous understanding of grace and slowly helped me see a new breadth and depth of what grace really means. Before, I thought grace just changed my eternal circumstances; I never knew grace changed me.
One of the most important graces that we experience after we have received saving grace is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Tripp writes, “grace is not a thing, but a person–the Holy Spirit.”1 Grace is not a theoretical concept or a one-time transaction, but a living and active and constant Presence. We experience grace “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Grace is the Helper who guides and prompts and sanctifies us, and it sounds like that still small voice reminding us of the truth when we forget.
Similarly, Paul writes about the way the Spirit works out grace in us: “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15-16). By the Spirit, grace called Paul—and us—to be a light to the world and proclaim the name of Jesus.
Tripp further remarks that “grace means that beautiful things are being done for you and happening within you.”2 Grace is transformative, constant, and beautiful. Grace rescues us from eternal death, and rescues us from ourselves daily by making us new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). When “the old has passed away; [and] behold, the new has come,” this is what grace looks like.
While being graciously transformed into a new creation sounds glorious, we must remember that sanctification can be a messy process. Grace also looks like conviction, growth, obedience, and repentance. By grace we are daily transformed to look more like Jesus, to be a people who love better and sin less, and this can be a painful process. Grace works on the front end, not just on the back end, of our daily fears and failures.
Furthermore, we find grace in the presence and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and in undeserved, tangible help. We are sustained by grace in every moment of our lives. As Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” When God meets our needs—often by using people around us—that is grace. Grace looks like receiving forgiveness from my sister when I’ve said something I shouldn’t have. Grace looks like the kindness and compassion of a parent. Grace looks like a friend stepping in and helping me out whenever I am stuck.
All around us, there is evidence of God’s grace. We just have to remind ourselves what to look for. One time on a road trip, I left my wallet on top of my car, and then drove about 300 miles on the interstate, going about 80mph. I realized my wallet was not in my backpack when I got home, because it was still on top of my car. Now that is grace! I did not deserve that outcome, but that day, grace looked like a green Vera Bradley wallet on the top of a gold SUV.
Finally, grace is not only evident in the help God gives us, but Tripp says that “even pleasure preaches grace.”3 Acts 14:17 affirms this, saying, “He kept constantly doing good things and showing you kindness, and giving you rains from heaven and productive seasons, filling your heart with food and happiness.”
Grace looks like a beautiful sunset.
Grace sounds like a little kid laughing.
Grace tastes like a good cup of coffee.
Grace feels like the joy and excitement of people in love.
Grace is in all of these things, big and small. It is real and practical, not abstract or theoretical, and utterly undeserved.
The radical beauty of grace is that it is totally unmerited and unconditional. We don’t deserve the free gift of salvation, we don’t deserve the constant help of the Holy Spirit, and we don’t deserve all of the joys and pleasures of this life. And yet, because of God’s unthinkable love for us, we get to experience all of these forms of grace and more.
Let’s take time to notice and appreciate all these different graces. Be deeply thankful for the saving grace of Jesus. At the same time, notice all the ways the people around you and the Holy Spirit help you every day. Look for the ways grace works in you through conviction and sanctification. Take in the beauty of nature and the joy of friendship. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look at the world around you with new eyes, recognizing all we have that we don’t deserve. Let all these things point you to Jesus and remind you of grace and how amazing it is.
And then, together, we can sing with new meaning, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see…”
1Tripp, Paul David. New Morning Mercies (2014), “September 1.”
2 Tripp, “June 1.”
3 Tripp, “December 28.”