What Is Grace?

What is grace?

The definition I give for grace in my forthcoming book, One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, comes from Paul Zahl:

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing. Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love.

Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people—prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds. The most extravagant sinners of Jesus’s day receive his most compassionate welcome. Grace is a divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous. It doesn’t use sticks, carrots, or time cards. It doesn’t keep score. As Robert Capon puts it, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free.” It refuses to be controlled by our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and evenhandedness. It defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed. It doesn’t expect a return on investments. It is a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

It is one-way love.

  • Thanks for this wonderful description of grace. It is so true. In considering it I’m reminded of the difference between the grace recipient and the grace giver — absolutely free and undeserved for the former and of ultimate expense to the grace giver. Again, thanks for the reminder of this most profound truth about our Savior and his “One Way” love for us. <

  • the Old Adam says:

    You’d make a lousy Catholic or Baptist, Pastor T..

  • […] Share this:FacebookTwitterMorePrintEmailDiggStumbleUponRedditLinkedInTumblrPinterestGoogle +1Like this:Like Loading… Search This Blog […]

  • Kathy Morse says:

    How about a post on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit?

  • Tullian Tchividjian,

    Just posted in relation to this truth. I think you would appreciate it as I did yours! “Still amazed by grace”

    Steve Cornell

  • Bill says:

    @Kathy Morse: He is posting about the Holy Sprit everytime he writes. Romans 5.5 :and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” This love is made known to us by the Spirit I know it stirs my heart everytime I hear about this one way love.

  • Colleen Chao says:

    I wish I lived in the reality of this, the fullness of it all! Thank you for such a captivating definition of grace. It was a much-needed reminder to me tonight!

  • Abel Joseph says:

    “It doesn’t expect a return on investments.”
    Maybe my understanding could be corrected, but doesn’t God extend such marvelous grace with the intent of saving the lost? Our redemption probably doesn’t add to his greatness, but isnt it to that end, our redemption, that he expresses such grace? So, technically, he does desire to see something happen. Perhaps, if no one could be saved by his grace, if it had no effect, then we could conclude that there’s no expectation for a “return of investment”. But, surely he “expects” some significant result…

  • […] It is one-way love. Originally posted on […]

  • Clay says:


    We can only offer back to God what he has given us by Grace. God creates every person in His own image, and salvation by Grace is the restoration of that image, which has corrupted by sin. So I don’t know that it’s proper to think of Grace as a “return on investment” as much as it is a restoration of what has been lost because of sin.

  • Gavin says:

    I fully understand the concept of Gods amazing mercy – the prospect or reality of us getting or being given something we don’t deserve. But if grace is purely defined by our unworthiness to receive anything from God , why does He withhold it from the proud? Also, Jesus was full of grace. It must be that it was grace He had to give to others, because he certainly did not warrant unmerited favour. (I politely refuse to correct the American spelling of favour)Grace is something more than a theological proposition. I have this definition in my memory. “Grace is…the empowering presence of God (which works with Paul’s prayer of “grace and peace to you in abundance” and the verse that Jesus was full of this amazing grace) enabling me to be who He created me to be (in Christ and with foreknowledge) and to do what He created me to do. (the good works He has prepared in advance)” I think He would withhold His empowering presence from the proud. We need the activity of His empowering presence (the Holy Spirit) for our salvation, the miracle of new birth. Grace…SO much more than a proposition. It is God at work by His Spirit. Isn’t it?

  • […] Liberate Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookTwitterGoogle +1Like this:Like Loading… This entry was posted […]

  • Clay says:

    “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free.” I would be interested to know how this idea that Grace requires nothing of us is reconciled to Jesus’ parable of the sowers. And, if Grace really is free and given to all regardless of any internal qualities of the receiver, then why isn’t everyone saved? The fact is, God gives Himself to people who have hearts to receive Him. One of the points of Jesus’ association with tax collectors and prostitutes is that, first of all repentance is possible no matter what a person has done. Second, outward actions don’t necessarily reflect the true condition of person’s heart, and it is the heart that God is concerned with, not the outward actions alone.

  • Kathy Morse says:

    Tullian, can you beat this offer for following your blog?

  • […] What Is Grace? – Tullian Tchividjian Hope […]

  • suzie says:

    I used to define grace with mercy. The difference between grace and mercy is the purpose of giving it to us… grace is the thing that we received from god which we do not deserve like salvation since we are all sinners… and mercy is the thing that we deserve but the lord didn’t give to us, like death and punishment to hell… But both grace and mercy come from god’s unfailing love for humans, and it was seen through the life of jesus and by his death on the cross…

  • John Dunn says:

    Romans 5:20-21 – Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    God has always been gracious, granted. But salvific grace did not reign supremely and decisively and victoriously over Law, sin, condemnation, and death until the supreme righteousness of God was finally revealed at a specific point in redemptive history – namely through Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, and exalted.

    Conditional Old Covenant of Law/works gave way to unconditional New Covenant of grace at the cross of Jesus.

    Therefore, it is a theological gloss to define grace as a monocovenantal constant throughout redemptive history. The Old Covenant was not a display of God’s unconditional one way love to adamic Israel. On the contrary, it was a covenant of works and if/then conditions (Deuteronomy 28), a ministry of killing letter, death, and condemnation (2 Cor 3:6-9).

    Grace must be chiefly defined by the New Covenant of Christ, ratified at the cross in His body and blood.

    A glorious new Passover-Exodus redemption was necessary to cause grace to reign in righteousness!

  • zachary says:

    clay and Gavin, God offers grace to everyone, even the proud. However, the proud reject his grace, think they don’t need it. The humble accept it. It is not so much that God withholds his presence from the proud as it is that they deny it.

    “And, if Grace really is free and given to all regardless of any internal qualities of the receiver, then why isn’t everyone saved?” Because people reject the free gift-how sad!

    If God passed out love based on anything in us, then people would have something to boast about. Does He pass it out on the basis of humility?-look how humble I am! righteousness?- look how righteous I am! Nope, he bases his love for us on nothing! That is why Paul talks so much about boasting only in Christ.

    I think it is quite right to say the humble more often than the proud tend to take hold of his hand extended toward us. However, taking hold of the saving hand has nothing to do with us earning it.

  • Christina says:

    Just want to share this amazing quote I read this morning. I found out about this guy on your aunt Ruth’s blog Pastor Tullian.

    “When at last you begin to see that your heroes all have a few demons and your enemies all have some nobility…. When you finally understand that you are not all good or bad, but rather, a civil war of hope, passion, hate, love, and fears that all fight for a place in your heart… When you have seen a dream or two die and fall from your hands forever…. When you have lived long enough to understand that you will never live long enough…. When you begin to realize that, for your entire life, the wolf will always be at the door…. When you have had your heart broken and slowly accepted the painful truth that some people never come back no matter how hard we cry….. When you have had to learn how to keep breathing in and out while growing a new heart because yours was ripped out… When the memories of your own failures blind your eyes from judging others of theirs… When you have been hated for no reason at all…. When you have seen the darkest side of your thoughts, motives, and soul… When you come to understand you are both great and horrible….. When you’re ready to face the gray areas of life where there is no clear or easy answers…. When you finally understand that we all have defective wiring in our hearts…. When you open your eyes to the fact that most of us are pretending to be courageous but under it all we are afraid……. Yes my friend, When you get to this place you’re going to make a great leader. Not because you survived…but rather because parts of you did not.”

    Excerpt from “The Trojan Horse & The Christian Culture”
    By Michael Cheshire
    First Punch Press (2014)

  • I wonder what you might think of my definition of grace. Here is an excerpt from my blog post Which Came First: Loving-Kindness or Grace?

    I think that loving-kindness connects us one to another, and grace is the amazing something that somehow makes the right connections. Reread this quote:

    “When Catherine told me about this (tragedy nearby), I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this _is_ grace.”
    ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

    In this example, Catherine and indeed the entire neighborhood, are giving loving-kindness to the family in distress. Grace is the thing that placed all the people in the neighborhood together at the same point in time. No wonder we say that grace is amazing!

    Don’t you sometimes wonder why you were born to particular parents in a particular place, and at a particular time? Why do you have a particular set of friends and acquaintances, while I have a different set? Sure, there’s no doubt that free will plays a part. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s example, Catherine chose to live in that particular neighborhood. But perhaps grace somehow ensured that both Catherine and the needy family came together in that neighborhood at just the right time.

  • PHIL says:

    You have said:Grace doesn’t make demands.How can you say that when the scripture clearily say (God so loved the world that he gave (grace) his only son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life) There is a condition (demand) on receiving this grace from God and it is to “believe” not as the western world understands belief, but as the easten world understands.This belief means with all the mind and with all the life within ones self to rely, trust and obey the one believed in.
    The moslem world believes in God but reject christ as Gods son. The Grace of God make a demand on people to beieve in Christ as the only means of salvation.

  • Hello Phil, I believe that there are many paths to God, including moslem as well as Christ, as well as still others. I also believe that God’s grace is accessible to all, regardless of their particular religion. Wishing you well!

  • […] Mine” by Chris Anderson (words) and Greg Habegger (music). 25. Tullian Tchividjian, “What Is Grace?“, via The Gospel Coalition, quoting Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life […]

  • Diane gorecke says:

    Grace is the Divine inflluence (in-flowing) upon and IN the heart AND its reflection in the life. It has to affect you and in turn it effects others. It is the Holy Spirit poured out from the Word into good ground and beares fruit. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness,meekness, faith and moderation (temperance). It produces a change, it transforms.

  • […] I always think of prayer as talking to God and meditation as listening. My experience is that sitting in silence is more productive than praying. That said, you can be sure that I was praying after the diagnosis. Please let this pancreatic cancer cup pass. After Jesus said the original of that, he then said but your will be done, not mine. That’s pretty much the place I ended up; my life was on the line as I had never felt before and it became obvious to me that the outcome was pretty much out of my everyday hands. The ways I work in this world were not going to cure me. I also doubted that the medical establishment would cure me – the statistics were gloomy. So I gave myself over to Spirit and asked for whatever grace was available. Doing that somehow lifted the fear from me. Just recently saw the movie “Gravity” and was really struck by Sandra Bullock’s progression: absolute panic, then grabbing onto anything that would save her, then managing her breath and getting some control of herself back, then struggling to stay alive, then the realization that she was going to die, then the acceptance of death itself. That was pretty much what happened to me, my process too. Grace in the form of George Clooney (works for me) enabled her to figure out what she needed to do and how to do it to live. I wonder if that was what happened to me? I’m saying at this point, yeah, grace is the reason I’m still here. There was lots of other stuff of course – energy work, diet and environmental changes, changes in my spiritual life, my emotional life. But I think grace is really the foundation for it all. A friend recently told me a story about a woman who got up in his church, announced that she had been diagnosed with cancer, said that she wouldn’t use anything but God to heal her. She died within the year. My take on this is that you can’t demand grace, you can’t assume grace. It comes or it doesn’t come. Or rather, it’s always there but its outcome is not necessarily the outcome you might want. I lived, she didn’t and why that is, I haven’t a clue. I don’t think it’s about being a good person or a bad person. Plenty of bad people do just fine. In fact, the good die young is too often true. I love this particular quote by Tullian Tchividjian: (you can see the entirety of what he says at […]

  • […] as Paul Zahl has defined it, is a love that “negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold.” Grace is not a right; it’s an undeserved love which is present in spite of the receiver, not […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Related Articles

Tullian Tchividjian
For every head-scratching page that Robert Capon writes, he pens a a mind-blowingly insightful one. Some of the best paragraphs…
Tullian Tchividjian
The love of God for sinners is not a concept or a category…it’s a person. Jesus is God’s love language.…
Tullian Tchividjian
I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible.  A piece of it goes like this: Other people think…