The Bible college definition of grace is: unmerited or undeserved favor.
What I want us to understand about grace is more than the definition but actually what it is. Grace simply is "one way love". I first heard this tweeted by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian and it is spot on with what God's grace is.
Matthew 15:1-14 talks about an encounter that Jesus had with the religious leaders of His time. They accused Jesus' disciples of not keeping certain traditions. Jesus' reply was that they keep their traditions but squash what God has said to do. Then Jesus quotes Isaiah. In essence saying that they only honored God externally (by doing religious acts and accusing those who didn't) but internally there was no connection with God.
What motivated people in the Old Testament (OT) was guilt. God used guilt in the OT to point out that something had to be done to pay for the sin that was committed. What pointed out the guilt was the Law.
Israel had 613 Laws to follow perfectly for them not to be broken in their lives. Of course no one is perfect. When just one Law was broken by a person then all the Law was broken by that person. So guilt reigned in their lives. Each time they broke a Law they had to DO something to make it right. The Law never says "You are forgiven" only "You are guilty." We desperately need a "Not guilty" verdict.
Religion than can be interpreted as guiltyism. No matter what I do in attempting to be free from my guilt I will fail; going to church, giving money, and doing good deeds will never be good enough. We can never pay this debt. Religion tries to make you feel guilty so that you will DO something to please religion.
Guilt does not equal grace.
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
The word guilt appears in the OT 170 times and in the NT 16 times.
The word grace appears in the OT 11 times and in the NT 116 times.
Motivation by guilt was replaced with a motivation to accept His grace. Rather than focusing on obeying a long list of requirements Jesus emphasized grace; so guilt-oriented religion was replaced by grace-oriented relationship.
Grace is not about doing but about receiving. Jesus already did everything that God required.
Guilt accused us so we needed a sacrifice. A payment was needed for the wrong done. Jesus paid the debt so we wouldn't have to. He did it without humanity even realizing it. That is one way love.
And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
The Pharisees were all about rules and traditions. They were grace killers. They looked at the letter of the law. From creation God has desired a relationship with mankind. He constantly walked with Adam and Eve before they sinned. He said that He would raise up a people not a religion from the children of Abraham. So with Jesus' sacrifice God can have a relationship with us once again.
The grace of God is God showing love to a people who really don't deserve it. Nothing we can DO can pay God back for His grace. It's a one way love and God just asks that we accept it before it's too late.