A Narrow Definition of Grace
When I think of the definition "by grace," I don’t want to look past what I think we often use as rubrics or quick statements of what grace is—it’s pardon, it is unmerited favor. But the difficulty is if we start looking for a message of pardon or unmerited favor throughout the Scriptures, then we’re going to narrow to a few Pauline passages or an example of Jesus dying on the cross and say, "There is unmerited favor," and then we get to lots of other portions of Scripture and we’re not exactly sure what we’re looking for.
A Redemptive Message
If we really believe the message of grace is unfolding throughout the scriptures from Genesis 3:15 forward when God said, "I’m going to put enmity, I’m going to put this conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and the seed of the woman is ultimately going to crush the serpent," then everything else is a redemptive message: God unfolding his grace for humanity throughout the Scriptures. And what’s happening is not always this kind of direct statement of, "Here’s my pardon for your sin," or, "Here’s the atoning message of my Son to come." Rather, what God is doing is he is showing consistently how he provides for people who cannot provide for themselves.
It’s that seed message of grace that is planted and then begins to flourish throughout the Old Testament and comes to full manifest flower in Jesus Christ. What we’re looking for when we’re looking for grace is how God is providing for people who cannot provide for themselves. So when God is giving food to the hungry, when he is giving rest to the weary, strength to the weak, victory to those who shouldn’t have victory at all, pardon to those who are sinful, faithfulness to the unfaithful—all of these are means by which God’s grace is on display and unfolding ever more fully throughout the Bible until it culminates in Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, grace is God providing for people who cannot provide for themselves.