The idea of grace is rooted in the fact of who we are and Who God is. God is the absolute Sovereign Creator of the universe, and we are His rebellious creations. His will is paramount and inviolable, yet we violate it every day of our lives. When we look at things from that perspective, it becomes easy to see that we have of ourselves no standing before God whatsoever; indeed, we deserve no standing before Him.
That’s where grace comes in. Grace is probably best defined as “unmerited favor,” and it is the foundation of the Christian life. It is only because of God’s great love for us that He shows us any favor at all. We certainly don’t deserve anything from Him, yet He has given us everything, even to the extent of dying for us in the Person of the Son. Because of Christ’s death, we can have a standing before God that we do not deserve - and it is given freely to us. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
There is a string attached, however. Paul explains it in the very next verse, Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is only by God’s grace that we can be saved. Indeed, it is only by His grace that we can receive the faith that will save us. But once He does save us, we become His. He begins to work in us to change us into the image of Christ - not all at once, but more and more so throughout our lifetimes. That process of development is what discipleship is all about. As disciples, we follow our Master wherever He leads, and in so doing, become more like Him. Discipleship is really the process of cooperating with God’s grace that is at work in our lives. God is doing the work in us, and we are acting in concert with Him. It is both active and passive on our part.
The process works perfectly to the extent that we let it. It is important that our cooperation continue throughout our lives. Having made the connection with Christ, we must “abide” in Him. What that means is that we stay connected to Him in a spiritual way - through prayer, study of the Word and obedience. Jesus gave the illustration of a vine and its branches in John 15. He is the Vine, we are the branches. In the case of a literal vine, a branch that becomes disconnected dries up, dies and stops producing fruit. A healthy branch may produce much fruit, but it can do so only because it is connected to the vine. In like manner, we as “branches” can only produce the fruits of God’s grace to the extent that we remain connected to the Vine, the Source of all spiritual life. To neglect our relationship will, at best, limit us as to what we can accomplish for Him, both in our own lives and those of others we seek to help.