Different kinds of grace.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 May 2023
GRACE greɪs noun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Had to start this article by reminding you of the definition of grace. Yeah, plenty of Christians are gonna insist it only means “unmerited favor,” but I consider that definition insufficient. I knew a dad who’d let his daughter get away with loads of stuff… but purely out of apathy. He didn’t care enough to check up on her. And he really should have; she was spending an awful lot of his money on stupid stuff! That too is unmerited favor. But the most profound component of God’s favor is his favorable attitude. God is love, and that’s why God is gracious.

Anyway. When Christians talk about God’s grace, every so often one of us starts listing and detailing different kinds of grace. Fr’instance I’ve written on prevenient grace. Other Christians are gonna talk—a whole lot—about God’s saving grace. Or common grace. Or preached grace, provisional grace, sustaining grace, enabling grace, serving grace, and miraculous grace. Or God’s justifying grace, his sanctifying grace, and his glorifying or eternal grace. There’s more than a dozen of these types of grace.

Except there aren’t really a dozen types of grace. There’s just grace. There’s just God’s generous attitude towards his people.

And dozens of effects of God’s generous attitude—which theologians have turned into “kinds of grace.” But they aren’t. God’s attitude is consistently the same. He still loves us, still forgives us, still does for us, still offers us his kingdom. It’s just sometimes we notice, “Hey, when it comes to salvation, God’s grace does [THIS COOL THING]… so I guess that’s what ‘saving grace’ is!” Nah dude; you’re just noticing different facets of the same infinitely valuable gem.

God’s grace is superabundant. It’s in way more places than we realize. When we find it in a place we weren’t expecting, sometimes we’ll foolishly think, “Oh this is a different kind of grace for this particular circumstance!” And again: Same God. Same love. Same grace. Different circumstances don’t turn it into a new thing.

Yeah, it’s just another instance of people overcomplicating something that’s really not complicated. It’s a case of Christians thinking, “Wow, lookit all the different kinds of grace!—and how wise of me to know about each and every one of them.” Yeah, don’t get too full of yourself. You didn’t really learn anything new about God; you only learned he applies grace in more places than you thought. And y’know what? He applies grace in way more places than even that. Like I said, superabundant.

The other problematic thing about compiling a big ol’ list of types of grace: You might lose sight of the fact grace is God’s generous attitude, and start thinking of grace as a substance which can be separated from the God who has it. Like magic dust which you can sprinkle on things to make ’em forgiven. Grace is not that; it can’t be divorced from the person who grants it. Divine grace without God behind it, ceases to exist. Human grace without a generous person making sure it’s effective, likewise ceases to exist—“What do you mean Dad canceled this credit card? No, don’t cut it up!” Any “type of grace” always has a grace-Giver at its center, and we should never take him for granted.

You want a list of the “types”? Okay.

For your convenience—and for the convenience of anybody who’s searching the blog, or searching the internet and finds the blog, and wants to know about all these “types of grace”—I put together a list. I’ll update it if I find out someone’s got a new idea about a different “type of grace.” But these are the types I’ve come across, and how they’re supposedly unique.

  • ACTUAL GRACE. A Catholic term for whenever God intervenes in a pagan’s life to help steer them towards salvation, and ultimately receiving “sanctifying grace.” These events of “actual grace” are seen as one-time-only special-occasion things; they’re not “habitual grace.”
  • ADOPTING GRACE. Same as “saving grace,” but with particular focus on the adoption part, where we become part of God’s family.
  • AMAZING GRACE. The power to write a really popular hymn. I’m not kidding; that’s the way this one preacher defined it.
  • BIBLICAL GRACE. God’s grace, as defined by bible.
  • COMMON GRACE. This’d be the grace God grants to all of humanity, whether we know him or not, whether we follow him or not. Like sunshine and rain for both good and bad people. Mt 5.45 Everybody has good things happen to us.
  • ENABLING GRACE. Instances where God gives us the power to do things which we simply can’t do on our own. Like miracles, but not just miracles—like extraordinary patience, extraordinary compassion, and other fruitful things.
  • EMPOWERING GRACE. Same thing as “enabling grace.”
  • ETERNAL GRACE. The endpoint of God’s salvation; when we find ourselves in New Jerusalem, New Earth, in the presence of Jesus, forever.
  • FAVOR. A synonym for grace, although some Christians will insist favor is usually merited or earned through good karma.
  • GLORIFYING GRACE. Same thing as “sanctifying grace.”
  • GRACE OF ACCEPTANCE. This is when we humans accept God’s grace—accept his forgiveness, his salvation, his work in our lives to make us his children. But many Christians claim we can’t just accept his grace; God’s gotta grant us the ability to do it. And granting us the ability is his act of grace. (The debate among Christians is whether granting us this ability is a special act of God, or just preveniently provided to everyone already.)
  • GRACE OF COMPLETION. Same thing as “eternal grace.”
  • GRACE OF FREEDOM FROM SIN. Without God, pretty much everything we humans do is selfish and self-centered, and this corrupting influence tends to turn it all into sinful behavior. With God, we can actually resist temptation and stop sinning.
  • GRACE OF GOD’S PRESENCE. Now that the Holy Spirit indwells us, he’s always here; he’s always available; he’s a profoundly useful resource.
  • HABITUAL GRACE. Usually a synonym for “sanctifying grace”—now that we’ve turned to Jesus, we’re granted God’s power to regularly follow him better.
  • MERCY. Christians tend to define it as when God specifically spares us from a punishment we deserve… although in the scriptures, it’s also used when we petition God to spare us from any coming disaster, deserved or not.
  • MIRACULOUS GRACE. Same thing as “enabling grace”—but just the miracles.
  • OUTRAGEOUS GRACE. An act of grace or forgiveness that really bugs other people, because it’s just so utterly undeserved. Like when your dad forgives your brother and throws him a party even though he just frittered away his inheritance on cocaine and whores. Lk 15.11-32 Or when God saves someone whom you were kinda hoping would go to hell.
  • PREACHED GRACE. The gospel, once it’s presented to people. It’s considered grace because it can’t reach and affect people unless the Holy Spirit enables it to.
  • PROVISIONAL GRACE. In which God graciously provides all our needs. Jm 1.17 (No it doesn’t mean God’ll forgive us… but provisionally; he’s waiting to see whether we’ll botch things.)
  • PREVENIENT GRACE. The grace of God that’s already available to help steer people to Jesus. It’s often described as the Holy Spirit working around us, leading humanity in the direction of God.
  • SANCTIFYING GRACE. The grace God gives people which specifically turns us into his holy children. It’s described as having a profound effect on our lives, ’cause now we want to follow Jesus, and start to develop “habitual grace” to help us do that. The Holy Spirit indwelling our lives is seen either as an agent of “sanctifying grace,” or he literally is “sanctifying grace,” depending on what certain churches claim.
  • SAVING GRACE. Salvation itself: God forgiving people their sins, saving us from sin and death, and adopting us as his kids.
  • SERVING GRACE. Related to “enabling grace,” the God-granted ability to serve others with what God’s enabled us to do.
  • SUSTAINING GRACE. The God-granted ability to relax and trust God to take care of our needs and our salvation. The ability to stop worrying. Nice if you can get it.

And again, you can see how these are all different facets of the same gem. God’s generous, forgiving attitude empowers all these things—making them not different things. Different emphases, sure. Different ways grace impacts our lives. But hardly different graces.