God’s grace is a central concept in Christianity that refers to the unmerited favor and blessing of God towards humankind. While we often think of grace simply in terms of salvation and the forgiveness of sins, there is another critical type of grace that transforms how Christians live – enabling grace.
What Is Enabling Grace?
Enabling grace refers to the power of God’s grace to enable Christians to live godly, obedient lives. Through enabling grace, God not only saves us, but gives us new hearts, strength, and everything we need to follow and honor Him.
The key idea behind enabling grace is that keeping God’s commands and living righteously is only possible through God’s supernatural help. As humans, our sinful nature constantly pulls us from God’s ways and makes obedience difficult. But in His mercy, God equips us through His Holy Spirit working within us and empowering our choices.
As 19th century Methodist preacher Adam Clarke stated it:
“God’s love not only restores humans to a state of acceptance (justification), but also gives believers strength (sanctification) to live in a Christlike manner.”
So in essence, enabling grace refers to the inner working of God to transform our desires and equip our actions to follow Him wholeheartedly.
Enabling Grace Throughout Scripture
While early church father Augustine was instrumental in developing the theological concept of enabling grace, it is clearly presented throughout Scripture.
God’s Grace Enables Obedience
In Deuteronomy 30:6-14, Moses proclaims to the Israelites that through God’s word and presence with them, His commands are not “too hard” to obey. Referring to the law, Moses says:
“But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
The clear implication is that God’s grace at work in their hearts through His word would empower them to follow His ways. This remains true for Christians today through the Holy Spirit applying God’s word to transform us internally.
Grace Teaches Us Godliness
The New Testament affirms this concept of grace as a teacher and enabler of godliness.
Titus 2:11-12 states:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
What is grace? Paul explicitly states that the same grace that saves, also trains Christians in renouncing sin and pursuing Christlike character. God’s grace is remarkably present and active in empowering right living.
Paul Relies On Enabling Grace
No one presents a clearer picture of relying on God’s enabling grace than the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15 after defending the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul turns to his personal transformation by grace:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (15:10)
Though he persecuted Christians earlier in his life, God’s grace radically changed Paul’s life and empowered him for ministry. This was not passive but active grace, pushing Paul to labor abundantly empowered by the Spirit.
Paul acknowledges that apart from grace, his efforts are worthless. But in Christ, he can do all things (Philippians 4:13), including tirelessly building up the church.
The consistent pattern is that God pours out His favor and power to equip Christians’ obedience beyond natural human ability.
How Does Enabling Grace Work?
Enabling grace seems mysterious – how does free will and empowerment converge? A biblical understanding shows it functions through the inseparable connection of justification and sanctification.
Justification + Sanctification
When God saves a person through faith in Christ, justification occurs – the legal pardon of sins and declaration of righteousness before God.
Simultaneously, the process of sanctification begins through the indwelling Holy Spirit – God’s act of making Christians holy by reshaping their desires towards godliness.
As theologian Wayne Grudem defines it:
“Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”
While justification is immediate at conversion, sanctification is gradual and continual through the Spirit using Scripture to illuminate sin in our hearts and transform us into Christ’s image.
Grace Is the Means
What then is the connection between grace and sanctification? Scripture clearly presents sanctification as God’s work of grace in Christians.
Consider 2 Corinthians 9:8:
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
And Hebrews 13:20-21:
“Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will.”
God pours out gifts of grace precisely to sanctify us for good works done in His power. Through inner renewal, grace moves us from legal pardon into actual transformation and obedience.
As John Calvin expressed it:
“God’s grace does not merely justify but sanctifies believers as God renews the whole man after his own image.”
So enabling grace refers to this active, empowering work of sanctification flowing from God’s initial justifying grace.
Why God’s Commands Become Possible
Knowing grace as God’s active help can be tremendously encouraging for Christians struggling to overcome sin.
Attempting obedience in human strength always fails. But enabled by Christ through the Spirit, God’s commands become possible to fulfill. Consider several key reasons:
Christ Obeyed In Our Place
Even with enabling grace, believers will never achieve flawless obedience as Christ did. But the Bible teaches we are united to Jesus, such that His perfect obedience is credited to our account before God (Romans 5:19).
This means our failures are covered by Christ’s righteousness. Standing in Him alone, we also have confidence our weak efforts find acceptance in God’s sight.
The Spirit Empowers Change
As already explored, sanctification comes through the Holy Spirit energetically working in Christians. Grace fuels change by aligning our thoughts, desires, and choices toward godliness.
This means real transformation can happen despite the lingering presence of sin and entrenched habits. The Spirit’s activity guarantees it.
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
Grace Sustains Lifelong Growth
In times of failure or seasons of spiritual dryness, remember that enabling grace offers continual strength and equipping. We can always cry out for more help and yield further to God’s work within us.
Sanctification through grace means that obeying God’s commands does not rely ultimately on our feeble resolution. As we confess sin and present ourselves to God (Romans 12:1), He directs real change through His power.
Rather than sin management through sheer willpower, enabling grace offers actual transformation by the ongoing grace of Jesus Christ in our hearts.
This lifts obedience out of drudgery and legalism into the joyful pursuit of Christ!
What Are the Implications of Enabling Grace?
Recognizing that God’s commands become possible through enabling grace has at least 3 important implications:
Relying on Grace for Obedience
Firstly, embracing enabling grace impacts how we pursue obedience. Human effort fueled by guilt or moralism always fails. The path forward is fixing our hearts on God’s empowering grace shown in the gospel of Christ.
This means daily preaching truth to our hearts, praying dependence on the Spirit, pursuing spiritual disciplines by grace, and believing God catalyzes real change in us over time.
Hope Despite Failed Progress
Secondly, enabling grace gives hope when we fail to see progress in godliness. Since sanctification is God’s doing over time through grace, seasons of slow growth or stubborn sin patterns have not halted His work in us.
We can confidently trust God to use even our failures to deepen dependence and humility. Our hope rests in His faithful completion of Christ’s redeeming work.
Motivation for Ministry
Finally, remembering God’s active enabling should freshly motivate us for Christian ministry. Just as grace transformed and equipped Paul beyond his natural capacities, so God desires to work through each of us beyond our talents.
The same grace that saves also sends into Spirit-empowered service. We can boldly step out to share the gospel, use gifts to edify the church, and meet needs in Jesus’ name – knowing that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
God’s enabling grace shows that the Christian life depends entirely on drawing strength from Christ’s indwelling power. And there is no end to what He can do through yielded believers!
Resting in Enabling Grace
Understanding enabling grace – God’s active power to transform us in holiness – is essential for the Christian walk. Grace not only pardons, but trains us to reject ungodliness as Christ reigns in our hearts. By His enabling strength, obeying God’s commands becomes possible as we grow irreversibly in Christlike maturity through the Spirit’s inner renewal.
This sanctifying grace flows out from the God’s initial justifying grace. In other words, God pours out power precisely because of our total pardon and acceptance through faith in Jesus. There are no excuses or hindrances to God’s persevering grace leading us to increasing obedience.
So we can have great confidence as we actively pursue holiness in reliance on enabling grace. Our hope rests fully in God’s commitment to complete the work of salvation by grace from beginning to end. Indeed, perhaps no truth more sweetly motivates the lifelong pursuit of God than His enabling grace advancing our transformation and using our humble obedience for His glory.