What is Grace?

This is the third part in a series on the Roman Catholic sacraments. See the index.

Being Vague

In the first two parts of this series, “Why is the Sacrament of Marriage Important?” and “Sacraments are the Reason for the Priesthood“, I explained that Roman Catholics view grace  and marriage as fundamental mysteries based on Ephesians 3:1-12 and Ephesians 5:22-33. This is why, for example, the sections on grace in Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1996 through #2005, are a bit vague and indirect, and yet highly complex, in their description of what grace is. For example…

The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.

…saying that grace is a gift doesn’t tell you what grace is and more than saying that my present to you is what I wrapped in this box here. It is true, but unhelpful. And again…

Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love.

…this tells you a bit of the effect of grace, but provides no insight into what it is or why it is. The closest the Catechism gets to defining grace is this:

Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

The word grace in Greek is charis. It means a gift, blessing, favor, good-will, benefit, or reward, with the connotation of being undeserved. But, as noted above, knowing what grace is doesn’t tell us what the target of that grace is. Grace is the favor or blessing of what, exactly?

Over at Sigma Frame, Jack is confused about all the vagueness, so he asks a few natural questions:

What is different or special about the Cathodox version of marriage? [..] I’m trying to understand what’s going on for the sake of improving our communications about these things. I suspect that we are talking about the same things using different terminology. [..] From what other commenters have said, apparently it does add something fundamental, but no one has offered any description of exactly what the benefit is, other than being recognized by the church. We’ve only [vague] heard statements [..] What is meant by “grace”? Is it a feelz good positivity about the relationship? Fewer arguments and fitness tests? [..] What?
comment by Jack @ Sigma Frame, “A Concise History of Marriage Regulations”

Of course he is failing to understand! If the official teaching of Roman Catholicism can’t be clear, how could any of the layman in a blog adequately explain it?

It is actually much worse than this. Roman Catholicism teaches that no layman can interpret scripture and she has only ever infallibly interpreted fifteen verses over seven passages.[1] Layman and churchman alike must dogmatically accept the teaching on her authority. Any attempt to explain it here is neither authoritative nor binding. Explaining it, while possible, truly serves no purpose, as it is only their opinion and can only ever lead to additional disagreement when the layman inevitably introduces errors.

I am not so bound. I can answer the question on the authority of scripture, the Word of God.

On the Nature of Grace

God’s grace is related to God’s love and mercy—his compassion and forgiveness for transgressions. When Paul talks about the “mystery” of grace, he says that the secret has been revealed. He tells us exactly what grace is.

Ephesians 2 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Paul opens the discussion on grace by talking about our trespasses and sins. He hasn’t mentioned grace yet, but already you can see where this is going.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

God, being rich in mercy and love, saved us from our trespasses by grace through Christ. That’s it. That is fundamentally what grace is to a Christian. Grace is the favor of God, his mercy and love, that saves us from our sins. But Paul does not stop there:

—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

And here Paul notes that the salvation of sin is brought by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that salvation through grace includes not just a present salvation, but a future promise of resurrection. Now: grace is the favor of God, his mercy and love, that saves us from our sins and grants us eternal life.

For by grace you have been saved through faith.

We can further amend what grace is: Grace is the favor of God, his mercy and love, that saves us from our sins and grants us eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ.

And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Grace through faith in Jesus Christ only: not through any works. We are created for good works through that salvation in Christ, but those works themselves do not save. Only God’s grace does. And so we can amend what grace is one final time:

Grace is the favor of God in the form of his mercy and love that saves us from our sins and grants us eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any work of man.

It is faith that saves, not works. Salvation—which includes the cleansing from sins and the promise of resurrection with Christ—is what prepares and creates us for good works. Salvation is the cause, good works are the effect.

Ephesians 3 (REV)
Surely you have heard of the administration of the grace of God that was given to me for you, and that the sacred secret was made known to me by revelation, as I have already written about briefly. So when you read this, you will be able to understand my insight into the sacred secret of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit, that in union with Christ Jesus and through the good news, the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise. I became a servant of this good news by the gift of the grace of God that was given to me by the working of his power. To me, who am less than the least of all the holy ones, this grace was given so that I could proclaim the good news to the Gentiles about the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the administration of the sacred secret, which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things. He did this so that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God would now be made known to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was consistent with his purpose throughout the ages that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access to God with confidence through our trust in him.

Having established what grace is, Paul now talks about the “Administration of the grace of God” which he calls the “Administration of the sacred mystery”, equating the grace of God with the sacred mystery. Paul describes himself as a servant of the gospel by the gift of grace—his salvation through faith in Jesus Christ—and asserts that his ministry is the spread of this gospel to all: letting everyone know of this gift of grace, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This grace enables both Jews and Gentiles to be fellow members of one body of Christ and partake of the promise of resurrection: grace produces unity, which is why Paul then talks of marriage.

On the Grace of Marriage

Ephesians 5 (REV)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he could make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he could present the church to himself as a glorious church, not having a spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands are obligated to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This sacred secret is great, but I speak in regard to Christ and the church.

Why does Paul refer to the sacred mystery—the grace of God—in the context of marriage? The answer lies in his quotation of Genesis 2:24: when a husband and wife join, they join permanently as one flesh in unity. So too when a Christian joins with Christ they become permanent members of his body in unity. Paul then clarifies that the sacred mystery to which he speaks is of Christ and the church, not husbands and wives. The sacred secret—the mystery that had previously been unknown—is that the one-flesh bond of marriage with Christ is part of the saving grace of God.

Paul had earlier explained that the grace of God is a matter of love, mercy, and sacrifice, but now husbands are to freely show their own kind of grace to their wives by showing love, mercy, and sacrifice, whether or not it is deserved. Just as Christ cherishes his bride—the church—so too are husbands to cherish their brides.

That is the role that the grace of God has in marriage. The grace of God serves as an example of how we are to interact with our wives: in love, mercy, sacrifice for the purpose of living in unity with them. Marriage is ultimately an extension of the Great Commission: to administer grace to our spouse by spreading the Gospel of Grace: the favor of God in the form of his mercy and love that saves us from our sins and grants us eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any work of man. Notably missing is a call to authority, which would completely miss the point.

The role of the Church in marriage provides no clear benefit. It does not directly correspond to relationship positivity, the number of arguments arguments, the quantity and quality of physical intimacy, or the chance of divorce. None of that is what grace is. Even the divorce rate in Roman Catholicism is only slightly lower than the national average, nothing like the single digit percentage (or less) divorce rates found in certain Anabaptist congregations in Lancaster.

The reason for this is plain. Roman Catholics believe that the sacred secret of God is a mystery and a sacrament., based on the flawed logic that I described in detail in the second part of this series. They believe that marriage is a Sacrament, but it isn’t. Consequently, a church marriage adds nothing new of value. If a marriage is successful, it is because of the grace of God worked in them salvation and through that salvation prepared them for good works to walk in them, not because of anything additional that the church provided.

The church not only doesn’t add anything fundamental, but it adds false doctrine. This is actively harmful to a marriage. By teaching couples that marriage is a sacrament—a work—it invalidates what real grace is:

Grace is the favor of God in the form of his mercy and love that saves us from our sins and grants us eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any work of man.

Getting Grace Right

This is not a matter about talking about the same things using different terminology. It’s a matter of getting salvation and sanctification—holiness—wrong. You cannot improve communications about these issues by papering over the issues:

That’s been my stance all along. Sacraments are sacred. Covenants are sacred. Contracts are sacred (those who fear the Lord swear to their own hurt and do not change [Psalms 15:4]). Arguing about whether marriage is a sacrament, a covenant, or a contract is a stupid, pointless waste of time.
— comment by Oscar @ Sigma Frame, “A Concise History of Marriage Regulations”

It is not a waste of time. These are not minute, unimportant differences. Sacraments are not sacred, they are corruptions at the core of the Word of God. There can be no reconciliation with marriage as a sacrament, for it is a false salvation based on works that leads to death. It opposes sanctified—or holy—living.

You cannot have unity without first purging that which creates disunity. I long for unity, both in the church and in marriage. But I’m often seen as divisive for insisting that we cannot merely set aside our differences and get along with people who disagree with us on the core issues of salvation and repentance from sin. These issues are non-negotiable because they were non-negotiable to Christ. A number of heresies are irrelevant distractions, but this does not include the system of sacraments. I have, and will, seek unity with Christian heretics, but I can never be in complete unity with anyone who gets salvation wrong. How can I? How can you? How can anyone?

For this I will continue to make enemies. I will continue to divide. The more I speak, the more scriptures I cite, the more they will hate me for the disunity that I sow. “Correcting Sin in the Church” requires either actively correcting else cutting out the error. Allowing it to remain and fester means death. The manosphere, for all its intentions, is not dying merely because of too many internal squabbles, it is dying because it largely isn’t following Christ, and perhaps never was.

For example, whenever possible, I have attempted to follow the Christ’s commands in Matthew 18, both publicly and privately. That I have been unsuccessful in the manosphere in every single attempt is indicative of a deep sickness pervading it. It isn’t working.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Even if a man were to follow all the Red Pill advice he could, achieve a wife who submits and gives him all that he asks for, this would still be a failure if he loses his soul. You can’t help a man if you fail in the prerequisite that Christ be his Lord first. For that, you must get grace right, which requires the explicit rejection of marriage as a sacrament.

Being Protestant requires calling the Orthodox and Roman Catholics to true repentance in Christ, or else throwing them out of the fellowship per Christ’s and Paul’s own commands.[2] For decades Protestants have tried to soften this to the point where most will no longer allow such dissent. In doing so, they’ve lost the plot.


[1] Reverend Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Secretariat for Doctrine and Doctrinal Practices, in Washington, D.C. asked an unnamed eminent theologian which verses Rome had interpreted infallibly, who then deferred to Raymond Brown’s article on Hermeneutics in New Jerome Bible Commentary. He replied to Timothy F. Kauffman by this letter here, stating:

“Following Raymond Brown, I would think that a case could be made that the Church has defined something about the correct interpretation of the following seven passages: John 3:5, John 20:23, James 5:14-15, Matthew 16:16-19, John 21:15-17, and Genesis 3:15”

[2] Yes, this requires violating comment policies, such as “Comments vehemently attacking religious faiths of any variety are subject to moderation.”


  1. Pingback: Authority or Unity in Marriage?

  2. Pingback: Sanctified Marriage: Part 1

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  5. Pingback: Unity in the Church

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