Here's the beginning of a very well-known verse in the New Testament: "For by grace are you saved through faith ...." (Eph. 2:8).
But note the word circled in blue. It's the word "the" in Greek and, I think, it's a word that indicates an important nuance that is perhaps lacking in English. Let me explain.
It was during a conference in England by experts on world religions that they wondered if any belief was unique to Christianity. And they began ruling out various things. Incarnation? Well, other religions had a tradition of God appearing in the form of a man. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of people being raised from the dead. At this point C. S. Lewis happened to enter the room. "What's all the fuss about?" he asked. And they replied that they were discussing Christianity and its unique contribution to world religions. "Oh, that's easy," replied Lewis. "It's grace." Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional. Undeserved love, unmerited generosity -- this is the grace that characterizes our God, and our religion.
The people of God are the people of God because of such grace. That's why Eph. 2:8 does not read "By grace are you saved" but "By the (or that, or such) grace are you saved." Paul is not referring to grace in general. No, he is referring to the grace described earlier in the chapter. He begins by describing the human condition -- we were all born in sin, and were under God's wrath just like everyone else. "But," Paul adds, "God is so rich in mercy! He loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he made us alive when he raised Christ from the dead -- only by his undeserved grace have we ever been saved -- and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, when we sat with him in the heavenly realms, all because of what Christ Jesus did."
It is precisely here that Paul adds, "Because of this grace -- God's grace revealed to us through Christ -- you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves. It too is a gift from God."
Grace has always marked God's people. We live because of the sacrifice of another, a Savior who says "Give me your death and I will give you my life; give me your sin and I will give you my righteousness." Remember the dying thief on the cross? "We're getting what we deserve," he said, but that sorrowful admission was met by Jesus' promise, "Today, with me, you will be in Paradise" (so the Greek). That's what usually happens when Jesus meets sinners face to face. They receive exactly the opposite of what they deserve. The same thing has happened to you and to me. And that's what grace is all about.
True religion isn't a matter of works and willpower on our part, but grace on God's part. I know you already know this. But I think it's a good thing to be reminded of it from time to time.