Latter-day Saint Life

"Grace Is Power": Brad Wilcox Explains What Grace Is and Is Not in a Powerful Way Every Latter-day Saints Can Understand


While the concept of grace is often associated with a description of God’s attributes, grace also encompasses divine strength given by a loving Heavenly Father to assist us as we strive to become like Him. The following is an excerpt from Brad Wilcox’s book, Changed through His Grace.

“On the outside of Westminster Abbey in England are carved the words, ‘May God grant to the living, grace.’ Few would disagree with the plea, but for what exactly are we pleading? Like many English words, grace has multiple meanings. It can describe elegance and beauty or kindness and courtesy. It can be a prayer (‘saying grace’) or a salutation (‘Grace be unto you’). In Hebrew, the word means favor or goodwill given with compassion. Perhaps this is why Christians throughout the centuries have used grace to describe God’s favor, goodwill, and love. However, grace is more than a description of God’s attributes. It is how He engages with us as we strive to attain those attributes. It is the power that propels us upward toward perfection and exaltation (see Moroni 10:32). President Dieter F. Uchtdorf defined grace as ‘the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings.’ Thus, grace is the strength He offers in order to make us strong. It is the divine help He offers in order to make us divine.

When I was younger I associated God’s grace with gifts that would be mine only after I did my very best to reach the finish line. Now I realize grace applies right here and now. It is the force that gets me to the finish line. I once saw grace as an equation of my part plus God’s part as if I had to meet some sort of minimum height requirement to enter heaven. Now I see it is not about height, but about growth. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, ‘We do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help—divine aid can be ours every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience.’ Instead of a ratio, I now see a relationship in which ‘all needful grace will God bestow’ (Hymns, no. 88). Instead of seeing Christ as making up the difference, I now see He makes all the difference.

The word grace probably shouldn’t be used as a catchall label for every divine interaction. God grants us many tender mercies and answers to prayer. When my son Russell was finishing school to become a nurse anesthetist and was assigned a clinical rotation in a hospital four hours from where they were living, my daughter-in-law Trish was discouraged. Not only would she be caring for two toddlers on her own, but they had just had their third child, and the baby was fussy and not sleeping well. Trish didn’t know how she was going to do it. When the rotation started, the baby suddenly began eating better and sleeping through the night. Our family knew we had witnessed a tender mercy.

When Russell was a teenager he lost the only set of keys for our car. He and his friend backtracked their steps and looked everywhere without success. Finally, Russell prayed and asked God to lead him to the lost keys. When he found them in a place he had already searched multiple times, our family knew we had witnessed an answer to prayer.

Such experiences touch our hearts, build our faith, and are definitely included under the large umbrella covering the many ways God reaches out to assist us. However, with President Uchtdorf’s definition in mind, the word grace best describes the times God’s assistance enables us to ‘progress and grow in righteousness.’ For example, when we are able to resist temptation, break bad habits, or develop patience and charity, we can see God’s grace is shaping and molding our characters. When we can faithfully endure a tragedy or forgive an offense, we witness God’s grace. Thus grace can be clearly evident in our lives even when tender mercies and answers to prayer are not.

Grace is different from the Atonement. It is not Christ’s suffering, death, and Resurrection. Instead, grace is the power that flows from those sacred moments. Sheri Dew, former member of the Relief Society general presidency, has called it ‘the power the Atonement makes available to us.’ Long ago, people looked forward to the Atonement. Now the act of the Atonement is past. Either way, grace allows its influence to be continuous. When someone says, ‘The Atonement helped me,’ the words may be well intentioned, but they are not completely accurate. It is Jesus Christ who helps us through His Atonement. Grace is the help His Atonement makes possible.

Grace is not priesthood in the narrow sense of authority and keys, but it is priesthood in the broader sense of God sharing His power with His children (see D&C 84:20–21). Grace is not a priesthood ordinance, but essential ordinances invite greater endowments of grace into our lives.

Grace comes from the Godhead. We can speak of receiving grace from God and Christ interchangeably (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1). Grace also comes from the Holy Ghost, ‘the agent of the Atonement.’

The Bible Dictionary states, "Grace is an enabling power" (‘Grace,’ 697). In today’s world, parents are often warned about enabling their children’s bad choices by shielding them from natural consequences. Such enabling handouts become disabling despite the best of intentions. Grace is not a handout but a hand up. Notice how the definition in the Bible Dictionary combines the word enabling with the word power. God is not enabling us to bypass His laws but empowering us with an increased ability to live His laws. Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. It is the presence of His power—a portion of His unlimited capacity that allows us to join with Him and do together what we could never do alone.

I once had the opportunity to speak at a young single adult conference in Kirtland, Ohio. The young people enjoyed touring the historic sites, participating in service projects, and interacting at the dance. The highlight of the weekend was a sacrament service held in the Kirtland Temple. What a moment it was for all of us to renew our covenants with Christ in the very place where Christ renewed His everlasting covenant with us in this final dispensation. As I stood to speak at that special meeting, I drew the congregation’s attention to the beautiful windows and intricate woodwork on the pulpits. Then I pointed out one of the building’s flaws. ‘Remember,’ I said, ‘this edifice was built by volunteers who knew little about construction.’ I mentioned some of the minor problems with construction that one of the tour guides had previously pointed out to me. Although the builders had done their very best, there were still minor flaws in the building. Nevertheless, when Christ appeared, He accepted the building as His—flaws and all (see D&C 110:7). Where there was weakness, He provided strength and transformed an imperfect building into a holy temple.

Christ will do the same for us. Our flaws and inadequacies can turn us to the Lord and force us to acknowledge our total dependence on Him. Through His grace, He can strengthen us and make us holy. Paul described grace like this: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Philippians 4:13). Ammon said, ‘Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things’ (Alma 26:12).”

Lead image from Photostock

In Changed through His Grace, Brad Wilcox uses real-life stories and personal experiences to demonstrate how we can choose to receive Christ's grace more fully. In addition to using Paul's teachings in the Bible, Brother Wilcox draws from the scriptures of the Restoration, the teachings of modern prophets, and sacred hymns to explain complex doctrines in simple and memorable ways. This allows us to understand how a covenant relationship with God and Christ can help us and those we love escape the bondage of addictions. He teaches how through the Holy Ghost—the messenger of grace—God can strengthen and save but also transform us.

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