What is grace? Christians love to sing about that amazing grace that saved a wretch like me, but what does that word mean? The Greek word means favor or graciousness, and Strong’s defines it in a spiritual sense this way: “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”

This word is a familiar friend in Scripture, but let’s consider Romans 11:6, which says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

Human nature is always to make salvation the result of works, something we earn by our efforts. But the second works become necessary, grace ceases to be grace. I love the line “grace would no longer be grace.”

In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” A rose is a rose, no matter what you call it. A rose is a rose because of its inherent qualities as a rose.

In the same way, grace is grace because of what it is—God giving us something that we do not deserve. If a zebra lost its stripes, it wouldn’t be a zebra. If a cheetah lost its spots, it wouldn’t be a cheetah. If an elephant lost its trunk, it wouldn’t be an elephant. And if grace is mingled with works, it stops being grace.

Good works are good, but they do not save. We are only saved by the grace of God. It is the divine influence upon our hearts that can compel us to call out to God. The latter does not happen without the former, and in that order. Grace is grace because God initiates the process. We love Him because He first loved us. If God didn’t act first in our salvation, we wouldn’t act at all.

That’s why amazing grace is so sweet a sound.