Question: "What is saving grace?"
Answer: According to the dictionary, the phrase “saving grace” refers to a “redeeming quality or factor” that makes a person or a thing acceptable. The word grace on its own has another set of definitions. It is an “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification” as well as “a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace.” These definitions are from the dictionary, but they were first found in the Bible.
Scripture says that grace is unmerited assistance from the Lord which is necessary “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20 NASB), so He gives us His assistance: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Romans 3:21-22 NASB). Grace also results in our sanctification by what is called the “means of grace.” The means of grace are those things, like prayer or reading the Bible, which appropriate God’s grace into our lives. For example, according to Acts 20:32, the word of God builds us up and gives us an inheritance among those who are sanctified. Second Corinthians 9:8 also shows that God’s grace is what enables us to do good deeds. Grace is understood to describe the act of God giving man that which man does not deserve. Grace and mercy (which is the act of God sparing man from the punishment which he does deserve because of his sins) are the major components of what the Bible calls “salvation.”
The phrase “saving grace” fits nicely with the concept of our worth being found only in Christ. He is that “redeeming factor” that makes us acceptable. We have nothing in ourselves that will commend us to God (Romans 3:10-11). And if we are fundamentally unacceptable to God, and if all our righteousness and good works are like a “filthy garment” in His sight (Isaiah 64:6), we will ask, along with Jesus’ disciples, “How can we be saved?” Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:26-27). The Bible tells us that through belief in Christ—belief in His perfect life (which was fully acceptable to God) and His substitutionary death for His sheep (John 10:11)—we will be saved. Therefore, our “saving grace,” or that which makes us acceptable, is Christ Himself. His work on the cross is what saves us and not our own merit. He is the only thing about us that makes us acceptable to God. He Himself is our worth in God’s sight.
Simply put, saving grace is a grace that saves us, and the only grace that can save anybody is the grace which is applied to the soul through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8). His work is the only merit we have, and His work is our salvation. Be careful of the pitfall here: it is easy to think that, by our faith, we contribute in some small way to our salvation. After all, Christ’s merit must be “applied” to us by faith, and it seems our faith is coming from us. But, don’t forget Romans 3:10-12 which says that none of us seeks after God and Ephesians 2:8 which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that (faith) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Hebrews 12:2 also tells us that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, so our faith itself and our ability to believe and accept His grace is just another gift from God.
To sum up, we have no merit before God. But God, in His mercy, has chosen to author a faith in the hearts of His sheep which, when combined with the sacrificial death and blood atonement provided by the Good Shepherd, results in salvation. The saving grace of the sheep is that they are loved by the Shepherd and that He has laid down His life for them, to give them eternal life.