Jean Valjean was desperate. His sister and her family were starving and they had no money to buy food. So, out of that place of desperation, he stole a loaf of bread, a crime for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That five-year sentence stretched into nineteen as Valjean, feeling that his punishment did not fit his crime, made numerous attempts to escape. In 1815, Valjean was released from prison but, due to another petty theft of a small amount of money from a 12-year-old boy, he was once again a fugitive of the law. Valjean assumed a new identity and became both a prosperous factory owner and mayor of a town. Years later, another man was mistaken for Valjean and arrested. As that man awaited sentencing for a crime he did not commit, Valjean appeared in the courtroom and the man was set free. It was an act of grace that went beyond thanks.
The word “grace” is an important one in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. The definition of grace as it applies to us is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners. It was through God’s grace that Jesus came to earth and paid the penalty for our sins. Unlike the man mistakenly arrested in Les Miserables, who did not deserve the punishment he was about to receive, we are all sinners and the punishment for our sins rightly belonged to us (Romans 3:23). But God sent Jesus to take our punishment. He who was without sin became sin for us. He became our salvation (Romans 3:24-25).
Titus 2:11 (NASB), says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Jesus is the grace of God made flesh. When Jesus went to the cross and died, the penalty for our sins was paid in full. It was not something we deserved but rather God’s gift to us, given out of His great love for us. As John wrote in his gospel, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, NLT).”
The gift of eternal life, the gift of God’s grace, is ours. It is not something that we can attain on our own. God freely gives this gift when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Thank God for His amazing grace!