But laying claim to that grace is something I need to do (oh, you Calvinists thinking that we don't actually "do" anything to claim grace, hold on...I'll be with you in a moment.) The analogy is often made to a Christmas gift. If Mom offers you a gift, it is from grace. You don't deserve the gift (though sometimes coal is indeed in the stocking, in which case you probably did deserve it - if you're anything like me.) Mom offers it to you out of love, not because you "earned" the Christmas present. However, it does not really become yours until you take it. Mom can shove the wrapped train set in your face all she wants, but if you refuse to take it the train isn't yours. Similarly, God offers grace to all - but until you take it, the benefits of "ownership" (or, more properly, "receivership") are not yours.
Accepting grace is done through faith. But what is faith? Faith is, according to scripture being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Perhaps the most famous discussion of faith is found in Hebrews 11, from which comes the definition I just repeated. Faith is accepting God's promise to save us from our sins despite not actually seeing Heaven yet (um, for the actual "living in Heaven for eternity" thing, you kinda have to die first.) Faith is doing what God wants, even when you don't understand why He's asking it of you. Faith is what we use to please God. Faith is placing your trust in God to save you - since you can't save yourself.
In fact, I want to repeat what the author of Hebrews writes about faith, since scripture covers it so much better than I.
1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.
3By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 4By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
5By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
7By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.
23By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.
24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.
31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
32And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Faith is believing God without having seen the end. Faith is telling God, "I don't deserve your grace, but I'm grateful for it. I place my trust in you for my salvation."
Faith is not about being perfect, or doing good things. Rahab was a prostitute, and David killed a man in order to cover up adultery. Nor does faith guarantee a life of ease. People of faith have the same troubles in this life as those who reject faith - and some are taunted, beaten or killed for trusting in God. But faith, as much as it brings us to God in this life, is about redemption in the next.
Faith is also not of ourselves. We can't even claim that little bit - faith comes from God Himself. Jesus is the author of faith. We receive faith from the righteous one. This should remind us not to be haughty about faith; we do not deserve it more than another, nor are we better than those who reject it. Faith isn't earned anymore than is grace.
But faith is essential. Without faith, we cannot be deemed righteous before God. Following the law and doing good works are insufficient for salvation. It is by faith that we accept grace, not through works. Faith, a gift of God, is the hope we have in Christ Jesus. His work is done, though we may not have fully realized it yet. Accept God's grace through faith. And pray that your faith be strengthened daily.