“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” (1 Peter 5:5)
When we think of grace, we define it as an undeserved gift from God. You can’t earn it, just as you could not earn your salvation. God gives the sinner life even though the sinner’s life was lived in opposition to God. So salvation was an unearned gift of God.
But there is more to grace than God giving us an undeserved gift. According to 1 Peter 5:5, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” God withholds grace from one class of people and gives it to another. A logical mind would reason, “of course the humble got grace — he deserves it while the proud does not.” But if grace is undeserved favor, how could this reasoning make sense? The truly humble, of course, would be the first to protest that due to the sin they repented of, they do not deserve grace any more than the proud do.
So being merely undeserving is not the basis for God giving specific graces (for instance, help, wisdom, or favor). Peter applies this verse to the church, so among God’s people are the proud and the humble. So by implication, just being a child of God does not mean certain gifts of grace are automatically given to all of us with no strings attached.
Of course common grace is given to all regardless of their state, such as the sun rises on the just and unjust, and the rain falls on the good and evil (Matthew 5:45). For our purposes, I am speaking of specific graces or helps God gives to His children.
God does not show favoritism like an ordinary human being may do. He is not capriciously favoring one over the other. Romans 2:11 tells us there is no respect of persons with God. But doesn’t God discriminate based on pride and humility?
No, He does not. God has a method by which He administers grace. The sinner who follows the method will find grace to help in time of need. Whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, free or slave, if any in these classes take hold of the method by which God dispenses grace, then they will be helped. Because the method is available to all, there is no favoritism.
Faith in God is the method that releases God’s grace. That is not discriminatory, for God has given to all of us a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). If we believe Him, we may get the specific graces hoped for. If we don’t believe, we won’t.
The humble in our verse did not deserve grace more than the proud — on the contrary, this person may have been in the proud camp and just repented! The humble acknowledged her sin and came to God, showing faith by repentance. By faith in God’s goodness, the humble person came to God in her entreaty and God lifted her up.
In Galatians 3:1-7, Paul pointed out God’s method of dispensing grace when he reminded the church of all the good things the Spirit did when they lived by the faith of Abraham. But when they trusted in the law to gain righteousness — to be deserving of being blessed — those blessings of grace dried up. They were fallen from grace. The miracles stopped.
So here in Peter’s first epistle, he tells the leaders in the church to humble themselves. Some of them had turned from faith in some way, such as serving only when motivated by financial gain, or loving to rule over the people instead of being an example to them (1 Peter 5:2-3). In these ways they trusted in their flesh, not in God.
Grace is all of God’s provisions made available to sinners who believe Him for his help. The good news is that we are no longer under the old covenant where you felt compelled to try harder to be good enough. Since we were all sinners under condemnation, there was no chance of getting good enough.
Under the new covenant we acknowledge our need of God in all things and He provides. With God, all things are now possible, only limited by what we can believe Him for. The “all things” are found in the promises of God. They are no longer afar off. Every purpose of God is now possible through a faith the size of a mustard seed. This does not mean they all are available immediately — God will determine the outcome.
When the harlots and tax collectors heard the message of grace, the cultural chains holding them back from God broke, and they sought to break through the doors into the kingdom (Matthew 21:31, Luke 16:16). The self-righteous religious person did not grasp it. The eyes blinded by the lies of Satan did not see it. Those satisfied with their own idols didn’t bother to look.
Faith levels the playing field. All may come to God through Jesus. All of us may receive help from Him apart from anything we have or don’t have. Faith in God is enough to release His bounty. (Faith in what God said He would give, not faith in our believing hard enough for what we want!) Our past does not matter. Our failures don’t make a dent. Our abilities count for nothing. Trusting Jesus is everything. Faith alone releases the grace of God, and it is sufficient.
You already know and exercise trust on a daily basis in the natural world. The Christian is called to place that faith in God and watch the blessings flow.