Some of the most important “words” in the Christian’s language are also some of the most misunderstood. Grace certainly is one of those words. Grace, despite what some might think, is not just a new testament concept. Many falsely believe that the God of the Old Testament was vengeful and wrathful while the God of the New Testament was loving, merciful and full of grace. A misunderstanding of grace is what leads to his misnomer.
What is grace? In the Old Testament, the fist place to discuss God’s grace is in Heb. 6:8. The Hebrew word chên is the word translated here and it means favor or acceptance. It is related to the Hebrew word chânân which means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. There is much to be learned about grace by merely looking at the definition. Grace is something that a person of higher rank can bestow upon another. (In the realm of forgiveness, if you owe a debt due to an offence you are of a lesser rank.) Secondly, the act of bowing is a sign of reverence. Thus, when God bestows grace towards us he is telling us that we are indeed important to him. He indeed cares for us.
In the New Testament grace is translated from the Greek word charis. It means good will, loving-kindness, or favor. It comes from the Greek word chairo meaning to rejoice or be glad. Like the Hebrew definitions, the Greek also provide unto us some interesting thoughts concerning grace. When God is being gracious towards us, he is giving us reason to rejoice, he is giving us the ability to be glad. Likewise are grace ought to bring happiness to others. When thought of like this one can easily see how bless (which literally means happy) and grace go hand in hand. God blesses us by giving us grace.
The bible also does a wonder job of defining grace for us. Grace is something that can never be earned. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (Rom. 4:4).” In other words, God does not bestow grace to the one that deserves it, rather he gives it to those who do not. It is for this reason we often call grace an unmerited favor or “God giving us what we do not deserve.” Paul further explains how grace is actually a free gift from God (Rom. 5:15). Grace is like spiritual steroids. (Forgive me for not thinking of a better analogy). In II Cor. 12:9 Paul wrote, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul had been dealing with a thorn in the flesh that apparently had been tormenting him enough that he pleaded with God to remove this thorn. In the process he mentioned praying on three different occasions concerning this thorn. God’s reply is what was written above. We do not gain spiritual strength by our own merits. (This is something that I again that we have misunderstood. Yes, by taking spiritual nutrition (the reading of God’s word) we gain strength. But, Paul here learned that he was not strong. He was not great. He was not important. He did not accomplish great things for God. This thorn was left behind to be a remainder to him, spiritual strength is not found in our personal accomplishments but in God’s grace. Paul also explained that grace is that which saves us. Read Eph. 2:5-8 and one has to recognize that grace is that which saves us, through faith. I am afraid that we are so afraid of sounding like we believe John Calvin’s teaching on irresistible grace or the perseverance of the saints (the I and P of Calvin’s TULIP) that we almost sound like we believe in a work’s based salvation. Brethren we cannot be saved without grace. Make that abundantly clear in your minds. You cannot earn your salvation. You cannot live righteously enough to not need the grace of God for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
Now, knowing all of this we have to remember that God is gracious to whomever he desires to be gracious and has mercy on whom he desires to have mercy (Rom. 9:15). God is not giving grace to everyone. Not everyone is deemed worthy to walk in heaven. Some people’s hearts will just be too hard (Rom. 9:18). We must remember that the message of God’s grace demands an obedient response from faithful believers. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12).” God’s grace did not appear so that you and I can sin and let grace abound (Rom. 6:1-2). God’s grace appeared to give you and I hope of eternal life. This life is of course granted through Jesus Christ to a bunch of people who although undeserving of it hope to live up to the calling by which they have been called (Eph. 4:1).
Grinnell church of Christ
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Volume 3 Issue 48 November 4, 2012