Grace is perhaps the most fundamental message of the bible. Ironically, it is not well understood by many Christians and in some congregations it is almost completely ignored. This lack of understanding can lead to all sorts of problems such as the extremes of legalism (strong emphasis on a system of rules to obtain salvation) and license (do as you please and God will look the other way). In the Church of Christ we don’t typically see problems with people going to the extreme of doing anything they please and assuming God’s grace will cover their sins. We tend to fall on the other end of the spectrum suffering from a severe case of legalism. This tendency has resulted in many Christians living in misery constantly doubting that God has really forgiven them of their sins.
Ask most Christians to define grace and they’ll respond, “unmerited favor”. This is a correct answer and a good one, but many people are unable to elaborate in a meaningful way beyond this memorized answer.
So what is grace exactly?
The English word “grace” is translated from the Greek word “charis” (χάρις, Strong’s G5485) . Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon defines “charis” as:
As you can see from the definition, grace is really not mysterious at all and is quite a simple word to understand.
There is another word that is closely related to the concept of grace. It is a Greek word that has made its way into the English language: charisma. In Greek, the word charisma (χάρισμα, Strong’s G5486) simply means “a free gift” – any kind of a gift. In English the word still retains the idea of a gift. Its second English definition is “a divinely conferred power or talent”.
As you can see “charis” is the root word of “charisma” The “ma” at the end of charis expands the root into a related concept. A free gift (charisma) is often the result when someone expresses their goodwill or loving kindness (charis) toward others.
Therefore, grace (charis) is a character trait or quality which causes a person to want to give good things to others. Can you think of a word which describes the trait of a person who likes to give? How about the word generosity?
When a word is correctly defined, we can substitute the definition for the word itself without changing the meaning of the sentence where it is used. Let’s try that with a few bible verses that use the word grace.
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace favor. Gal 5:4 ESV
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace generosity as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Rom 3:23-24 ESV
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace loving-kindness in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Rom 5:2 ESV
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace goodwill may abound? Rom 6:1 ESV
But if it is by grace generosity, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace generosity would no longer be grace generosity. Rom 11:6 ESV
Grace saves us!
Eph 2:8 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
Grace, simply defined, is God’s generosity, goodwill, favor, loving kindness, etc. Because God is so loving and generous it pleases Him to give us the gift of eternal life.
We have learned that grace is really a character trait. How can a character trait save us? Can good intentions result in our salvation (even if they are God’s good intentions)? Was God’s desire to reconcile with us enough to accomplish it? Evidently God’s good will alone was not enough to save us from our sins. God had to take action to save us! God had to roll up His sleeves and go to work to make this happen. This work culminated in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Mat 26:39 ESV
We learn from Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 26:39 that it was not possible for God to save us without work on His part. The “cup” that Jesus refers to in His prayer is a metaphor for the ordeal of His crucifixion which was about to happen.
|Grace (goodwill, kindness, generosity, etc.)||Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins|
So, if effort was required by God, in what sense are we saved by grace? God’s love and kindness (grace) was the motivation which caused Him to take action to save us so that we could live eternally with Him. God’s work saves us, but that which moved Him to work was His generosity, love and goodwill (grace). That is how we are saved by grace.
Grace, in simplest terms, is the generosity of God. Grace is a fancy church word which means being generous!
This series of articles is not meant to be a rigorous or complete study of the subject, but merely a starting point. For a much more comprehensive study on grace I highly recommend Jay Guin’s free book, “The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.”