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What is grace?

Wed July 5th, 2017

Grace is a word banded about in Christian circles but what exactly do we mean by it?

It is not a widely used word outside of church circles, but one way it is used is like the way our website uses it in reference to our building share agreement:

43 Monkgate has two signs outside - the Ark Church and Trinity Methodist Church. This is because the building is owned by the Methodist Church but we have a formal building sharing agreement that entitles us to worship there. This agreement which we have by the good grace of the Methodist Church gives us a home, a base and a centre for worship and social action.

Grace in this context means that someone/something who is higher/greater/ more powerful than you shows you favour which may or may not be undeserved, but it is certainly something that can be unexpected.

The fact is that grace is normally shown by the ‘higher’ person to the ‘lower’ and that is why grace and God are two words that go together well.

In the Old Testament, the word translated grace is ‘chen’ (pron. khane), and we find it all over! From Gen 6:8 (Noah) onwards we are introduced to people who find grace in the Lord’s eyes or favour before him.

In Exodus, we learn that God is gracious, showing favour and grace to his people.

Exodus 33:19 I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion

Ex 34:6–7 The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated grace is ‘charis’ (pron. Khar-ece). You might say that this reminds you of ‘charismatic’ and so it should because the gifts of the Holy Spirit are grace gifts. Just as with the Hebrew word, charis is sometimes translated favour or even benefit.

In the New Testament, we seen that Jesus is full of grace, and that we receive grace from Him.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning Him and exclaimed, "This was the One of whom I said, 'The One coming after me has surpassed me, because He existed before me.'")
16 Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness,
17 for although the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Fairness

Ephesians 2 talks a lot about grace:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. 4 But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! 6 He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

It would appear then that salvation (safety from the effects of sin, judgement and eternal death) is of Gpd’s grace. One who is higher than us, who was under no compulsion to do this by anyone higher, favoured us with a change in our status from ‘under wrath’ (Eph 2:3) to ‘saved’ (Eph 2:5). This was all from God – we didn’t deserve this!

God is full of compassion and wants to walk with us relationally and his activity towards us in this regard is all ‘grace’.

Is grace fair? Not if you measure it by ‘the rules’, because in Christ it results in those who deserved judgement receiving forgiveness and being lifted from our position to one of reigning with Christ (Eph 2:6).

Jonah, knew that:

You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster. Jonah 4:2

Jonah states this as his excuse for running away from God – he ‘knew’ that if he went to Nineveh to warn them of God’s coming judgement and that if they repented that and God would turn away from judging them. God’s reply to Jonah involves a handy nearby plant:

Jonah 4:9 Then God asked Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?"

"Yes," he replied. "It is right. I'm angry enough to die!"

10 So the Lord said, "You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11 Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?"

God reserves the right to be gracious when people repent!

Consequences?

Some people have suggested that God is basically a ‘soft touch’ and that he will always show grace and forgive and that actually people don’t have to bother following Jesus in this life. The Bible doesn’t paint that picture, but it does show God as very gracious – to a thousand generations of those who love him, whereas he only judges to the fourth generation of those who do not. This is a clear use of hyperbolae – God is not particularly counting generations in this weird formula, but He is very gracious!

Repentance seems to activate God’s grace – when we recognize that we have failed Him and we ask forgiveness, God is gracious to us and He forgives. Are there still consequences for our sin? Yes – if we have to face civil or criminal penalties we do. There may be cultural penalties we pay for our sin, but the big one – judgement from God – we walk free!

When people say we should be gracious to others they are right, but that means that we are gracious the way that God is. We can forgive people for their sins against us, but we don’t throw away the wisdom that we have learned through life – we don’t have to put ourselves at risk the same way again. With us, forgiveness isn’t the same as forgetfulness! When you can remember how people have hurt you, forgiveness is really a real and powerful phenomenon.

The grace of God is a divine attribute, as we walk with Christ in life, we pray that His grace will rub off on us. Of all people Christians should be the most gracious because our master Jesus has been the best and most consistent role model for us to follow.