About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Understanding God's Grace


All Scripture passages quoted below are taken from the NIV Bible.  The word "grace" occurs 170 times in the King James Bible.  In the New Testament it is translated from the Greek word "charis".  "Charis" is also translated into other English words besides "grace".  For this reason, if you want to understand Biblical grace, you can't simply look up the English word "grace" in a concordance.  You must look up the Greek word "charis" in a Greek concordance in order to see every verse where it appears.  By doing this you can study all the verses associated with "charis", thus gaining a more complete understanding.  If you only look up the word "grace", your understanding will be limited because you will have missed many passages where "charis" is translated into words other than "grace".  This hermeneutical principle is often overlooked by students and teachers of the Bible.


2 Corinthians 1:15 is an example of what I just said.  Paul tells the Corinthians that he planned on visiting them first so they might "benefit" twice.  The word "benefit" is translated from the Greek word "charis".  This is one verse you'd miss if you only looked up the English word "grace".  Paul shows compassion to the Corinthians, resulting in them "benefiting" twice as much as others.  


Another example is found in 1 Corinthians 16:3 where Paul speaks of the Corinthians' "gift" given to the poor saints in Jerusalem.  The word "gift" is translated from "charis".  The "gift" was an expression of mercy and grace.


In Luke 1:30 an angel told Mary that she had found "favour" in the eyes of God.  The word "favour" is translated from "charis".  God chose Mary to be a recipient of His favour.  


There are more examples of "charis" being translated into English words other than "grace", but I will leave it at those I've quoted.  I will now comment on the two main aspects of "Biblical grace".     


I think the most commonly understood aspect of God's grace among Christians is what we call "God's unmerited favour."  He chooses to love us depraved sinners even though we don't deserve it. (Romans 4:16)    Romans 3:24 says we are "freely" justified by God's grace.  The word "freely" clearly shows that we do not deserve, or cannot earn, God's grace.  In Acts 20:24 Paul calls the gospel the "gospel of grace", that is, the gospel of God's "unmerited favour".  


In Romans 5:2 Paul says that "we stand in God's grace."  Those who trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ live under the protection and care of God's unmerited or undeserved grace.  That sure is a nice place to live.   


We all like the idea of God being gracious to us when we don't deserve it.  We just sit back and passively live in His grace.  As nice as that is, there is another aspect of God's grace that demands us to be more active.  This aspect of grace is "the ability we can receive from God to do what He wants us to do."  Do you see how this differs from "unmerited favour"?  Instead of passively receiving grace, this grace enables us to do God's will, assuming we want to do His will.     


In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul speaks of the generosity of the poverty stricken Macedonian Christians.  Despite their extreme poverty, they gave generously and joyfully to the poor saints in Jerusalem.  They did not complain or ask why they weren't being financially helped as well.  They just gave, and gave beyond their ability to give. (2 Corinthians 8:3)  2 Corinthians 8:1 says that God gave these people "grace" to give.  In verse 7 Paul calls this the "grace of giving".  Can you see that this "grace' is not "unmerited favour"?  This "grace" is the God given ability to do what we can't do on our own.         


In Acts 14:26 we see that Paul and his companions were given "grace", or the ability, to do the work of the Lord.  This isn't unmerited favour.  


In Romans 6:14 Paul says that sin will not be our master because "we are under grace".  This can't be "unmerited favour" either.  Paul is saying that God gives us the "grace", or the ability, to stop sinning.  This might be why this aspect of "grace" isn't as popular as "unmerited favour".  We tend to like being the recipients of God's undeserved grace while we continue to sin.  As an aside, we sin more than we think we do because most of us  define sin differently than the Bible. 


In Romans 12:6 Paul says that every believer has sufficient grace to use the gifts God has given him for the benefit of the Body of Christ.  Each one of us has been given "grace", or the ability, to use these gifts.  We have no excuse to sit back and do nothing.      


In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says that God gave him the "grace", or the ability, to work harder than other apostles.  I know that salvation is by grace and not by works, but once we receive God's "unmerited favour", that "grace"  should motivate us to receive His "grace" to do good works.  Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 9:8.  He says that God has given us the "grace to abound in good works".  This is also seen in Ephesians 3:8 where Paul states that he has the "grace", or the God given ability, to preach the gospel. 


Hebrews 4:16 tells us to approach "the throne of grace" so we can find "mercy and grace" to help us in the time of need.  We see both aspects of grace in one verse here.  In God's gracious undeserved mercy, He will give us the "grace", or the ability, to endure times of need.  We have no excuse not to endure these times of need that Jesus uses to test our trust in Him.  


I'll stop here and hope you get my point.  "Grace" is more than "unmerited favour", although that sure can't be overrated.  Along with other minor variations of the meaning of "grace", "grace" is also the "ability to do what God wants us to do," and He does want us to do things.  He wants us to stop sinning, change into His likeness, work on His behalf, and on it goes.  We were not called to simply sit back and be recipients of His "undeserved favour". We are called to receive the ability to do God's will.  May we do just that. 


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