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New Testament Grace

Charis is the primary Greek word translated as “grace” in the New Testament. It is number 5485 in James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It has various uses and may be seen from the Conferrer’s (giver’s) and/or the recipient’s point-of-view. The Conferrer is of course God. God’s grace employs agape love (see Etymology Study #1), kindness, goodwill, favor, mercy and universality. The recipient is mankind, and God’s grace grants without cost to the recipient the opportunity for righteousness, eternal life, security, joy, loveliness, sweetness, charm, thankfulness, praise and purpose.

In studying the subject of grace in an attempt to fathom the depth of its various meanings, I ran across a commentary by John Polhil in the Holman Bible Dictionary that is so insightful and exhaustive that I felt compelled to reproduce it here. I’ve only added the script for some of the article’s listed Bible references in order to save the viewer time and to confirm the points under discussion. I recommend all listed references be examined in considering this commentary. I trust the following will be a blessing to all.

Grace in the New Testament We owe our distinctly Christian understanding of grace to the apostle Paul. The Pauline epistles employ the word charis and its related forms twice as frequently as the rest of the New Testament writings combined. Paul sometimes employed the word with its more secular meanings. He urged his readers to make their speech “gracious” or “attractive” (Col. 4:6 -Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone; Eph. 4:29 - Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen), and referred to his visit to Corinth as a “grace” which would bring them pleasure (2 Cor. 1:15 NASB text note). The idea of gift also appears, especially in reference to his collection for the Jerusalem saints (1 Cor. 16:3 - Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem; 2 Cor.8:1, 4, 6, 7, 19). Often he used charis to mean thanks, as in the thanksgiving over a meal (1 Cor. 10:30 - If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?) or in songs of praise (Col. 3:16 - Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God). Frequently he employed the set expression “Thanks” (“charis be to God” - Rom. 6:17, 7:25; 1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14; 8:16; 9:15; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:3). One wonders if for Paul this common Greek idiom did not carry a deeper nuance. It was precisely his experience of God’s grace that led to his profound sense of thanksgiving.

Paul’s sense of God’s grace owed much to his experience of being turned from the persecutor of the church to Christ’s missionary to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 15:9-10 - For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me; 1 Tim. 1:12-14 - I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus). So convinced was he that this was all God’s doing and not of his own merit that he could describe his apostolic calling as coming even before his birth (Gal. 1:15 - But when God, who set me apart from birth£ and called me by his grace, was pleased). He was an apostle solely because of God’s grace (Rom. 1:5 - Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith), and his entire ministry and teaching were due to that divine grace (Rom. 12:3; 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; 2 Cor. 1:12 - Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2, 7, 8).

Paul had too profound a sense of human sin to believe that a person could ever earn God’s acceptance (Rom. 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). As a Pharisee, he had sought to do that by fulfilling the divine law. Now he had come to see that it was not a matter of earning God’s acceptance but rather of coming to accept God’s acceptance of him through Jesus Christ. So, he came to see a sharp antithesis between law and grace. Law is the way of self-help, of earning one’s own salvation. Grace is God’s way of salvation, totally unearned (Rom. 3:24; 4:4; 11:6 - And if by grace, then it is no longer by works: if it were, grace would no longer be grace; Eph. 2:8 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God). Grace is appropriated by faith in what God has done in Christ (Rom. 4:16 - Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed . . .). God’s grace comes to sinners, not to those who merit God’s acceptance (Rom. 5:20-21 - The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord). It is through Christ’s atoning work on the cross that God’s grace comes to us, setting us free from the bondage of sin (Rom. 3:24-31). Christ is the Representative who breaks the reign of sin and brings life and acceptance with God through divine grace (Rom. 5:15, 17 - For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one Man, Jesus Christ). God’s grace is so bound up with Christ that Paul could speak of the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 8:9; 2 Tim. 2:1). It was in the beloved Son that God’s grace came supremely to mankind (1 Cor. 1:4 - I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus; Eph. 1:6-7; compare 2 Tim. 1:9 - This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time).

For Paul, grace is practically synonymous with the gospel. Grace brings salvation (Eph. 2:5, 8). Grace brings eternal life (Rom. 5:21; Titus 3:7). To share in the gospel is to be a partaker of grace (Phil. 1:7 - It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me; Col. 1:6). In Christ Jesus, God’s grace is open to all people (Titus 2:11 - For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men; compare 2 Cor. 4:15); but the experience of God’s grace is conditional upon human response. It can be rejected or accepted (2 Cor. 6:1; Gal. 1:6; 5:4).

From the human perspective, the divine grace is a power which undergirds the present life. God’s grace abides in us (2 Cor. 9:14 - And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you); we stand in it (Rom. 5:2 - through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand). Our calling, our witness, our works are all based on the power of God’s grace in our lives (2 Thess. 1:11,12 - With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ). Paul sharply rejected any antinomian perversion of the gospel which failed to recognize that the true experience of God’s grace changes one’s life in the direction of righteousness (Rom. 6:1, 14-15 - For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!). Grace never gives freedom to sin. His own experience had shown him a new power of the divine grace active in his ministry in spite of his human weakness (2 Cor. 12:9 - But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”). In fact, all who experience God’s grace have gifts of that grace for ministry and service (Rom. 12:6 - We have different gifts, according to the grace given us . . .; Eph. 4:7).

So pervasive was Paul’s sense of God’s grace that he always referred to it in the opening or closing of his letters. His usual salutation includes a wish for “grace” and “peace” upon his readers (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3). Here Paul played upon the normal word of salutation in Greek letters (chairein-joy). Charis has a similar sound, but a world of difference. For the Christian, a reminder of God’s grace in their lives is the richest word of greeting and the fullest source of joy.

Surprisingly the word “grace” does not occur in Matthew or Mark. The concept is there, in Jesus’ ministry to sinners and outcasts, in His healing ministry, and in such teachings as the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-8). Luke, however, made extensive use of charis in both his writings. Sometimes he used it with basically secular meanings, such as “credit, benefit” (Luke 6:32-34 NASB), as “thanks” (Luke 17:9), or as attractiveness in speech (Luke 4:22). The familiar Old Testament idea of “favor” appears a number of times, sometimes referring to the favor of one human to another (Acts 2:47; 7:10; 24:27; 25:3, 9; Luke 2:52), sometimes to God’s favor bestowed on individuals (Luke 1:28, 30; 2:40; Acts 7:46). Reminiscent of Paul are the references in Acts which refer to salvation or to the gospel as “grace” (Acts 11:23; 13:43; 18:27; 20:24, 32). Particularly Pauline is the reference to salvation through the grace of the Lord Jesus in Acts 15:11. Also like Paul are those places where grace is described as an enabling power in the ministries of various Christians (Acts 4:33; 6:8 NASB; 14:26; 15:40).

Grace only occurs three times in John’s Gospel, all in the prologue (ch. 1), and all in a sense reminiscent of Paul. Grace is equated with truth (1:14), its gift nature is emphasized (1:16), and it is set in antithesis to the law of Moses (1:17). In the remainder of the Johannine corpus, grace occurs only three times, all in benedictions (2 John 3; Rev. 1:4; 22:21). In the Johannine writings the idea of God’s unmerited gift in Christ is very present, but conveyed by a different word-agape (love).

References to grace in the other New Testament writings do not extend beyond the meanings found in the Pauline epistles and Luke-Acts. Secular meanings of charis occur, such as “gratitude” (Heb. 12:28) and “credit” (1 Pet. 2:19-20 NASB). Grace is connected with God’s mercy (Heb. 4:16) and with the atoning death of Christ (Heb. 2:9). It is virtually equated with the gospel (1 Pet. 5:10) and with salvation (1 Pet. 1:10, 13). It is seen as a power which strengthens life (Heb. 13:9), undergirds those who are persecuted (1 Pet. 5:10), and grants gifts for Christian service (1 Pet. 4:10). God’s grace can be spurned (Heb. 10:29; 12:14-15) or turned into a perverted gospel promising freedom from the law and thus freedom to sin without judgment (Jude 4). Above all, grace is the hallmark of the Christian experience and thus a frequent component in benedictions (Heb. 13:25; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:2).

I trust all viewers will profit from this study. It bears repeating that true Christianity differs from all other religious and philosophical doctrines in this concept of grace, which embodies the truth that man can never in and of himself merit by any means the forgiveness of sins and the award of eternal life other than by repenting (turning) from any works-oriented salvation plan and accepting by faith (trusting in) God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and His sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sins.

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