(October 15, 2017) Dr Jim McClure respected theologian, continues his series on selected Greek words…
In Part 1 of this study we questioned the definition of ‘grace’ as ‘the unmerited favour of God’ as the phrase inadequately expresses the depth of meaning and significance of charis.
Some other inadequate definitions of ‘grace’ are as follows:
- ‘Grace is the empowering presence of God enabling me to be what God created me to be and to do what God has called me to do.’
There is much that is true in this definition but it is limited in its reach.
- ‘Grace is the unlimited life, power, gifts, abilities, and nature of God imparted to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the complete righteousness and the finished sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, because of his love for us and his mercy toward us, to enable us to do all the will of God on earth here and now, with a victorious spirit of excellence, praise, worship, and thanksgiving unto God, thereby overcoming all things in order to go and make disciples of all nations.
This definition is essentially a more elaborate description of the previous one.
- ‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.’ Despite its appeal as an acronym, it fails as a definition.
Despite the appeal of such pithy definitions, they have the tendency of placing limitations on the unfathomable depths of such a word as ‘grace.’
In Part 1 (September) we noted that grace was precious, powerful, penetrating and provided in ample sufficiency. We will take our investigation a stage further.
When Jesus came, a new age dawned bringing with it a new opportunity of finding intimacy with God and through that relationship entering into a transformed life. A new dimension of spiritual wholeness and a new dynamic of power came into the world as a consequence of a unique demonstration of God’s grace. This is what John is saying when he wrote, ‘For the law was given through Moses; charis and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17).
Grace includes God’s loving initiative to us and our loving response to him. New Testament writers understood charis as a power-word. I want to demonstrate that from the New Testament.
As an example consider Paul for whom ‘grace’ was so precious. He used the word at the beginning and end of every letter and also within those letters. In Romans chapters 5 and 6 he used it 9 times. In fact, in that great letter, where Paul went into a detailed explanation of what faith is, he used the word ‘grace’ 21 times! He also used it 19 times in Corinthians, 8 times in Galatians, 11 times in Ephesians, 3 times in Philippians, four times in Colossians, 6 times in Thessalonians, 8 times in Timothy, 4 times in Titus and twice in Philemon.
It clearly was a very precious word to Paul because of what it signified! Let us look more closely at charis as we find it in Romans chapters 5 and 6.
For Paul ‘grace’ was about …
‘We have gained access into this grace in which we now stand’ (Romans 5:2).
First of all this is referring to our full acceptance by God, that is to say that the relationship we have with God now is quite different from the relationship we had with him before we became Christians. Where we stood then, is quite different from where we stand now, as Peter also wrote, ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God’ (1 Peter 2:10). Our standing now is that we are the people of God by a unique relationship. We are accepted by God!
The word ‘stand’, as Paul used it in Romans 5:2, refers to our right of access into the presence of God.
He also wrote in Ephesians 2:18, ‘We have access to the Father’ and in Ephesians 3:12 that we may dare to approach God with confidence because of where we now stand in relationship with him. Through Jesus, the door into God’s presence is wide open to us.
Charles Wesley expressed it in his hymn – ‘Bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.’ When we stand in the grace of God, we may come boldly before God. When John Newton in his hymn Amazing Grace wrote, ‘I once was blind but now I see,’ he was referring to the change that grace had worked in his life and which had changed his standing with God. Where he now stood, he was able to see more clearly the love of God, the power of God, and the majesty of God.
In Matthew 22:1-14 we find Jesus’ parable about a wedding that further helps us to understand the concept of our standing before God. The point of the parable is that God takes our filthy rags and clothes us with his righteousness. And only those, who are so clothed, are able to stand where relationship with God becomes possible – Romans 5:2 Message, ‘We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand – out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.’ What an amazing privilege!
The word ‘surfeit’ refers to an amount that is more than is needed, an excess, a lavish helping. This is the measure of God’s grace to us! In Paul’s writings in particular we see how much this concept of God’s grace stirred him profoundly. It is never given in small amounts!
In Romans 5:15 he wrote, ‘For if many died by the trespass by the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to many.’
‘Overflow’ means ‘more than enough.’ Filling a glass to overflowing means that you keep on pouring even when the water has reached the top of the glass.
- God is a God of the overflow!
- God is the God of the abundance.
- God’s grace can match man’s sin.
- God offers to us a big salvation.
Good though God’s law is, ultimately it is inadequate to save us; keeping of the law can never contribute to our salvation. However the overflow of God’s grace spreads out and reaches us wherever we are and whatever we have done; it reaches us with its power to recover, release, redeem and reconcile us to God. There is a surplus in his grace!
Paul expanded on this theme in Romans 5:17 where he again expressed his amazement about God’s grace: ‘How much more will those who will receive God’s abundant provision of grace.‘ We praise God for his sufficiency; but this verse is actually stating something even more wonderful, because not only is grace sufficient, not only is it adequate, but also it is superabundant. It never runs out! It just keeps on coming because God is the God of superabundance, he is the God of the ‘how much more.’
- Jesus asks in Matthew 7:11, ‘How much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?’
- And in Luke 11:13, ‘How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’
- In Luke 6:38 he told about how God gives: ‘Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.’
- God gives superabundantly… he has ever got more of his grace to give us!
Let’s consider this way. Where our need is great, God’s supply of grace is even greater. Paul wrote, ‘Where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Romans 5:20). You cannot overwhelm grace; there is nothing that can outstrip it. Paul was saying that when we consider charis, we should think big!
The Message translation expresses Romans 5:20-21 in this striking way, ‘Grace wins hands down.’ Grace always wins, because you cannot defeat it, overwhelm it or take it over; nothing is bigger than grace. Its supply keeps on increasing and keeps on escalating; you can never reach the limit of the grace of God.
John 1:16 says, ‘We have received one blessing after another’ (NIV). A literal translation of this verse from the Greek says, ‘We have all received charis instead of charis.’ That means that every grace-blessing we receive to enable us to live the Christian life becomes the foundation of even greater blessings. We have all received ‘grace instead of grace’ – grace whose supply never runs out. That is so significant. Our spiritual growth and Christian maturity is directly related to how we respond to the supply of grace that God offers us.
Romans 5:21 contains this statement, ‘That grace might reign.’ This is referring to the sovereign efficiency of grace. Grace needs to be in the driving seat of our lives to enable us to meet all conditions and all situations. The challenge this presents is personal – how does grace reign in my life? Is it just tacked on? Or does it rule?
If an aspect of grace refers to God’s empowering presence when it is dominant in our lives, in reality it is God who is in sovereign control and his presence that empowers and enables us.
God told Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). And Paul affirmed in Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ He was stating, ‘I can do all things because Christ’s grace is operating in my life because he is reigning in me.’ That is sovereign grace in action.
We are not going to live righteous lives in this corrupt world unless we get some help. And the only help that is going to be effective is the sovereign grace of actively present within us.
Paul wrote in Romans 6 verses 20 and 22, ‘When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. … But now that you have been set free from sin.’
This transference from the state of slavery to sin to the state of freedom from the mastery of sin has been accomplished by God’s grace. In Romans 6:14 Paul had explained our new status this way: ‘Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace.’
- By grace our slavery to sin has been broken and annulled!
- Once we lived under law, but now we are living under grace. The dynamics have changed in our life. We have been liberated!
- Once we were victims, but now we are victors.
- Once we were living under the imprisoning power of sin, but now we are living in the empowering presence of God.
Living under law has no answer to the tyranny and penalty of sin. But living under grace brings deliverance and unlimited forgiveness in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that we will never sin again, but the dynamics have now changed. Our status has changed. Our state of sin has been replaced by the state of grace.
In Romans 6:1 Paul wrote, ‘Where sin increased, grace increased even more. Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase?’ And in Romans 6:15 he continued, ‘Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under charis?‘
These are rhetorical questions for the answers should be obvious! The fact is that because we are living in the grace of God, our standards have changed and the motive behind those standards has changed. The quality of life lived by a Christian should reflect high moral standards expressed in boundless generosity of spirit and selfless and persevering love (See 1 Corinthians 13).
Sadly the reality is that the standards expressed by many Christians fail to represent the dynamic presence of God’s grace in their lives. Such grace has to be embraced and active in and through us if we are to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Dr Jim McClure is author of several books and Bible study series. In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God we worship.
Normally $35, this classic is currently offered free by Dr Jim in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and MOBI versions. Link: firstname.lastname@example.org