DEFINITIONS OF ‘GRACE’


In the Old Testament the concept of grace is found in two words: hesed – which is translated ‘mercy’, ‘loving kindness’, ‘kindness’ or ‘goodness’, ‘unfailing love’, and hen – which is translated ‘grace’ and ‘favour’.

The New Testament has the words charis – referring to a free gift, and eleos – meaning mercy. Jesus is not recorded as using the word ‘grace’, but the concept of grace pulsates through his teaching and his purpose.

John Piper, in Future Grace, says:

‘Common definitions of God’s grace and mercy go like this: grace is the goodness of God shown to people who don’t deserve it; mercy is the goodness of God shown to people who are in a miserable plight. … Since sin always brings misery, and misery is always experienced by sinners, therefore all of God’s acts of grace are also acts of mercy, and all his acts of mercy are also acts of grace. Every act of grace shown to a person because he is a sinner is also an act of mercy because his sin brings misery. And every act of mercy shown to a person because of his miserable plight is also an act of grace because he doesn’t deserve it. It never makes sense to say that sometimes God shows us mercy and sometimes he shows us grace. Whenever he shows one he is showing the other. The difference is whether the act of goodness is viewed in relation to our sin or in relation to our misery.’ [p75,77]

‘Paul recognizes here a perfect opportunity to emphasize the freeness of grace. As he describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.’ [p81]

Leon Morris in The Cross in the New Testament comments:

‘The idea in grace is closely connected with that of joy. Basically grace means ‘that which causes joy’, and for the Christian there is no joy like the joy the gospel brings. And what God has done for man He has done freely. Grace always implies a freeness in giving.‘ [p233 ].

Philip Hughes, in But for the Grace of God, wrote:

‘The doctrine of grace lies at the very heart not merely of all Christian theology but also of all Christian experience. If we have an incorrect or inadequate understanding of the biblical teaching on grace, our whole grasp of the meaning and purpose of Christianity will be deficient in consequence. … Grace speaks of God’s initiative, of the priority of God’s action on behalf of us poor sinners. … Grace enriches, and the enrichment it brings is owed entirely to God’s prior action of mercy in Christ Jesus. Divine grace precedes all. That is the whole point of grace. [p9-10]

So important is grace that almost every New Testament letter, including Revelation, begins and ends with the writer greeting his readers with the prayer/blessing for ‘grace’ to be with his readers. In this way the writers remind us that our salvation is by grace alone, and encourage us and pray that we will stand fast in the blessing of that grace. These New Testament writers knew very well that one of the hardest things for the human being to do is to do just that. We have an automatic inclination to discard grace and to put our own merit in its place, and thereby to undercut our understanding and enjoyment of salvation and all its benefits.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009