Grace (last update to this study was made on 04/28/2003; original article found in ARISE Journal - 01/1993)
Old Testament Review:
The hebrew word "chen" is found approximately 70 times in the old testament, about 40 of them as grace, gracious, or the grace, while the remaining 30 times as favour or favoured. Proverbs 5:19 even translates the word "grace" as pleasant, with 17:8 showing it as a precious stone (lit. stone of grace). Strong's concordance defines chen as graciousness, kindness, favor, pleasant, or precious. In addition, another word "chanan" is often translated as gracious or favour and brings the meaning to bend or to stoop in kindness to an inferior. Job used this very word as he sought his friends to stoop and find favor and kindness on him as he said "Have pity on me, have pity on me O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me".
The first time we see the word grace used in the old testament
is Genesis 6:8 "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord".
In addition, many others found grace in the sight of the Lord, including Abraham
(Gen 18:3), Lot (Gen 19:19), Laban - Jacob's father-in-law (Gen 30:27), Jacob
(Gen 32:5), and Moses (Ex 33:16) to name a few.
Moses asked an interesting question that we all may have asked at one time or another (I know I have) "For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight?" I've asked this way, "how do I know that I have received your favor?", Certainly my circumstances many times made it appear that His grace was far away! Do you ever feel this way? The very next verse from Moses provides us his own answer, "is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth". (Ex 33:16-17).
In consideration of the definition of grace from the old testament, it should not come as a surprise to any that it was God who had stooped down in kindness to an inferior, He had favour on Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Moses, not because they were better than the others, not because there was something worthy in them of His divine favour. They of old were no different than all of us who were born in sin and shapen in iniquity. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; there is none righteousness, no not one. It may come as a surprise, but God had favour on these men of old not because of who they were but because of who HE IS. Contrary to the thinking of many, the God of the old covenant was both a God of mercy and grace!
New Testament Review:
The greek word "charis" is used approximately 160 times in the new testament. Many times this word is translated in scripture as grace, favour, or thanks. It can also be found as pleasure, benefit, liberality and gift in the King Jimmy version of the bible. Strong's concordance defines the word charis as gracious, acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace and divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life. In addition, another word "charizomai" is often translated as forgiven and freely given. One dictionary brings this same idea to light by stating that grace is unmerited favour. And so it is as both the old and new testaments suggest.
However, there is a greater application in the principle of grace used in the new testament than simply stooping down to an inferior. Our understanding of grace goes beyond what Christendom has presented abroad. Let me borrow Mr. Strong's definition of influence upon the heart to look closer at the meaning of grace.
The beloved physician Luke tells us of Jesus "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him". Now I ask the question, was God stooping to an inferior, having unmerited favour to one which was undeserving? Or was Jesus unblemished, without flaw, a perfect sacrifice? I submit that the divine influence (grace) of God was on the boy's life. God did not have unmerited favor upon His Holy Son, He who was born of an incorruptible seed.
Even Jesus used the very word grace in scripture as found in Luke 6:31-36 "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank (grace) have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank (grace) have ye? For sinners also do even the same...............But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again;......for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil". Interesting, Jesus tells us to extend grace to all for God himself is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. How many times have we thought that someone in our path of life, family or friend, has done us wrong? Do we ever stop and think that perhaps this very ordeal, this entire situation was in the Father's complete control. Can we ever believe that it was to work something both in and out, hard has it may sound. What about Joseph and his terrible misfortune, tossed into a pit by his own brothers. Yet this same man saw God in control of the events, saying to his brothers "So it was not you that sent me hither, but God". Even Job, although losing fortune and children, testified "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of Lord. In all this Job sinned not nor charged God foolishly". This man did not miss the mark (definition of sin) by blaming the devil but simply saw the sovereign hand of God.
Are we capable of extending forgiveness and kindness? Grace being the influence on the heart, enables you and I to extend good in those situations which would otherwise have been utterly impossible. And if we are unable, it simply means that more of His grace is needed in our heart to be worked out over time. It is not to say, well I lack the desire so God must want me to continue in sin. No, it is to say, well God wants me to totally depend on Him and if it's more grace that I need, simply ask and wait on the Lord for its timely delivery!!! And perhaps to lessen our blow towards another, remember that they also lacked God's influence and ability to do otherwise or as Jesus stated "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do...Luke 23:34)
To quote a friend and wonderful teacher - Preston Eby, "Aristotle defines grace (charis) as "that which is freely bestowed with no expectation of return; an act which finds its only motive in the good heartedness of the giver". Therefore, when Paul teaches that the elect are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9), he fortifies the fact that our salvation is wholly "unmerited" by stating that it is not our doing or "not of yourselves", nor is it "earned", for "it is the gift of God". Finally, lest his readers should still fail to get the point, he adds "Not of works, lest anyone should boast". The revelation of grace declares that when God chose to redeem His creation that he foresaw no condition in them which would provide any grounds for their being saved or made acceptable to Him. He knew full well that absolutely no one would trust in Christ of his own free will, unless the Holy Spirit quickened him first. How can dead men decide anything? This is in keeping with the teaching of Christ that no one can come to Him until the Father has first drawn that person to his son (Jn 6:44)" - end quote.
And again in another place Bro Eby writes ".....grace is not merely the kindness of God in doing something for us which we have not deserved, but it is the essence, the energy, the power and working wrought within as HE DOES for us, to us, in us, and through us! God's grace, divine grace, then, is DIVINE ENABLEMENT. - end quote.
It's interesting that most teachers would have us believe that man is to make diligent use of God's grace; that man is to accept God's free gift of grace; that man is to allow it to set him free!!! Man, man, man, the emphasis is on the great self-will of man. As if the ALMIGHTY GOD has changed from ALL to IF-MAN-PERMITS Mighty. We are talking about God's divine influence here, yet man says, its only permitted if man gives the green light! The thought that God can only function if man permits is a childish notion and should be discarded from our very thoughts. Such have a very small God and their thinking is aligned with humanism. Did God ask Saul of Tarsus whether or not he wanted to be saved? Or did He not say to Ananias "He is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name". Face it, if you've been touched by God somewhere in your life, He will finish that in which He started, He has His hook in you dear friend, regardless in how hard you try to swim away from Him.
I believe that this is not simply a doctrinal debate but rather a basic, Christian entry level understanding, which is misunderstood and not taught in very many places. To grasp that grace is God's influence upon our hearts, to know that no man can resist the will of God when He begins to tug at our heart is indeed a revelation to cherish. Man cannot "pull himself up by his own bootstraps" as a very close friend of mine would say. Nor can man claim and whip up enough faith or stand-on-the-promises made to others throughout the Bible. No, man cannot approach God by his own thinking and raising of consciousness, it must be by divine revelation else it will not happen!
Religion has this strange notion that grace is free to all, yet man has to reach out and accept it. If we could ask Paul, would he tell us that the divine influence of God was subject to Paul accepting it? No, for scripture clearly shows that no man shall boast in the receiving of His grace. God's influence (grace) clearly is the instrument used to bring me to my expected end and when the end is accomplished (in each dealing in my life) I no longer need grace for I have been changed in that area of my life. Even Saint Augustine argued the fact that without God's continual help, man is weak and crippled. Augustine was an "adversary to the opinion that God frequently awaits the good impulses of the natural will before coming to its assistance with supernatural grace to regenerate man and empower him".
So to conclude, the bible does not teach of "steps" for one to take to be justified. It is in grace that we are freely justified (Rms 3:24). More so, it is not of our works (Rms 11:6) but out of faith (Rms 5:1), His faith (Gal 2:20). So, we are to pray for His continual INFLUENCE (grace) upon us, we ask that He draw us and we'll run after Him, we cry for His laws to be written on our hearts to save us from ourselves. God is quite able to make you and I willing (Rms 9:19; Ps 110:3). Aren't you glad He is able to bring us to that place to both desire and perform his good pleasure (Phil 2:12).