By Dr. Harold Sala
For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Have you ever seen a drunk stagger down the street and heard someone say, “There go I, but for the grace of God!”? You understood this to mean that the person who commented felt very fortunate not to be the one staggering down the street. So does this mean that one person is just lucky–maybe blessed–and the other is not? Is that what grace is? And if not, then what is grace?
The Bible mentions grace some 170 times in 159 different references. To be sure, grace is a biblical concept, and in a narrower sense, it is specifically a New Testament concept. The first mention of the word in the King James version of the Bible is in reference to Noah, whose life was spared as the result of God’s gracious favor.
While the word is often found in the Old Testament, it was the writers of the New Testament who gave the word meaning. Luke used the word 10 times in the book of Acts. Paul, however, sprinkled the word throughout his letters. He used the term 20 times in his letter to the Romans, 17 in his two letters to the Corinthians, and 12 times in the letter to the Ephesians, describing how great a debt the Church has to the grace of God.
The Greek word used in the New Testament, charis, means, “favor, grace, gracious care or help… an act which one grants to another,” so say William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich in the lexicon which has become the standard of New Testament translation.
If there is any single word which is distinctively Christian, it is the word GRACE. The whole concept is framed with an undeserved quality–something which we believers have received, which we could never merit–something which God chose to do simply because He loved us.
Nothing could be more rewarding personally than to take the time to strive to understand, even in a small measure, what the grace of God means. Look up as many references to the word as you can, especially in the New Testament, and you will discover that whatever it means, at least five thoughts or concepts evolve around the word.
Concept #1: Grace refers to a dispensation or a period of time which stands as a contrast to the law of the Old Testament. This is why John said, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Concept #2: The word grace represents that which God has done for His children. Love may be the motive, but grace is the vehicle which brings the undeserved touch of God on our lives. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says plainly that “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Concept #3: Grace represents a lifestyle which should characterize God’s children. “Grow in grace,” Peters tells believers (2 Peter 3:18).
Concept #4: The writer of Hebrews speaks of grace as a place to which we can come for help. He refers to “…the throne of grace” where we find “…mercy and…help…in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
And, finally, concept #5: Grace represents what God is. Theologians call it an attribute of God. It is part of His character, which is unchanging.
A final thought: You don’t have to fully understand it to be blessed by it, any more than does an orphan child understand the motive behind the kindness of being adopted by a loving, caring parent. Only in eternity can we fully know how much we owe to God’s grace.
RESOURCE READING: Ephesians 2:1-10.