What is Grace?
When working with teenagers, one has to keep vigilant about staying up to date with an ever-changing vocabulary. For instance, one online slang dictionary lists over a hundred ways to say that something is cool. You could say it is “Amazing, all that, all that and a bag of chips, awesome, awesome sauce, bad, da bomb, chill, crackin’, crazy, epic, fantabulous, far out, fresh, gangsta, hopping, kewl with a K, mean, off the chain, off the hook, okie dokie, on fire, out of sight, phat, prime, primo, ridiculous, redonkulus, sweet, stellar, superfly, swell, trick, or unreal, just to name a few…but only if you intend to say you like something, not describe it’s temperature.
Of course, it isn’t just teenagers. In addition to slang, which is informal speech, every sub-group has it’s own jargon: verbal shorthand that makes sense to those “in the know.” Doctors can throw around words like Acute Tachyphilaxis right in front of us without any fear that we’ll be able to decipher their impenetrable code. An accountant could mention the accrual basis net income formula and her meaning would be totally lost on most of us. The primary purpose of this language isn’t to confuse the un-initiated or to merely make the speaker sound smarter: it enables weighty or complex concepts to be discussed in manageable sentences without being redundant. The problem isn’t in the words themselves, the concepts they convey or even those who use them. The problem with jargon is ours, isn’t it? It’s that we don’t understand the words and thus miss out on the benefit of the information conveyed by the speaker.
Those who are unfamiliar with Biblical Christianity will discover a similar effect as they begin to read the Bible. There are many words that are used in a spiritual context which we simply don’t use in ordinary day-to-day speech. If those words are never explained, the wonderful truths that they convey might be missed altogether. Perhaps worse still, we might assume that we DO know the meaning of a word based on other ways in which we have heard it used in the past but without our understanding being informed by God’s Word. In such a case, it is possible to both misunderstand or even draw a wrong conclusion about what God intends to communicate. For these reasons, we have recently begun a study on Wednesday’s for the purpose of defining spiritual terms.
The first word we looked at this past week was “Grace.”
Let’s begin with what grace is NOT.
· Grace is not a sort of “holy ice-cream topping” that can be sprinkled on common words to make them sound more spiritually meaningful! Be honest, have you ever done that either in conversation or in prayer? Have you ever tried to throw in a religiously loaded word to make your advice or request “sound better?” How many times have you read things like “Grace and peace to you….” in your Bible and glossed over it like it had no specific meaning, like it was just there to make a “hello” sound spiritual? Because every word of Scripture is important and has meaning (2 Tim. 3:16-17), those words are not just window dressing but an important element of Paul’s message to the churches.
· Grace is not ‘poise” or elegance either. This IS a legitimate usage of the ENGLISH word grace, but not of the Greek word that it translates. We say “She’s so graceful,” meaning that she just floats across the room like a butterfly or knows just what to do to get along in social settings. When Jesus was said to be "full of grace and truth," it was not a reference to his being particularly savvy about which fork to use at dinner.
· Finally, grace is not a substance/thing that you can tangibly get, accumulate, and tote around with you. Some religious traditions treat grace like “credits” that you accumulate for good behavior. Those who collect a lot of grace might be viewed as especially approved by God, and might even have a few extra credits to spend in case they get themselves in a little trouble. As we shall see, none of these things are conveyed by the Biblical term.
So, what is grace?
Simply put, grace is favor or kindness shown to someone.
· We see an example of the concept in the Hebrew language in Genesis 33. Here, Jacob returns to his hometown and anticipates a reunion with his brother Esau whom he cheated out of the birthright so many years before. He’s understandably anxious and sends gifts of flocks and herds ahead of him as a peace offering and buffer against any still-seething anger. When Esau asks what it’s all about, Jacob’s response is that he hopes to find “grace in the sight of my lord.” He’s hoping for a kind reception rather than a furious battle.
· New Testament examples also sometimes use the word “favor” to translate the Greek word for grace, as in Luke 1:30 where Mary is encouraged by the angel that she ought not to be afraid because she has “found favor (grace) with God.” In other words, she should anticipate kindness from God and his messenger.
But grace is more than general “good vibes” or positive thoughts about someone. Grace is ALWAYS demonstrated by action. Grace is not just sentimentality like the word “love” is sometimes used in our language. That shouldn’t surprise us because God’s love isn’t mere emotion either, but is a choice and results in action. Grace is kindness in action.
· The greatest example of God’s kindness in action is found in the gospel where Christ showed us the kindness of taking on our punishment, so that he could show us the kindness of being set free to know and serve God.
2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
· The cross of Christ opened the door to a whole new experience of God’s help whenever you need it.
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
· Throughout the New Testament, we see God’s kindness in action in numerous ways
o Grace saves (Eph. 2:8)
o Grace justifies as a gift (Romans 3:24)
o Grace forgives (Romans 6:1)
o Grace gave power to do wonders (Acts 6:8)
o Grace enabled gospel ministry (Acts 14:26)
o Grace builds up and sanctifies through God’s word (Acts 20:32)
o Grace teaches (Romans 12:3)
o Grace provides spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6)
o And many more…
One final element should be added to our understanding of grace. God’s grace is undeserved, but not unconditional. The condition is that it must be received. If grace is God’s powerful, practical help in our time of need, then we must take advantage of that grace by accepting it and applying it as we wage spiritual warfare.
As the church was admonished in Acts 13:43 “Continue in the grace of God.” Keep taking advantage of it. When you are weak, remember that he is strong. His grace is sufficient for you, and you will see that most clearly in times of weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Humble yourself, admit where you have failed and need help and you will find all the grace you could ever need (James 4:6).