Sometimes you come across a word that is so awesome, so simplistically powerful and elegant, that when you fully understand it, it literally takes your breath away. Such a word is grace; particularly God's grace.
The King James Version of the Bible mentions the word grace 170 times, 39 times in the Old Testament and 131 times in the New Testament, so the word is not unfamiliar, which is good, but it is so many-sided that a single definition to describe it is virtually impossible. And yet every believer thinks he or she knows what it means.
We can get into a mindset where we think we know something reasonably well, only to find out later that what we know is just part of the whole.
This brings to mind the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. In this parable, six blind men stand next to the elephant and each feels a different part of its body and comes to different conclusions regarding what the elephant is really like.
One blind man takes hold of the tusk and says, "This elephant is like a spear." Another caresses the trunk and remarks, "This elephant is like a snake." The blind man hugging the back leg cries out, "This elephant is like a tree." The one grabbing the tail says, "This elephant is like a rope." Another blind man feeling the ear supposes, "This elephant is like a fan." The final blind man leaning on the elephant's side exclaims, "This elephant is like a wall."
The many permutations and concepts of the elephant, as alluded to by the blind men, cannot be compared to the variety of understandings of the word grace.
So what do we make of grace, what really is grace?
The word used for grace in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word chen derived from chanan that when translated to the English means "favour" and is the unmerited favour of a superior to an inferior or subordinate.
This concept of grace in its everyday application would be like an employee who approaches his boss and says, "Do me a favour boss, I want to go down the road and pay an urgent bill. Can you please man my desk until I get back?" An example of this in the Bible is the meeting between God and Moses, "And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name." (Exodus 33:17)
But this concept of grace is not exhausted on the word chen "favour", for even in its Old Testament setting it is used to also mean mercy, kindness and graciousness and they all carry different, but associated, meanings.
This point is made well by website http://www.bible-researcher.com/grace
"These various meanings [of grace] naturally tend to blend into each other, and in certain cases it is difficult to fix the precise meaning that the writer meant the word to convey, a confusion that is common to both New Testament and secular Greek And in secular Greek the word has a still larger variety of meanings that scarcely concern the theologian."
The plain truth is that we are apt to treat grace as if it means just one thing because that is the notion firmly planted in our heads from our youth, but grace is far more robust and complex than that.
What can be said with certainty, though, is that God's grace took on a new, and majestically different meaning, with the arrival of Jesus Christ.
Until the arrival of Jesus Christ nearly all references to grace had a fluid use that could be applied to both God and man, depending on the context. Look carefully and see that in the Old Testament nearly every use of the word "grace" could, justifiably, be interchangeable between God and man, whether it was a favour, showing mercy, being gracious, being kind, etc.
In the New Testament, Paul took the word grace and gave it a new impetus and meaning by contrasting it with The Law, as he did so very well in the book of Romans. He could only have done that because, with the arrival of Jesus Christ, certain dynamics of grace that were hidden, or at least not clearly defined, were made understandable.
Take this vital scripture for example: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.' (John 1:17) This really throws the cat among the pigeons, for it makes up sit up, and take notice, as if we had no concept of grace before.
What John is saying here, and this is the true way to understand this, is that the law, so good and blessed, was given external of Moses, i.e. Moses was NOT part of what was given, he could not affect the efficacy of it, it did not rise or fall by any act of Moses' doing. But in the case of grace and truth, these were part of what Jesus brought because they are embodied in Jesus himself.
Jesus did not merely bring the favour from God to show the world, to display God's generosity and beneficence in a gracious manner that we might have a better understanding of God. No, all of that was certainly present, but of far greater importance was the reality that Jesus himself was that grace. He did not bring the gift, he was the gift.
Here is what the Bible tells us of this mighty wonder. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." (Titus 2:11) This is a reference to Jesus Christ and the gospel appearing to all sorts of people, "... this is to be understood of all sorts of men, of every nation, of every age and sex, of every state and condition, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, masters and servants; which sense well agrees with the context..." John Gill's Bible Commentary.
Notice carefully that God's grace brings salvation.
So often we see God's grace as something inert and in terms of a lifeless process, like time bringing old age. How often when asked, how are you getting on, how are you? We respond, "I'm doing okay by the grace of God." As if it's an edict given by God to keep you going. Whereas it's a person, Jesus Christ, and the administration of the Holy Spirit that is keeping you going, and giving you joy and lifting your burdens and energising you day by day.
This is why God's grace is so awesome.
Grace has many sides and can mean many things, but ultimately God's grace results in one thing and one thing only. It is the giving of Jesus Christ to the world and from him flows all the benefits of grace to every believer.
If you are blessed, it is not something that is blessing you, it is God doing it in Christ, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3) There can be no true, spiritual blessing outside of Jesus Christ, and this is here solidly affirmed.
If you are comforted and able to go through all your trials, tribulations and challenges, and emerge successfully, it is because God's awesome grace, Christ Jesus the Lord, brought to completion that which he has begun in you. You can then say like Paul, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:9)
If you are still in doubt as to the measure of God's grace then remember what Paul said in a powerful testimony to the Corinthians, "But by the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Take that however you like and it equates to the same thing; God's grace is truly awesome.
You are not who you are because of your fine education, or sturdy upbringing, or your country of birth, or your antecedents or any of these great and wonderful things. No, you are who you are by the grace of God and it has been truly said, "There but for the grace of God go I". Remarkably true, and humbling, but above all a powerful reminder that God's grace is truly awesome.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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