Fri, Mar 11, 2011
Theologians aren’t usually good at shorthand. Nevertheless, they’ve done pretty well at defining grace with brevity. “Unmerited favour” is the definition one is most likely to hear. This is succinct, but sufficient. Grace is unmerited favour.
Unmerited favour is receiving something that we do not deserve. This is so true when we contemplate God’s grace. The gift of God’s grace is nothing short of amazing because we have done nothing nor can we do anything to deserve the graciousness of our loving God. It is because of this love for us that grace is offered and from within the Scriptures we read of the expounding of grace from God within the Old Testament and through Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of finding favour in the eyes of God or of man. The favour so found carries with it the bestowal of favours or blessings. This means that grace is not an abstract quality, but is an active, working principle, manifesting itself in beneficent acts. The fundamental idea is that the blessings graciously bestowed are freely given, and not in consideration of any claim or merit.
The presence of God’s grace is prevalent in the Old Testament and is introduced very early in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve, once they sinned, remained under the care and keeping of God even though they so rightly deserved to have that blessing taken from them. This is what is meant by the unmerited favour of God. We, like Old Testament people, continue to make mistakes; we continue to disobey and go our own way but God continues to offer us redemption and forgiveness.
We also see grace in the lives of the people of Israel, they were under the Law of Moses and they believed that by keeping the laws written within the Torah, they received the favour and approval of God. Within the Old Testament, there are stories upon stories of people who disobeyed God but who were still under God’s provision and who were still blessed with the flowing down of grace over their lives.
The New Testament word charis, from chairein, “to rejoice,” denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance, “loveliness,” “agreeableness,” “acceptableness”. In most of the passages, however, in which the word charis is used in the New Testament, it signifies the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, affected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Within the New Testament, the source of grace is now through the gift of Jesus Christ. We are justified, made right, by God’s grace. Because of the love shown on Calvary, we can experience the grace of God simply by accepting the gift of grace. Even though we have a sinful nature and continue to fall short of the glory of God, we are seen as being no longer under the Law of Moses but under grace. In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul brings to light the very nature of grace; that it is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and that through the acceptance of grace, we stand not as people see us but as God sees us.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Within our Doctrines, we believe that we are “justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” which echoes the words of Paul written in Romans. It is through faith that we have this affirmation that God is a gracious God and regardless of what we have done in our past, we can have that sin forgiven and forgotten through repentance. We, as Salvationists, have a New Testament understanding of grace; through Jesus Christ and the grace that is offered through Him, not by works, are we justified.
Grace has different types that are availed of within the Christian community. Prevenient grace is the grace that is present within and over our lives before we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour. R.G Tuttle, Jr. states that “Bound by sin and death, people experience the gentle wooing of the Holy Spirit, which prevents them from moving so far from “the way” that when they finally understand the claims of the gospel upon their lives, he guarantees their freedom to say yes.” Justifying grace is the grace that is received upon the moment of conversion. “Justifying Grace is the Holy Spirit turning us around, it’s our awakened awareness, our eyes being opened to the love and companionship of God; the Holy Spirit making God’s claim on you irresistible and changing you from the inside out.” A third kind of grace is sanctifying grace which is the grace over our lives from the time of conversion onward. While justifying grace saves us from the consequence of sin; sanctifying grace saves us from the power of sin.
My personal learning of grace has been based on the truth that I am an object of God’s grace and it is my mandate as a follower of the Grace-Giver to reciprocate that grace to others. We are called to conform to the likeness of God and not to see things as the world would see them. So as it is with the extension of grace; when the world turns it’s back on those who have done wrong in some form, we are called to extend the hand of God and offer them grace. I am reminded of how great people of God’s grace accomplished amazing things for the Kingdom. As a leader within The Salvation Army, it is of the utmost importance to realize that grace is extended to all. From the perspective of a minister and as a representative of this great organization, it is important to keep in mind that God used some of the people who needed grace the most, in order to declare His cause and to win souls for Him. We are objects of grace and it is only through that grace that we are who we are and have what we have. In ministering to others, we, as leaders, must be extenders of grace as it was extended to us.
In our lives, we need to realize that God’s grace is amazing and that it is a gift that is offered to us and others freely. We are objects of grace and even when we fall and fail to appreciate this gift from God, He continues to supply grace for our every need – simply amazing!
Where the grace of God is missed, bitterness is born. But where the grace of God is embraced, forgiveness flourishes. The longer we walk in the garden, the more likely we are to smell like flowers. The more we immerse ourselves in grace, the more likely we are to give grace.
Cadet Kim Chan is a cadet in the Friends of Christ session. She must be very photogenic because her picture has been in The Salvationist a number of times this year!