MULTIPLE MEANINGS OF MARVELOUS GRACE
BY PASTOR GLENN PEASE
A snowstorm made it impossible for a guess speaker to get to the church where he was to preach. Therefore, a local man was asked to come in as a substitute. The speaker began by explaining the meaning of substitute. If you break a window he said, and then place a cardboard there instead--that is a substitute. After his sermon, a woman came up to him, shook his hand and wishing to compliment him said, "You are no substitute. You are a real pane." Unfortunately, verbal communication does not reveal how a word is spelled, and so, if he heard "pain" rather than "pane" as she intended, he would have received a message just the opposite of what she meant to convey. We must constantly be aware of the complications of language if we hope to effectively communicate.
Words can be alike and yet be very different depending on the context. If I say you have good vision, or you have good sight, these words are very close in meaning. But if I say my daughter is a vision, and yours is a sight, I am in trouble, for some how they do not remain synonymous in this context.
When we come to the word grace, or charis in the Greek, we are dealing with one word that can mean opposite things depending upon the context. We miss the complexity of this word because in our English translations there are 11 different English words used to translate this one Greek word. We are not even aware most often that charis is being used. The root idea of the word is that which is pleasing, or which gives pleasure. From there it develops numerous connections with various kinds of pleasure and favor. It's meaning becomes so diverse that it is hard to see how the same word can be used for so many things, and often with no apparent connection.
Our English word grace has followed the same pattern in a small way. You have a 30 day grace period on your insurance policy. This fits the idea of unmerited favor. They carry you for 30 days even though you don't deserve it, because you have not paid your premium. But what has this got to do with saying grace before you eat? You do not say unmerited favor, but you say thanks, which is your expression of favor to God. But if you say the swan has grace, you do not mean it has unmerited favor, or that it has thanks. You mean it has natural elegance, beauty of line and movement. It makes a favorable impression on us by its grace. We haven't begun to list all the meanings this word can have, but it is clear from these few examples, that the word has to be constantly redefined according to the context.
A man living on the boarder of Minnesota and Wisconsin was puzzled for years as to which state he actually lived in. Finally he got around to having a special survey made. When the surveyor reported to him that he lived in Wisconsin, he tossed his hat in the air and shouted, "Hooray! No more of those cold Minnesota winters!" Of course, redefining where you are located does not change the weather, but to redefine a word can change the whole atmosphere of a passage.
Grace is a warm and positive word usually, but it can be used in a cold and negative way. Charis means favor, and favor can be shown to those who do not deserve it, and thus, you have unmerited favor. Sound great doesn't it? But what if you were a student who worked hard for a scholarship and fulfilled all the requirements, but the gift went to student x, who didn't do a thing, but whose sister was the wife of the teacher, and so got it because of connections? Here is a form of unmerited favor which we call favoritism. It is unjust because it favors someone at the expense of another more deserving. Greek citizens had to swear an oath not to show this kind of charis for or against a fellow citizen.
Charis, in this sense, is equivalent to the Hebrew idea of respect of persons. The Bible makes it clear that God is no respecter of persons. He shows no favoritism. That is why the universalism of God's grace is stressed in the New Testament. Christ died for all men. This avoids any danger of reading the negative idea of favoritism into God's grace.
The word is used this way in the New Testament, however. Paul, the apostle of positive grace, was a victim of negative grace. In Acts 24:27 we read, "Felix desiring to do the Jews a favor left Paul in prison." Here was favor, or grace, expressed for a selfish reason, and at the expense of another--namely Paul. In Acts 25:9 we see the same thing. Fetus wishing to do the Jews a favor took their side against Paul. This is the kind of grace that corrupts. The poet put it--
When rogues like these (a sparrow cries)
To honors and employment rise,
I court no favor, ask no place
For such preferment is disgrace.
The paradox is that there is a grace which is a disgrace, for it is the receiving of unmerited favor which is unjust, because it is at the expense of others. Now, as if this is not enough complexity, being able to mean either good or bad unmerited favor, we want to see that it can also mean merited favor. Most often Christians define grace as only unmerited favor, but this is putting a limit on the word which the New Testament does not do. It should not be surprising that grace can also mean merited favor. It is logical that favor is going to be shown toward those who merit it. No man merits salvation, which is the greatest aspect of God's grace, but many are pleasing to God by their obedience, and God responds to them in grace.
To see this in operation, we need to go to the very first reference to grace in the New Testament. In Luke 1:30 the angel says, "Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God." Favor here is charis again. Mary was not sinless, but she was pure and lovely in character, and her life pleased God. She was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah because of her pure life. It is obvious she did not merit this honor in the sense that she was worthy, for no person could ever be worthy to give birth to the Son of God. On the other hand, she was not holy unfit to be Christ's mother, for she had a life pleasing to God, and the kind of life needed for His purpose. God did not favor her because she was less pure and righteous than others, but because of her exceptional purity and righteousness. She attracted God's favor by the beauty of her life.
The clearest example of merited favor is in connection with Christ Himself. Luke 2:52 says, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."Favor is charis again. You can see how meaningless it would be to define grace here as unmerited favor. This would mean that Jesus was not worthy of the favor of God, but God granted it anyway. And men, out of the goodness of their hearts, showed favor to Christ, even though he did not deserve it. This, of course, would be sheer nonsense. Grace here means merited favor. Jesus by the inherent beauty, goodness,
and harmony of his life, attracted the favor of God and man. Jesus had a quality of character that fully merited all the favor He received.
This is an aspect of grace that we are seldom aware of. We tend to think of grace as a one way street: God's grace toward us. But favor works both ways in the New Testament. If God favors us and gives us blessings, we in turn favor God, and respond with gratitude to His graciousness. Our response is described by this same word--charis. We respond with grace. Listen to Paul in--
I Cor. 15:57, "But thanks be to God who gives us the victory..."
II Cor. 2:14, "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph."
II Cor. 8:16, "But thank to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus."
II Cor. 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift."
In each case, do you know what the Greek word is for thanks? It is charis, the same word used all through the New Testament for grace and favor. Grace be to God Paul says over and over again as he expresses his love and gratitude for God's grace. Here is grace which is merited. God merits our favor in every way, and therefore, all of man's grace to God is merited grace. This, of course, is where grace gets its connection with prayer before meals. We express our favor and thanks to God for His favor and goodness to us. Therefore, to multiply in grace means to grow in thankfulness, among other things.
There are numerous passages where grace is the root idea in thanksgiving. The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharist, and you see charis as the heart of it. The Lord's Supper is called the feast of the eucharist, or the feast of thanksgiving. It is our expression of grace for the great grace of God in giving us His Son. Grace at the very heart of the Gospel, as it is expressed in this poetic version of John 3:16.
For God--the Lord of earth and heaven, so loved and longed to see forgiven,
The world--in sin and pleasure mad, that He gave the greatest gift He had--
His only begotten Son--to take our place: That whosoever--Oh what grace;
Believeth--placing simple trust in Him--the righteous and the just,
Should not parish lost in sin, But have eternal life--in Him.
When we feel great joy because we have experienced God's grace or favor, we are experiencing a form of grace in our joy, for the Greek word for joy is chara. When we feel joyful, we are feeling graceful, which means full of favor.
The word chara is used in the following Bible passages:Matt. 2:10, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy (chara)."Matt. 5:12, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad (chara): for great is your reward in heaven..."6Matt. 13:44 , "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hid in afield; when a man has found it, he hides, and for joy (chara) thereofgoes and sells all that he has, and buys that field."Matt. 18:13 describes the Lord's joy (chara) at finding the lost sheep. Matt. 25:21, 23, "His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make the ruler over many things: enter into the joy (chara) of thy lord."We begin to see the relationship between joy and that which causes joy, namely, the favor and bounty which we receive from the Lord.
In the realm of redemption, all of God's grace is favor toward those who not only do not merit it, but who deserve His wrath. In the gift of Christ, and salvation in Him, there is nothing but God's love to account for it. There is much of the grace of God, however, that flows out to men on the basis of their obedience. In other words, we can win the favor of God, and grow in grace by acts and attitudes which please Him. Peter uses charis to refer to a clear case of merited grace in I Peter 2:19-20. You would never know it, however, for charis is hidden behind the English word of commendable. He writes, "For it is commendable (charis), if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable (charis), before God."
Peter is saying, it is worthy of thanks, merit, and God's favor, if you, like Christ, suffer for righteousness sake. Grace does not lessen, but increases as we become more Christlike. God's grace flows forth, not only to sinners in abundance, but to the saints as well. Milton in Paradise Lost refers to God's grace as bountiful generosity to those who serve Him.
Yet so much bounty is in God, such grace,
That who advances His glory, not their own,
Them He Himself to glory will advance.
From this idea we go on to see that grace refers to the many gifts of God to His children. Grace is not only the generosity of the giver, and the gratitude of the receiver, it is the gift also. The Greek for gift is charisma. A gift is something with which you express favor, and so charis is the basic idea in the word gift. It could be translated gracious gift. In the well known Rom. 6:23, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord:" Gift is charisma, or gracious gift. Here we are in realm of redemption, and, as always, God's grace is totally unmerited. It is in contrast to the wages of sin. Wages imply merit or earned remuneration. Men merit, or deserve, death and damnation. They earn this by their life of sin. The gift of God, however, is not earned, but is a gift of unmerited favor. God's grace runs all through the New Testament under the word gift.
God's giving does not end with salvation, however. His grace is sufficient for all of life, and He goes on giving gifts, as aspects of His grace. In II Cor. 1:11 Paul says,"You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks (eucharis) on our behalf for the blessing (charisma) granted us in answer to many prayers." All blessings are gifts of grace. Some are merited, and some are not.
We know the Bible says much about gifts, but we have not been conscious of the fact that these are parts of grace. Men with special gifts of God are called charismatic. They are full of grace. As we multiply in grace, we grow in our capacity to be used of God, for we acquire, develop, and perfect more gifts as channels of His grace. In I Peter 4:10 Peter says, "As each has received a gift (charisma) employ it for one another as good stewards of God's varied grace." The whole of Christian service is an extension of God's grace. He gives it to us, and we pass it on. When we show favor we are being channels of God's grace. God's grace can be experienced through us. The giver, the receiver, the gift of power, love, joy, kindness, and innumerable other values are included in this marvelous word grace.
Now we can understand why Paul begins every one of his letters with grace, ends every one of them with grace and fills them with references to it, and builds his theology around it. Paul was the great Apostle of grace, and of the 155 references to it in the N.T., 130 of them are from his pen. Now we can understand why Peter also makes a big issue of it, and why he wants to see grace multiplied in the lives of believers, and why he in 3:18 ends his letter by urging them to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Grace is the source of all that is included in salvation and sanctification. Everything we are, and do, and will ever be, and do, depends on our growth in grace. Therefore, let our prayer be that which was left by the Duchess of Gordon among her papers when she died. "O Lord, give me grace to feel the need of Thy grace; give me grace to ask for Thy grace; and when in Thy grace Thou hast given me grace, give me grace to use Thy grace."
This is a prayer very consistent with the theology of the N.T. for we read in Heb. 4:16 something quite similar. "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." The point is, we need grace, not only as sinner who need to be saved, we need grace to be saints who are becoming what God wants us to be. It is cheap grace when we just trust in Christ to save us, and then do not call upon His grace to sanctify us and help us do his will.
I like the KJV and the RSV of our text of II Pet. better, for they translate it,"Grace and peace be multiplied unto you.." Peter goes on to tell the Christians to add one virtue after another to their lives, but here he begins by saying don't just add grace, but let it be multiplied. The NIV means the same thing with its, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance..", but the word multiplied adds to the emphasis, and its absence subtracts from the sum that the word grace deserves.
A six year old boy ran home from school, and immediately went to the back of his house and grabbed his pet rabbit out of his cage. He shouted at it, 2 plus 2, and he kept it up until his mother came out and asked him what he was doing. He said, as he put the rabbit back in its cage with an attitude of contempt, "Our teacher told us today that rabbits multiply rapidly, but this dumb bunny can't even add." Their was obviously some misunderstanding here about multiplying. But there is no such misunderstanding about multiplying in grace in the N. T.
No word in the N.T. carries more of the content of the Gospel than the word grace. Griffith Thomas said of it, "...perhaps the greatest word in the Bible because it is the word most truly expressive of God's character and attitude in relation to man." The Interpreter's Bible without reservation says, "Grace is the greatest word in the New Testament, and in the human vocabulary." Another author says," Mastery of the Bible's teaching about Grace is the most important goal of the Christian Way of Life."To grow in grace, and to multiply grace, and have it in abundance is what the Christian life is all about according to the New Testament. To give God pleasure by our lives we need to be growing in grace, and this means giving favor, and not just receiving it.
The value of studying all aspects of grace is that we do not limit it to just one of its many beautiful meanings, and thereby lose much of what God wants us to receive as well as give. Unmerited favor is true and vital, but it is only one part of grace. We are to seek God's grace by meriting it as well. The whole idea of reward is based on grace. We please God by obedience and we win His grace and thus, are rewarded. His grace also covers His favor in doing all sorts of things for us that we cannot do ourselves. In fact I discovered on the internet that one author who studies grace in depth came to the conclusion that the best definition of grace is, "God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves!"
Let me share a quote from this author who calls himself brother Dan. He posted this on the internet for millions of people to read. I just read the thesaurus on my word processor regarding the word "grace". Let me try to explain what I just learned. First, there were several meanings given for grace: Elegance, Kindness, Mercy, Holiness, Invocation, and Beautify. Elegance is not a definition of grace we usually consider when we are discussing God's grace theology. But, let us consider the synonyms for elegance just for what illumination God may give us: polish, refinement, attractiveness, beauty, charm, and comeliness. In line with this is the definition 'beautify', and its synonyms: adorn, decorate, embellish, enhance, ornament, crown, and deck. At first glance, these two definitions with their synonyms may not seem to be all that theologically significant in studying "grace". But, I believe that God would have us know that the true image of elegance and beauty are only found in His nature. He wants to polish and adorn us. We are His creation. He knows what we need most. God wants to refine, embellish, enhance and crown us with His Eternal, Holy and Sovereign character. When we discovered that Jesus was calling us, we were so ugly. In light of God's nature, we, like Adam, must run and hide and cover our ugly nakedness. But, God picks us up and begins to bring out our true beauty, to manifest His charm and comeliness in our broken spirits. We indeed are ornamented with the fruit of His Holy Spirit, if we allow Him to do His work in us.
John J. Clark wrote, "Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, the cross, Jesus Christ living and incarnate. Costly Grace, on the other hand, is the treasure hidden in a field. For the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is a pearl of great price to buy which will cost us
everything. It's the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus at which a disciple leaves his nets and follows. It is grace which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. Costly because it costs a man his life, it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, costly because it cost God the life of His Son: "You have been bought with a price" and what has cost God so much can't be cheap for us. It is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke
of Christ, but it is grace because "My yoke is easy and my burden light".
He is illustrating the paradox of grace. It is so free, from one perspective, but so costly from another. It is a most multi-facetted virtue, with multiple meanings, which we are to be busy multiplying in our lives. So let us make the prayer of the Duchess of Gordon, that I read earlier, be our prayer. "O Lord, give me grace to feel the need of Thy grace; give me grace to ask for Thy grace; and when in Thy grace Thou hast given me grace, give me grace to use Thy grace."