Grace : The Biblical View
Pr. Sam K. Jacob
The word ‘grace’ in its special Christian sense refers to the freedom of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Grace in the Old Testament
Creation, redemption, the election of Israel and the gift of the law are treated as the gracious acts of God. Yahweh is pictured as God compassionate, and gracious, patient and abundant in love and fidelity (Exodus 33: 19-34:9).
In divine and human relationships, grace in the Old Testament involves a positive disposition of one toward another. It is an undeserved gift or favour, which can be requested, and is freely given. Grace is a favor for a specific occasion given to an inferior by a superior, a person in authority (I Samuel 16:2, 27:5; II Samuel 14:22; Genesis 47:25; Exodus 22:26). This unforced and unilateral favor is more than a disposition of passive benevolence on the part of God. It is an action of God in aiding the poor, delivering the oppressed and mortally ill (Exodus 22:24-26; Psalm 9: 14, 30:11, 31:10) and forgiving sin (Psalm 41:5, 51:3).
In the Old Testament, we find God who exhibits kindness and stedfast covenant love. In the Old Testament, “hesed,” the Hebrew word for “grace” occurs 245 times, of which 127 are found in the Psalms.
Sakefield understands Old Testament ‘grace’ in five ways:
(a) an action rather than simply an attitude or a psychological state, and the action involved in usually one of deliverance or protection,
b) an act based upon and performed in an existing relationship, either explicit or implicit,
c) an act requested or expected of someone who is superior,
d) an uncoerced act beyond the law,
e) an act fulfilling an essential need a person cannot meet and for which there is no alternative source of assistance.
Grace permeates God’s covenant with Israel. It describes God’s gracious activity toward the people. Where human sin and rebellion should have ended Israel’s relationship to God, Israel experiences not divine wrath but God’s surprising and unexpected deliverance and preservation.
While human grace depends upon an unbroken relationship between the superior and inferior parties, divine grace is God’s gracious and unexpected decision to restore and repair the broken relationship. God’s relationship with the human covenant partner is based on the divine promise alone, and does not end because of human failure. Thus ‘hesed’ includes both undeserved deliverance and promised divine fidelity.
Old Testament grace involves freely given and essential assistance by a superior to an individual or a group in need. It also involves a freely given benefit by a superior party to an inferior, but there is no previous existing relationship between the two parties.
‘Grace’ in the New Testament
The Greek word for “grace” refers to a quality that makes favorable impression on someone, usually a superior. Grace appears most commonly in Luke, Acts and the Epistles. The New Testament writers use ‘grace’ to describe the loving inclination in Christ. Thus grace is a central term in Paul’s writing and important to Acts, Hebrews and I Peter.
Grace as divine help and empowerment
Grace is a description of unusual generosity. Grace is most often God’s general blessings to people (II Corinthians 8:1, 9:14). It comes to those who are in need and humbly approach God for help, especially for the helpless, poor and persecuted (I Peter 5:5). God’s grace includes help in preaching the gospel and in enduring persecution (Acts 4:33; Philippians 1:7). Paul had to learn that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9; I Peter 5:10).
Grace as God’s saving benevolence in Christ
Grace indicates God’s giving of himself in Christ to effect salvation for the undeserving. In Acts, “word of grace” denotes the gospel of Christ (l4:3). Believers are urged to “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). In I Peter 5: 12, the writer testifies that his message is “the true grace of God.”
For Bultmann, grace is not the personal quality of a giving God, but the event of salvation. In Ephesians the great gift is called salvation which is a global term for all that God does for human kind in Christ (2:1-10). Salvation is by grace alone (2:5-8). Divine grace is described as love of God (Eph.1:6-7, 2:4, I Tim.1:14; Heb.2:9, l0:29). For Paul right standing with God is wholly of grace. God’s grace is extended where the gospel is preached and received (II Cor.4:l5). Paul is therefore a steward of God’s grace (Eph.3:2).
Salvation by grace contrasts with merit by the law in many New Testament passages. John uses ‘grace’ to describe the Word in John 1:14-18, the world is ‘full of grace and truth’, we have received from him grace upon grace. In contrast, ‘the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ Paul was deeply concerned with salvation by God’s grace as opposed to salvation in any way merited by works (Romans 4: 16; Galatians 2:21; Romans 6:14; Hebrews 13:9).
Peter speaks of grace as the revelation of God’s saving grace in the last days (I Peter 1:10,13). He views the whole of the Christian message as grace (5:10,12).
Grace as special endowment for ministry
In the New Testament grace also refers to extra-ordinary divine empowerment for ministry. All spiritual gifts are considered to be the divine ‘graces’ to edify the church and thus act as channels of God’s good news and care (I Corinthians 1:4; Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:7; I Peter 4:10).
Grace in justifying sinners
In justifying sinners rather than morally meritorious saints, God’s freedom to be gracious becomes abundantly apparent. As Paul says, “Sinners are justified by his grace or a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Grace and Faith
Saving faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation through faith is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:9). We are justified by faith so that promise will rest on grace alone (Rom.4: 16). In faith a person sees that the gift is totally free (Romans 3:24). Faith and grace together form an antithesis to claims of merit. Faith excludes the claim of merit (Romans 3:21-31) for the same reason that grace excludes it (Romans 6:l4; Galatians 2:21).
Grace and Sin
Grace is the antithesis of sin. It denotes God’s free act in Christ of overcoming sin and His for act of forgiving personal sin. Grace and sin are in conflict as the ruling forces of the two hostile kingdoms, the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of grace. In the light of this antithesis, we may observe grace as synonym for Christ and the spirit. To be “in grace” (Romans 5:2) is the same as to be “in Christ” (Romans 8:1; II Corinthians 5:17) and “in spirit” (Romans 8:9).
Grace in Greetings
The importance of God’s grace can be seen in passages such as (Acts 14:26, 15:40, 20:32) in which believers are commended to God’s grace parting. “Grace” is also used in the salutation and benediction of every letter of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter and Revelation.