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Grace (Heb. חֵן chen; Gr. χάρις charis), or "graciousness", is that favor or kindness shown to one for whom none was due. Culturally, it is common to ask a stranger, and especially a sovereign, to show the kindness or permission to obtain an advantage. In most cases, the favor is granted with expectation of gaining something in return. The stranger or sovereign is never under any obligation to show any kindness.

Meaning and Usage

Grace (חֵן) is from the verb חָנַן (chanan) which means "to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior". Properly understood, asking a favor of a stranger is an act of humility, assuming oneself to be inferior. When approaching God, of course, it is a given that He is superior. The Greek equivalent, χάρις (charis), is from the verb χαίρω, which means "to be cheerful, i.e., calmly happy or well-off" (used as a greeting: "be well" or "Health"). As a noun, charis is both a state of graciousness and the act of granting the request for attention.

Social Grace

Whether it be an angel[1], a brother[2], or a king[3], it is wise to bow humbly to those more powerful than oneself. More times than not, those in a place of power will honor a request made in such a manner.

Seeking permission of the Lawgiver Moses, the two-and-a-half tribal leaders went before him asking him to favor them in regards to land already conquered[4]. In this case, Moses let them know they had to reciprocate by fighting for the land in Caanan. In returning to that same land several years later, a widowed mother and her daughter-in-law Ruth made an agreement to seek the favor of an eligible kinsman to redeem her land[5]. It was from that family which David would arise. Later, Yahweh would move a young mother to pray for a child. In hearing of her prayer, Eli the high priest told her that God would hear her prayer. In taking her leave, Hannah sought the intercessor's favor to pray on her behalf[6]. The child that was born was Samuel, the last judge of the confederated tribes of Israel.

In the life of David, he would find himself favored by a friend[7] and seeking favor from an enemy of his own people[8]. When he became king, he would be petitioned by those taking advantage of his good will[9]. Centuries later, even as her fellow Jews were returning to the land[10], Esther was maneuvered into power by gaining favor with the king of Persia[11].

The Grace of God

Old Testament

Though the social custom of asking for and receiving favors predominates the Old Testament, at key points God responds positively to sincere calls for help. The first use of chen is in a very dark period of human history: the complete corruption of mankind about 1550 years after creation[12]. Noah, seeing how bad it was, turned to the God of his great-grandfather Enoch (Jared's son) asking for and receiving a favorable disposition[13]. In the course of time, when Yahweh threatened to wipe out His people and start over with Moses, the Lawgiver interceded, seeking grace for the people like that he himself had received[14]. Since Moses had proven to be obedient and humble, God knew that He could depend on his loyalty[15]. The prophet Zechariah would foretell the full extent of God's grace as it related to the work of the Messiah[16].

New Testament

The Grace of God is contrasted with the Law in the New Testament[17]. The Mosaic Covenant was built for those who followed the faith of Abraham[18] and would be surpassed by the "New Covenant"[19]. As the Messiah, Jesus would grow up in a close relationship with his Heavenly Father, the embodiment of what being loved by God means[20].

Up until the time of Christ's ministry, the mission of God's people had been narrow, or at least treated as such. A people in covenant with the Creator failed to understand the relationship with Him. Petitions to God for help had been absent for centuries. But that changed when the Holy Spirit began to work on that first Christian Pentecost. The message of the Grace of God was at the heart of the Gospel[21].

The Apostle Paul preached the theocentric nature of the Gospel through his emphasis on God's grace. Not only did he use it in his greetings[22] along with "peace" and "mercy", but in his arguments throughout his letters.

Benevolence

From the salutation of his first letter (to the Galatians)[23] to the benediction of his last (2 Timothy)[24] Paul wished for grace among his readers. As a greeting, it is the benevolence, or "good will" of God, that is meant. Paul wanted those to whom he corresponded to know the love and willingness of God to be faithful to His promises.

God's Good Pleasure

When the Creator rested on that first Sabbath, He was pleased with everything He had done[25]. Having created mankind, God gave the planet earth to them use and take care of[26] with only one exception: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, one of two special trees in Garden of Eden. In commanding them not to eat from this tree, an agreement was made -- a covenant with blessings and a curse (in case of disobedience). The pair hid from God, fearing the inevitable death to come. But they were not killed. Instead, God was pleased to let them live long lives in exile[27]. Though they deserved to be annihilated, God graciously covered their shame and sent them away.

It is impossible to please God when pride wells up in one's heart. As with an earthly sovereign, to ask a favor of the heavenly Father requires submission to His authority. As Adam and Eve realized, no one deserves anything from God except punishment. There is nothing about which to be proud. If there is a favor to be given, it is because it is beyond the means of the supplicant. The Sovereign Lord of the universe grants favors only to those who show true humility[28].

The "Means of Grace"

As with Adam and Eve, God has always provided a way to find His favor. In the Garden, it was to eat of the Tree of Life. With Noah, it was to build the ark. In essence, it was to believe, have faith in, God above all others. The Law of God would set up a system of sacrifices that foreshadowed what God's grace looked like. God's people were always special[29] to Him. To His people Yahweh has provided ways to remain in good standing. Beginning with Abraham, the ceremonial rite of Circumcision was a sign of a relationship with Yahweh. With Moses came the sign of the Sabbath, a solemn day of rest to be observed each week. To be circumcised was to agree to follow the ways of God, to ignore the Sabbath was to break that holy bond with Him. In the the Old Testament, that meant faithful priests, prophets and kings to guide and lead His people. The sacrificial system and the holy days provided the people a way to show their faith in the Word of Yahweh.

In the New Testament the Old Testament ways were fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who in turn set up two ceremonial rites, or sacraments, for all His followers to observe. The first was Baptism, a bloodless way to declare an allegiance with God's people[30]. The second was the observance of Communion on a regular basis[31]. This ceremonial meal was prefigured even before being codified when Jethro ate of the sacrifices along with Moses and the elders[32]. Among Christians this meal commemorates or "reenacts" in some way the sacrifice of the Jesus for the sin of His people. In addition to the rites performed, God's people are called to regularly meet[33] to hear the Bible preached[34], and to pray. These times also provide time to sing praises to God in song[35]. Many Christians set aside other rites and positions as ordinances, or sacraments, that also show their relationship to God, but these were not specifically commanded by Jesus. All in all, the preaching of God's Word; the prayers of, and for, the people; and the participation of His people in the sacraments are ways which God's grace is manifested in the world.

Verses

  1. Gen 19:19 (Link)
  2. Gen 32:5 (Link)
  3. Gen 39:4 (Link)
  4. Num 32:5 (Link)
  5. Ruth 2:2,10 (Link)
  6. 1 Samuel 1:8 (Link)
  7. 1 Sam 20:3 (Link)
  8. 1 Sam 27:5 (Link)
  9. 2 Sam 14:22; 16:4 (Link)
  10. Ezra 9:8 (Link)
  11. Esther 2:17 (Link)
  12. Gen 6:1-7 (Link)
  13. Gen 6:8 (Link)
  14. Exo 33:12-17 (Link)
  15. Ps 84:11; Jer 31:2 (Link)
  16. Zech 12:10 (Link)
  17. Rom 4:4,16 (Link)
  18. Rom 4:12-16; Gal 3:9; Heb 11:17 (Link)
  19. Jer 31:31; Heb 8:8 (Link)
  20. Luke 2:40; John 1:14 (Link)
  21. Acts 11:23; 14:3; 15:11 (Link)
  22. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thes 1:1; 2 Thes 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3 (Link)
  23. Gal 1:3 (Link)
  24. 2 Tim 4:22 (Link)
  25. Gen. 1:31; 2:3 (Link)
  26. Gen. 1:28-30 (Link)
  27. Gen. 3:23-24 (Link)
  28. Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5 (Link)
  29. Deut. 7:6; Rom. 9:4; 1 Peter 2:9 (Link)
  30. Mat. 28:19 (Link)
  31. Mat. 26:26-29 (Link)
  32. Exodus 18:15 (Link)
  33. Heb. 10:25 (Link)
  34. Rom. 10:14; see also Neh. 9:3 (Link)
  35. Ps. 26:7; Eph. 5:19 (Link)
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