The word grace occurs first in Genesis 6, where it is used of Noah: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 8). The grace, or ‘favour’ as the original is sometimes translated, which God showed towards him, was manifested by God saving him and his family from the Flood. In Genesis 39, the Egyptian prison keeper is providentially caused to show grace towards Joseph, which in turn was a manifestation of the grace of God: “But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (v. 21). Christ had favour shown to him by both God and man: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk. 2:52). Graciousness is an attribute of God: “I am gracious” (Ex. 22:27); “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth”(34:6;“But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15).
When grace is shown towards a person, it is not because they are owed anything, it is a gift. Hence Paul spoke to the Ephesians of “the gift of the grace of God” (3:7).
When speaking of Abraham, Paul contrasted grace with a debt: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Rom. 4:4). Grace is more akin to giving a gift than paying a wage. As Paul wrote later in the epistle: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (11:6). Grace was shown towards Abraham in that his faith was “counted unto him for righteousness” (4:3). It is through the grace of God that man can be justified: “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).
The full outworking of grace will be seen when Christ returns: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). Then, grace will be seen to reign and eternal life will be the consequence: “that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21). Even before eternal life is given, we can even now approach God through the Lord Jesus Christ that we might be helped both through His Word and through the angels working in the circumstances of our lives. This help is provided as an act of grace by God: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Requirements for receiving grace
Although grace is not earned like a wage, God only shows grace to those who are worthy. Moses spoke of how grace comes as a consequence of knowing God: “. . . show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight” (Ex. 33:13). Solomon wrote of how mercy and truth lead to grace: “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: so shalt thou find favour [grace] and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:3,4). To obtain grace from God, faith is a key requirement: “by whom [Jesus] also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand” (Rom. 5:2); “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Humility is another reason why God shows grace towards a person: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (Jas. 4:6).
Once we have been shown grace by God it is possible to lose that grace, as Paul wrote of those who sought to return to the Law:
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). And the Hebrews were exhorted to look “diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God” (12:15).
The example of the Macedonians and Corinthians
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul writes of the Jerusalem poor fund, using charis, the Greek word for ‘grace’, in a variety of ways:
- The grace of God manifest in the gift of the Macedonians (v. 1)
- The gift (charis) of money given by the Macedonians (v. 4)
- The grace of God Paul hoped would be manifest in the gift of the Corinthians (vv. 6,7)
- The grace shown by Christ in rejecting the riches of the world (v. 9)
- The money (“this grace”) being taken to Jerusalem by Titus and Paul (v. 19).
Sometimesgrace refers to the Spirit gifts. These were originally given at Pentecost, with each gift having a clearly defined function. These gifts died out by the end of the first century.
Peter wrote: “As every man hath received the gift [literally ‘a gift’], even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). (The Greek word for “gift” here is charisma, and is related to the word charis.) “Gift” refers here to the gifts of the Spirit. Paul says: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4). This diversity included things such as healing and prophecy (see vv. 8-10). This variety of gifts is referred to as “manifold grace” in 1 Peter 4:10. ‘Manifold’ means varied, and the Greek word in this verse is usually rendered ‘divers’ in the AV. Thus “the manifold grace” speaks of a variety of specific gifts which had a specific role in the growth of the early ecclesias.
Paul speaks of these gifts again, in Romans 12: “Having then gifts [charisma] differing according to the grace [charis] that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching” (vv. 6,7). The “grace that is given” is not vague and abstract, but relates to particular and identifiable gifts. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul said: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (vv. 4,5). Here, the “grace” led to “utterance” and “knowledge”, examples of the work of the Spirit gifts.
John wrote of Christ: “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jno. 1:16,17). “Grace . . . came” as a contrast to the works of the Law, where the reward is “not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Rom. 4:5). But “grace for grace” relates to “fullness”, and this “fullness” refers to the Spirit of God which Christ had. Christ had this “fullness”, for God gave “not the Spirit by measure unto him” (Jno. 3:34) and thus he was filled with the Spirit, even as “the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 13:52). Paul too wrote of how the Spirit gifts led to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
As in the first century, the believer today has been given “good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16), this hope having been revealed in God’s Word. The believer is “justified by His grace” (Tit. 3:7) and has “forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). However, he should not “continue in sin, that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1), but should rather “walk in newness of life” (v. 4). In the meantime, God’s grace is shown on a daily basis through the comfort of the Scriptures and the providential guidance of the angels. The believer should strive to show grace, not least in all his words, ensuring his “speech be always with grace” (Col. 4:6)