Grace, A Word Study

“For it is by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. It is not by works, so that no one can boast.” Paul wrote these wonderful words in Ephesians 2:8-9, and they are one of the things that set Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. Only in biblical Christianity is a person saved apart from any works. In every other faith, our salvation depends in some way or another on us. We have to earn it. But for Paul, our salvation is a matter of grace.

But what is grace? I know a pastor who teaches extensively on grace, and he once thought to ask several people what they thought the word meant. The answers were revealing. One woman in particular thought grace meant gracefulness, as in beauty or charm. She thought that to be saved by the grace of Jesus meant that He was so graceful, so beautiful, so charming, that we were drawn to Him to live a better life, which resulted in our salvation! (As an aside, that view was held by some for a time in church history, so she isn’t the only person to have ever been confused on the meaning of grace.)

The Hebrew and Greek words we translate “grace” are hen and charis. Hen can be translated “favor” and refers to free and unconditional blessing, often used of God. Noah (Gen. 6:8), Joseph (Gen. 39:21), Moses (Ex. 33:12) and many others all found hen in the eyes of God. It is nothing less than God’s good will toward man. Charis is the Greek equivalent of hen. It is closely related to one of the words for “gift” (charisma) and has the idea of a freely bestowed blessing.

Grace, in the biblical sense, has been properly defined as “unmerited favor.” It is the completely unearned, undeserved, good will of God. The moment we try to earn it a blessing from Him, it ceases, by its very nature, to be grace (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6).

Few Christians have stopped to consider the how radical this idea is. Many of us are convinced that we have to do something to earn God’s favor. The idea of unconditional acceptance is so far from our own experience that it often offends us to imagine it. Yet this is the only means of salvation. It must be, because if God is truly righteous, then nothing we could do would ever be able to measure up to His righteous demands. Put simply, we are saved by grace or not at all!

Lewis Sperry Chafer put it best when he said: “Pure Grace is neither treating a person as he deserves, nor treating a person better than he deserves, but treating a person without the slightest reference to what he deserves.”

Are you relying on the grace of God, as given through Jesus Christ, for your salvation, or are you trying to do something to earn it? What are your thoughts? How different do you think our churches, in fact our world, would be, if those who had received God’s grace would begin extending it to others?

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