Description of Grace
A DESCRIPTION OF GRACE By Emmanuel O. Obiorah Jos, Plateau State 27th March, 2013 GRACE INTRODUCTION The word ‘Grace’ is not a new word to most religious circles. Among Christians, such adjectives like amazing, extravagant, divine and awesome have been used to qualify the word grace with each depicting its importance to the Christian faith. Our concern in this work is to describe and analyze this word- Grace for a better, richer and more fulfilling understanding of its meaning. We hope that this would be of immense blessing as we consider this word which made us what we are today- Christians. Definition of the word
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for Grace is Chen (??? ). Strong’s Concordance defined this word as “favor, grace or charm…the moral quality of kindness, displaying a favorable disposition”.
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Chen was translated as “grace” thirty –eight times in the King James translation. It was also translated “favour” twenty-six times, twice as “gracious”, once as “pleasant”, and once as “precious”. The Greek word charis (????? ) was used for Grace in the New Testament. Strong’s Concordance defined charis as; “the state of kindness and favor towards someone, often with a focus on a benefit given to the object. Another Greek word that is related to charis is charisma (khar’-is-mah- gracious gift) both of which originated from the Greek word chairo (to rejoice, be glad, delighted) (Olowe 2011a). According to Olowe (2011b), Grace can be simply defined as an unmerited gift of God to assist and to equip man. This means that Grace comes in form of assistance, potential or resource. It is “a favour with which one receives without any merit of his own, the gift of divine grace, the gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue”.
The economy of divine grace is that through it “the pardon of sin and eternal salvation is appointed to sinners in consideration of the merits of Christ laid hold on by faith”. Grace or gifts (as it is sometimes referred to) also denotes extraordinary powers that distinguish certain Christians by enabling them to serve the church of Christ. Grace motivates Christians to exercise all the Christian virtues “the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating on their souls by the Holy Spirit” (Olowe 2011b).
The Catholics on the other hand defined Grace (gratia, Charis) generally as “supernatural gift of God to intellectual creatures (men, angels) for their eternal salvation, whether the latter be furthered and attained through salutary acts or a state of holiness” (Knight 2012). Having considered the various definitions, this writer believes that Grace is a divine enablement or favourable disposition towards an undeserving person to do or become what such a person would not have been or done without such enablement. Genre of the word: Grace
Grace is a theological term which is present in and among many religious groups other than Christianity. However, there are significant differences between the ways these other religions use the word grace. Even within Christianity, there are differing conceptions of grace. Infact the differences in the view of Grace including the so-called controversies of grace which space may not allow us to discuss in this work made Bill Gothard describe grace as “the watershed that divides Catholicism from Protestantism, Calvinism from Arminianism, and modern liberalism from conservatism”(Olowe 2011a).
One of the differences in the views of the concept of Grace is that while the Protestants believe that special grace can only be received through the Spirit of God, the Catholic doctrine teaches that God uses the sacraments to facilitate the reception of this grace (Knight 2012). Protestants on the other hand generally held the view that even without the sacraments; divine grace has been imparted by God to humanity. Theological discussion of the word- Grace Gift and Grace are sometimes used interchangeably because Grace manifests as a gift from God. God’s grace is upon all humanity.
Even though salvation is the greatest gift God has given to all mankind, it is not the only gift man receives from God. Olowe (2011b) pointed out that the Grace of God is unlimited and are in five forms. These are: Material Universal Grace (Gifts of Matter and Time), Spiritual Universal Grace (Gifts of the Soul and the human Spirit), Spiritual Special Grace (Gifts of Supernatural (divine) Spirits), Divine Universal Grace (Gifts of Favor and Restraint) and Divine Special Grace (Gift of Salvation). Two forms of this grace come from special grace and three from universal grace (Olowe 2011b).
Universal Grace is to be seen as the grace that God bestows on all mankind whether believers or unbelievers as resources to implement good works. On the other hand the atonement of sins by the blood of Jesus is the source of the Special Grace of God. The above five forms of grace are classified under three categories: – Divine Grace, Material Grace and Spiritual Grace. Divine grace Divine Grace whether universal or special generally involves God’s direct intervention in human lives. Divine universal grace and divine special grace are not resources for implementing good works.
Their general purpose is to provide assistance to man in reaching God and in faithfully implementing stewardship. Divine grace gives meaning and purpose to life. The major difference between divine universal grace and divine special grace is their manifestations. Divine special grace (gift of salvation) manifests in the salvation of the sinner and it is a long term grace that can last for ever if no apostasy occurs whereas divine universal grace manifests in making possible the other forms of grace and it can be an instantaneous or a short term grace.
Material grace Material Grace is the only category of grace that is totally universal and not special in nature. Material Grace is for both believers and unbelievers and is gifts of matter and time. This gift include the universe, the earth, and all other resources including, the air, the sea, animals, minerals, plants, sun, moon, rain, snow, and so on. These things are available to both believers and unbelievers and were graciously given to all men by God.
Paul observed that this grace is a prove of God’s love for man when he said to the people of Lystra “Nevertheless he (God) left not Himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filing our heart with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). This was in agreement to the words of Jesus that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:445). This grace is for all. The essence of this grace is for man to use these gifts to get provisions and to implement good works. Spiritual grace
Spiritual Grace whether universal or special is the only resourceful grace that resides in man. Spiritual grace determines the ability of each man. No two persons may have exactly the same spiritual gifts as the scripture puts it “but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11) . It is a gift that enables man to relate to God and this gift is received by believers only (special). Spiritual universal grace on the other hand is the gift of the soul that enable man to relate to his fellow man and to his environment and also of the human spirit.
It is that inner longing in man to relate to God or to other spirit beings (gods) (Olowe 2012). The Grace of God expresses itself as a combination of many attributes of God, especially mercy, goodness, compassion, and love. In many verses in the Bible, these attributes are interrelated and a combination of two or more stresses the Grace of God (Eph 2: 4-5; Ps 145:8; Exo 33:19). Unlike the above view, the Catholics distinguished between only two forms of grace which are the “transient help to act” (actual grace) and the “permanent state of grace” (sanctifying or justifying grace).
The former (actual grace) has a fourfold meaning. In a subjective sense, it signifies good will or benevolence and in its objective sense it refers to every favour proceeding from this benevolence (good will) and thus every gratuitous gift. The latter (sanctifying grace) “is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it” (Grace and justification 2012). Charles Wesley calls this sanctifying grace the “sustaining grace” that leads believers towards perfection (sanctifying grace 2012).
A closer look into the Catholic concept of actual grace would reveal the literary value of the word grace. Actual grace describes grace further as “seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion” or “a characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement”. This grace is also seen as “a sense of fitness or propriety” or “a temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve having the notion of mercy; clemency” (Grace 2012). It is believed to be that admiration or charm as hen the bible said that “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalms 90:17). This is because beauty or charm attracts benevolent love and prompts the bestowal of benefactions (blessings). This goes to explain why grace is also used in literary or secular circles for either clemency in the court and manner of behavior or poise. This grace also means the expression of gratitude from a person who has received blessing or favour by giving of thanks. This is where blessing of meals comes to play. The word gratiae (plural of gratia) also stands for thanksgiving.
Kevin Knight (2012) connected this beautifully when he said that: Universality of grace does not conflict with its gratuity, if God, in virtue of his will to save all men, distributes with sovereign liberty his graces to all adults without exception… if the universality of grace is only a result of the Divine will to save all mankind, we must first turn our attention to the latter as the basis of the former. This goes to say that the universal grace that God gave to all human is to the effect that they be drawn closer to God by the salvation of their soul on the merit of Christ’s blood.
Thus according to Knight, universal grace (actual grace) is the basis or foundation for special grace (sanctifying grace). One question that most theologians often ask about the matter of grace is the question of man’s free will. The bible said that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). The question therefore is if man needs grace to act or decide then where is his free-will to make choices on his own?
Knight (2012) responded to this by observing that there is “a grace which precedes the free determination of the will and another which follows this determination and co-operates with the will”. He is of the opinion that grace does not destroy man’s free will but co-operates with it. This grace helps the believer to make decisions that would glorify God and for the unbeliever, gives him an option to choose the right. The ultimate will of God for this grace is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and to remain in the faith.
Knight puts it well when he opined that this grace is a way of God protecting the believer “against fall into sin and with the final experience of a happy death” (Knight 2012). Scripture text and its interpretation. Most times the particular meaning of Grace could be understood from the context in the passage in which the word is found. For instance, in Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand… Grace in this context is something that is God-given and is made possible only through Jesus Christ. This is God’s gift of salvation granted to sinners for their salvation. This is the divine grace or as in the Catholic parlance the justifying grace. It is that unmerited mercy (favor) that God gave by sending his son to die on a cross and thus delivering eternal salvation to humanity. Another example is to be found in Luke 2:40 “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. In this example when using the definition of grace to mean unmerited favour it does not make sense. The reason is that the sinless Christ would not need the unmerited or undeserved favour of salvation. Thus grace in this context literally means “favour or attractiveness”. It could also mean divine enablement which does not necessarily bring one to salvation but as Olowe (2012b) puts it this grace is the “resources to implement good works” Also in Galatians 5:4 which reads “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. It would not make any sense to interpret grace in that context as “unmerited favour” for how can one fall short of grace through pride or attract grace through meekness (James 4:6; Galatians 5:4) if it is unmerited? Grace in this context is “…the empowering Presence of God enabling you to be who He created you to be, and the power that God gives us to do his will”(Olowe 2011a). This suggests that the empowering is subject to being connected to the source (God). This then holds that sin could make one fall away from such empowerment.
Any form of disobedience is rebelling against the will of God and thus a fall from grace (divine empowering). CONCLUSION John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” remains the greatest hymn of all times. This song was written by a man who described himself as “once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa”. He testified that it was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that he was preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he once long labored to destroy. This story of God’s amazing grace shows the power of God in transforming lives.
It is the story of hope for all men, sinners and saints alike. Hope that the sinner can still return to God and be accepted by Him. Hope that the saint need not depend on his strength for victory over sin. Hope that we could be co-opted into the service of God and function effectively because grace is available. The challenge before the church therefore is not just to sing about this grace, but to be so motivated by its power that we would carry this message of God’s grace to the unsaved neighbours and friends around us. May this be our passion and mission! REFERENCE
Abi Olowe (2011). Grace of God. Houston: Omega Publishers. http://www. graceti. com/books. asp? bkid=7. Abi Olowe (2011). The Five Forms of Grace. Houston: Omega Publishers. http://www. graceti. com/books. asp? bkid=1 www. scborromeo. org/ccc/p3s1c3a2. htm…. “Grace and justification”- St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. www. olrl. org/Lessons/Lessons8. shtml… Lesson 8 “sanctifying grace”. www. gbgm-umc. org/umw/Wesley/walk. stm. ‘Grace’ Easton Bible Dictionary version 2. 0. 0 Vintech Systems (accessed 03 October, 2012) http://www. illumina. com/encyclopedia/hymns/amazing_Grace