Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
The Character of God: Grace
John 1:1-17 (4/4/2011)
Since John contrasts Moses and Jesus, I’m including a portion of the frontispiece of an antique family Bible in my collection. Moses, on the left, holds the tablets of the Law. Jesus, on the right, holds a lamb. The image of Moses and Jesus as the bookends of God’s library is a common one in up-scale nineteenth-century Bibles with lots of pictures.
Last week I commented that grace appears to be an undeserved kindness. It’s interesting that John contrasts the Law with grace. The Jewish people were justly proud of their Law, given to them by God through Moses. Much of Western jurisprudence is based on the Law, so the Jews aren’t the only ones who decided that man’s law ought to line up roughly with God’s Law.
But the problem with a just and righteous Law is that I’m apt to get justice. When I get what I deserve
under the Law of Moses, that’s justice.
Unfortunately, what I deserve doesn’t make me or God very happy, so often he does not mete out
the justice I deserve, and instead gives me mercy. When I don’t get what I deserve under the Law,
Now, mercy is a very fine thing, but I’m not in that right relationship with God that I had before I
broke the Law. Our broken relationship is still not good enough for God, so he takes positive steps
through Jesus Christ to restore me to a relationship with himself. When I get what I don’t deserve under the Law, that’s grace.
John 1:14-17 (my translation)
Acts 11:19-24, 13:42-44, 15:5-12 (4/5/2011)
And the Word became a human body and built a house in our neighborhood, and we gazed upon his glory, glory as the unique one from the Father, full of charis grace and truth. John bore witness about him and cried out, “This is the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me is in front of me, because he was ahead of me.’” Because from his fullness we all received charis anti charis grace upon grace indeed. Because the Law was given through Moses, but charis grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.
Yesterday we saw that John, writing around the beginning of the second century, contrasted grace with the
Law. That discussion apparently began in the very early church, around the year 35 or 40, as we see in
Acts. Some of the early converts from out of town began talking about Jesus to other Greek-speaking
Jews who lived outside of Palestine, and then Barnabas and Saul began talking about Jesus to non-Jews. Even
more people became converts. Strangely enough, these converts were received with mixed feelings.
This was the discussion. The Pharisees were extremely religious. Pharisee converts to the Way thought that to be a proper Christian, first you had to be a proper Jew. Therefore the new converts had to become Jews – they had to keep the Law – in order to be Christians. Peter, on the other hand, said, “Wait a minute… We weren’t able to keep the Law. And we weren’t saved by the Law. We were saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, and so were they.”
The particular facet of God’s grace that saves you – a one-time event in your life – is called “justifying grace” by John Wesley, and by most other Christian theologians as well. Justifying grace makes you justified, or righteous, in God’s sight through your faith in Jesus Christ.
(International Standard Version)
2 Corinthians 8:1-19 (4/6/2011)
11:23 When he arrived, he rejoiced to see what the charis grace of God had done,
and with a hearty determination he continuously encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord.
13:43 When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who kept talking to them and urging them to continue in the charis grace of God.
15:10-11 So why do you test God by putting on the disciples’ neck a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we could carry? We certainly believe that it is through the charis grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved, just as they are.”
When Paul writes a letter to the church at Corinth, he reminds them that they have decided to taken on a mission project: the gathering of funds for the relief of the impoverished Christians in Judea. In 2 Corinthians 8, he mentions grace six times in 19 verses. In vs. 1, we see that the grace God gave to the churches in Macedonia has been demonstrated by their joy and their kind generosity. The Macedonians in turn ask Paul for grace – the opportunity to help someone else. Paul urges the Corinthians not to be outdone in grace by the Macedonians, but instead to be even more generous than he knows they had already planned to be – after all, this whole mission was their idea! He compares their gracious generosity to that of Jesus.
The Corinthians and the Macedonians were already Christians, i.e., they had already received justifying grace.
The grace Paul is talking about today, that deepens our joy and our commitment to service, and that makes us
more like Christ, is called “sanctifying grace.” John Wesley’s idea is that you don’t (or rarely) become a
perfect Christian at the moment you are saved. You are saved, but you are a saved sinner. The
Christian must continue to repent
and must continually strive toward that state of perfection in
which he or she no longer sins. In
, Wesley says this about Christian perfection:
- Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption
either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for
holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every
one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect. Yet we may, lastly, observe, that neither in this
respect is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, as it is termed; none which does not admit of a continual increase. So that how much soever any man hath attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to "grow in grace," [2 Pet. 3:18] and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Saviour. [see Phil. 1:9] (bold italics added)
Wesley took seriously Jesus’ commandment to “be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48); however, of himself he said only that he was “going on to perfection,” and every Methodist is expected to be doing the same.
The grace that God gives us that allows us to continue to repent and to strive toward perfection after our justification is sanctifying grace.
2 Cor. 8 (English Standard Version)
Ephesians 2:1-10 (4/7/2011)
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the charis grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia...
3-4 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints –
6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of charis grace.
7 But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of charis grace also.
9 For you know the charis grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
16 But charis thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.
18-19 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of charis grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.
The God’s Word translation tends to be very free; that is, instead of translating exactly what the text says word for word,
the translators try hard to tell you what the text means in English. I haven’t used it much in this
study of God’s character, because sometimes I have trouble figuring out which one of their English words to
attach the Hebrew or Greek word to.
Nevertheless, I really like two things about the translation of Ephesians 2. First, they consistently use
“kindness” for our word charis grace, and it’s important to remember that grace is kindness - maybe more than kindness, but certainly no less.
Second, vss. 8-9 are so clear in this translation. Most English translations say something like, “By grace
you have been saved through faith; this is not from you, it is the gift of God.” Now, that’s an accurate
word-for-word version, but the idea is wrong. In English, “this” and “it” must refer back to “faith”;
Greek that is impossible
. The God’s Word translation “You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift
from God” is an accurate translation of the Greek, even though it may look strange to you. And, as I’ve said
before, I’m not making this up – it’s the standard commentary on vss. 8-9. Here’s what John Wesley says:
- And this is not of yourselves – This refers to the whole preceding clause, That ye are saved through faith, is the gift of God.
Out of God’s great kindness, we are saved.
Ephesians 2 (GOD'S WORD)
1 Cor. 1:1-3; 2 Cor. 1:1-2; Gal. 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Pet. 1:1-2; 2 John 1:1-3 (4/8/2011)
4-5 But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is charis God's kindness that saved you.)
6-7 God has brought us back to life together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him. He did this through Christ Jesus out of his generosity to us in order to show his extremely rich charis kindness in the world to come.
8-9 God saved you through faith as an charis act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. It's not the result of anything you've done, so no one can brag about it.
Think about the last letter you wrote to someone other than a close friend or family member. Probably you began, “Dear Mr. Smith,” and you ended, “Yours truly.” Was he dear to you? Were you offering yourself to him? Probably not, but that’s the way we write letters.
There was also a standard format for letters in the first and second centuries. They began with the name of the person writing, the name of the recipient, and some sort of greeting – often “Greeting.” Then came the business of the letter, and at the end there was typically some sort of farewell.
A very common greeting in letters among Christians was “Grace be unto you.” Three letters use other greetings – James (“Greeting”), 3 John (“Beloved”), Jude (“mercy, peace, and love”) – and 1 John lacks all the standard format elements of a letter. In addition to the examples below, however, Paul uses “Grace be unto you” (sometimes adding peace or mercy) in all 10 of his other letters. Hebrews and Revelation use “Grace be unto you” as the farewell greeting. Eighteen of twenty-two letters begin or end with grace.
The primary blessing that the apostles wished for the readers of their letters was God’s graciousness.
(King James Version)
1 Corinthians 1:1-2 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
3 Charis Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:
2 Charis Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
3-4 Charis Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
1 Peter 1:1-2a Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:
2b Charis Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
2 Charis Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
2 John 1:1-2 The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; For the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.
3 Charis Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
The frontispiece showing Moses and Jesus is from the Binns family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter.
Other Aspects of God's Character
Glory, Old Testament
Holiness, Old Testament
Longsuffering, Old Testament
Steadfast Love, Old Testament
, which is
Mercy in the New Testament
Graciousness, Old Testament
, which is
Grace in the New Testament
Jealousy, Old Testament
Intolerance of Sin, Old Testament
Copyright 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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