Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

The Character of God:  Grace

New Testament, Greek charis

John 1:1-17
Acts 11:19-24, 13:42-44, 15:5-12
2 Corinthians 8:1-19
Ephesians 2:1-10
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

Other Aspects of God's Character

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Frontispiece from Binns Family Bible. See below for provenance.

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, that’s mercy. 

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.

Acts 11:19-24, 13:42-44, 15:5-12 (4/5/2011)

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.

2 Corinthians 8:1-19 (4/6/2011)

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 (
Sermon 14) and must continually strive toward that state of perfection in which he or she no longer sins.  In Sermon 40, Wesley says this about Christian perfection: 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.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (4/7/2011)

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”;
in 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: Out of God’s great kindness, we are saved. 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)

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.
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, New Testament
Holiness, Old Testament, New Testament
Longsuffering, Old Testament, New 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, New 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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