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What Does the Bible Say About Grace?Every belief system has a core doctrine which serves as a guideline for qualifying other beliefs, such as relationships with deity and mankind. In most belief systems, this central doctrine is a law or a set of laws. However, Christianity is unique because its core doctrine is grace, not a law.
Grace was preached by the Apostle Paul as the very foundation of Christianity. Grace is the key element in each of the thirteen Epistles of the New Testament which includes evidence of authorship by Paul, from the very first word of the body of each letter, "Grace to you," to the final, "Grace be with you." The very gospel that Paul preached is called "the gospel of God's grace" in Acts 20:24! What then is so critical about this concept of grace?
GivingWe usually, both accurately and inadequately, define grace as the unmerited favor of God. Perhaps the best word to begin our discussion on grace is the word "giving", since favor implies giving or imparting something to someone else. Another commonly accepted truth in Christianity is that the Bible explains the Christian way of giving in 2 Corinthians, Chapters 8 and 9. However, until we define grace as giving, we don't fully grasp this connection, and realize that this passage of scripture defines and explains the doctrine of grace.
Paul actually introduces this passage on giving in 2 Corinthians 8:1 by saying that he wants the Corinthians to "know about the grace that God has given . . ." Already he has verified that giving is the first word to be associated with grace since grace is given sovereignly by God, and then reflected by the churches. In fact, the terms grace and giving can often be used interchangeably. Paul also verifies that the context of this entire passage is grace and giving by explicitly naming these topics in the introductory verse, in preparation for a discussion on the subject of grace. This is how we know that 2 Corinthians 8-9 is actually an explanation of what grace is.
In verse 2, the Bible tells us that grace is not just giving, but it is giving liberally. This kind of giving is not made as a token gesture to a worthy cause; rather, it is a pouring out of ourselves and our possessions when we really care enough to give. It is somehow giving a lot even when we don't have a lot to give! Grace knows no limitations.
AccountabilityVerse 3 continues to define grace for us by noting that it was given according to the givers' ability, and of their own accord. Not only is one accountable for his own giving, but he also makes his own decisions concerning how much to give. Grace is a conscious decision which is approached with common sense, but more importantly, it is a personal decision. One can give neither what he doesn't have, nor according to what someone else thinks he should give. Otherwise he isn't giving in grace.
Verse 4 says that the disseminator of grace is so excited about giving that he begs to participate. Try to imagine the Christian who likes giving so much that be begs for the opportunity to share his grace with others. This level of commitment is only achieved by those who first give themselves to the Lord as described in verse 5. First he sacrifices himself, and then his possessions.
Paul then reveals the uniqueness of grace in verse 8 by saying that grace is not something that can be commanded. If grace is a conscious and personal decision to give of one's own accord, how can anyone command, or demand, grace? If it has to be commanded, then it's not an earnest and sincere decision made in love, and it's neither grace nor giving. Grace can neither be given for some kind of merit or payoff, nor to satisfy some command, law, or obligation. This isn't giving at all--it's paying, in order to secure God's favor. Now we begin to see the unique quality of grace.
Grace seems foreign to us because none of our other activities operate on grace. When an employer pays an employee for his work, neither one is giving in grace. They're paying each other--work for pay, and pay for work. This is appropriate because we do not pretend that employment is a grace system. However, some activities are more deceptive. When we contribute to an organization in order to receive a free gift, neither the contribution nor the gift are given in grace. If we give money to a church because someone told us we should, we're not giving in grace, so we're not giving at all. Giving is mutually exclusive from paying just as grace is mutually exclusive from merit.
Giving in grace means giving when we don't expect anything in return. When we give to a beggar on the street, we probably never expect to see that beggar again, so we don't expect anything in return from him in the future. However, even a situation like this can be transformed from grace into legalism by doing it in order to somehow earn points with God. We should give out of compassion for the needy rather than for pious greed.
The Grace of Jesus ChristThe Bible presents an example of grace in the life of Jesus Christ (verse 9). If one gives in grace, he is actually willing to become poor. The key to grace is that we DESIRE to give (verse 10). Again in this verse, Paul speaks this as an opinion--not a command. Verse 11 tells us that we have already exercised grace when we achieve the readiness to give--even before the actual giving, although we should carry through with the gift. Verse 12 explains that if the readiness is present, then we will give according to what we have, not according to what we don't have.
In 2 Corinthians 9:2, the word zeal is used in connection with grace, and in verse 5, a grace gift is called a bountiful gift--unaffected by covetousness. Verse 7 reiterates that grace is a personal decision according to what is in one's own heart. Perhaps this explains why grace is elusive to us--we can't depend on anyone else to make our decisions of grace for us, and we are often unwilling to make decisions ourselves. Grace is given cheerfully--not grudgingly or under any compulsion or pressure. Since grace can only be exercised completely free from outside pressure, nobody should ever be pressured to give.
SovereigntyThe final lesson on grace from this passage is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8,14 where Paul cites that God is the one who makes grace abound in us. In 2 Corinthians 8:1, Paul called this grace "the Grace that God has given." God is sovereignty, and all things come from Him (James 1:17). He freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32). In fact, He not only freely bestows grace upon us (Ephesians 1:6), but he lavishes it upon us (Ephesians 1:8). In 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul says, "What do you have that you did not receive?" Then in 1 Corinthians 15:10, he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am . . . yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." God owns everything, but He gives to us in grace, and He expects us to be good stewards of His gifts (Colossians 1:25), including our time (Ephesians 5:16), and to share our grace with others.
HappinessIn Philippians 4:4-13, Paul tells us that it is only through an understanding of grace that we will achieve the happiness and contentment that God wants for us! We are to rejoice in God, not ourselves (Philippians 4:4). Our peace comes from knowing that God is in charge, (Philippians 4:7). Only through recognizing His sovereignty will we be content (Philippians 4:13).
Faith RestThe first step toward true Christian service through our understanding of grace is to realize our worthlessness (James 4:10). Once we give God the credit for "gracing" us, we can achieve an attitude of faith rest (1 Peter 5:7), and truly "not be anxious about anything" (Philippians 4:6), by relying completely upon Him! We must realize that "the battle is the Lord's" (1 Samuel 17:47), and that He will not allow us to be tempted with more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). Then we can maintain a truly relaxed mental attitude of peace and humility. Now that is grace!
Liberty From the LawJohn 1:17 emphasizes the uniqueness of the Christian faith by citing that Moses brought the law, but Jesus brought grace and truth. Christ "graced" us with freedom from the law (Galatians 2:16-21). Christ fulfilled the law, and we are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). The law served its purpose as our tutor in order to teach us the grace way of life which Christ offered (Galatians 3:24-25). Under the liberty of grace, we are freed from the judgments of each other (Romans 14:2-15:2). The very presence of the Spirit assures us of this liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17), and one must exercise this liberty by his own free will--completely free from compulsion (Philemon 14). In Colossians 2:16-23, Paul warns us that this liberty is opposed by legalisms such as ritualistic observance of special holy days. How could we force others to observe such rituals under a system of grace?
God gave the Jews the Law AS A WAY OF LIFE. Although He manifested Himself to them by grace, He still demanded that they keep the Law as rules for their daily lives. They were required to offer sacrifices, offerings, and tithes, to rest on Saturdays, and to obey hundreds of other laws. We Christians are freed from the law, and now God not only reveals Himself through grace, but he wants us to live according to grace as a way of life.
The Old Testament Jews obeyed God in order to receive His blessings on their lives. We Christians obey God because He already has blessed us. By receiving His grace, love, and blessings, we WANT to obey Him, and by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, we will obey Him (Romans 7:4)! This is what is so critical about grace. To learn grace (Galatians 3:24) and to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18) is our first step toward pleasing God. God freed us from the law (Romans 6:14), and we are dead to the law (Romans 7:4). Living under the law means living under a curse (Galatians 3:10), but Christ freed us from that slavery to the law (Galatians 5:1).
LegalismIn Galatians 4:9, the Bible teaches that the law enslaved people, but grace has freed them. Any legalism is an expression of desire to return to that enslavement, and deny God's Grace. This is what Galatians 5:4 means by having "fallen away from grace." This whole passage refers to believers who accept God's grace for salvation through faith, but then try to deny grace as a way of life by returning to the enslavement of rules and laws to govern their daily lives.
Colossians 2:20-23 teaches that legalism expresses self-abasement in deceptive, man-made, physical teachings of men. However, grace is the Godly, spiritual life for Christians. We live by eternal grace, not by temporal rules.
LicenseUnfortunately, sometimes an explanation of grace provokes those who don't understand it, to say that it gives us a license to sin (Jude 4). It's impossible for such a question to come from a grace-oriented Christian. Once a Christian is oriented toward grace, he would never think of asking such a question, nor would he ever worry about it. When grace takes over, we still do what we want to do, but what we want to do is to please God! This is illustrated in Paul's life, where in 1 Corinthians 9:16, he preached because God led him to preach. It is what he wanted to do, because he felt led under compulsion from the Holy Spirit to do it.
ConclusionsGrace is giving. Giving still stands as the most accurate one-word definition of grace, and this giving needs no human external motivation. True grace is given freely, liberally, personally, voluntarily, and cheerfully. Grace is complete freedom, liberty, and truth. God gives grace to us and we reflect His grace to others.
Perhaps the most effective way to describe grace is to define what it isn't. Grace is not merited or deserved, or given in exchange for anything else. Grace is not paid for anything expected, and it is not owed for anything received. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, unpaid, unexpected, unselfish, non-owed, non-compulsive, and non-pressured favor of God.
Grace relieves all pressures and stress, and it gives us happiness and a relaxed mental attitude. The Christian life is one which is relaxed and objective, not based upon emotions, experiences, entertainment, or fanfare.
Through grace, one can truly be content and satisfied with himself. No other system could establish such a personal relationship with God. "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). Christians MUST understand grace in order to live the Christian life of submission and obedience to God.
Owen Weber 2008