“Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ” Gal 1:3 (KJV)
In my last post I noted how that the Apostles usually opened their epistles with a wish of grace and peace upon their readers. I also mentioned how that in NT writtings, peace always follows upon grace. Although this may be nothing more than a popular expression, it is interesting to note that the order is never reversed, especially given that peace with God, for a fallen person, is only achievable in so for as God is merciful and graciousness.
What is Grace?
The English word ‘Grace’ has several meanings dependent upon usage. Webster’s 1913 Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines two important and relevant uses – the theological and legal – as follows:
Theol – The divine favor toward man; the mercy of God, as distinguished from His justice; also, any benefits His mercy imparts; divine love or pardon; a state of acceptance with God; enjoyment of the divine favor.
Legal – The prerogative of mercy execised by the executive, as pardon.
The underlying Greek word χάρις (charis) can have as many different meanings as it’s Latin and English derivatives. The word χάρις can be used to describe favor, gracefulness, beauty, kindness, goodwill, etc. (LSJ). Although in this epistolary greeting, the Apostle may have in mind a wish of God’s blessing/favor and peace, in much of Paul’s usage, special attention is given to the idea of undeserved mercy. The way in which the word is customarily used is in contrast to the idea of human performance or achievement – Greek: ἔργον, which connotes works, deeds, or effort (LSJ).
A few good examples from the writing of the Apostle that clearly demonstrate this contrast are:
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began
2 Tim 1:8-9
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
In each of these quotations regarding God’s work of grace in the salvation of men, grace is contrasted with the work (or merit) of man. In Rom 11:6, Paul clearly states that if God’s mercy were earned (in this case by the nation of Israel), then grace could no longer be gracious. In the opening lines from 2 Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy that our salvation is the result of God’s purpose and calling by grace and not according to our works. In Ephesians, Paul explains that salvation is a gift of God and not earned. Because of this no one has any ground on which to boast. In the passage from Titus, again Paul states that salvation is not dependent upon works of righteousness which we have done, but that we are saved by mercy, which he equates with grace in verse 7.
When we think about the importance and centrality of grace in the plan of God for our salvation, we can understand the Apostle’s righteous indignation (Galatians 1) at those that have “removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” and follow those that “pervert the gospel of Christ” and in his inspired anger pronounced this imprecation, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
Truly the Gospel of Grace is the very heart and center of all Christian doctrine.
John Newton (1725-1807)
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.