To define grace is to attempt to encapsulate all of Christianity in a short phrase. The purpose of this article is not only to give you a definition of grace, but to unravel each word in the definition so that by the end of reading this piece, you will have a solid foundational understanding of what the grace of God is.
A revelation of grace will certainly change your entire life forever as a Christian. Whatever definition you settle on, do not be content with the head knowledge. Seek to catch the revelation and move the definition from your head to your heart.
Define Grace: Root words
The Hebrew and Greek words for grace add value to our understanding of God’s grace. However, remember the limitation that etymology is not always everything. An understanding of these root words is not enough in itself to give us a better picture of God’s grace.
We will begin with the Greek word charis.
Charis is the Greek word used for grace in the New Testament. I will not touch on related root words such as charitoo or chara. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (BDAG)(1) has great insight to offer us regarding the root word charis. You will be intrigued with the dissection of this root word in this reference lexicon which offer remarkable insight into the meaning of God’s grace. I will list some key uses and highlight the insight they give us for our understanding of grace.
Charis is a benevolent disposition towards someone
This benevolent (kind, good) disposition or attitude is what favor is all about. The foundational meaning of grace, upon which all others are built, is this benevolent disposition or favor. BDAG goes further to describe two discreet uses under this meaning:
Charis is that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory. This is charis from God’s perspective. It is an act of God, that grants us favor that He is not obliged to give. Charis is non-obligatory to God, and unmerited to us!
Charis is that which one experiences from another. This is charis from our human perspective. It is our experience of God’s favor and goodness. Grace is not only an act of God, but it has a tangible effect on us which changes our experience. Grace is our experience of God’s unmerited favor. When we receive grace, there will be tangible proofs in our lives. The same is true about the understanding of grace. After becoming a believer by grace, a deeper revelation of the meaning of God’s grace will result in tangible changes in our perspective of God and how we relate to Him and others around us.
Practical application of God’s goodwill and favor to us
Again, BDAG gives us a remarkable explanation of the different ways the word charis is used when applied to God or Christ. It distinguishes five distinct uses which you should seek to understand.
- Charis as used for possession of divine favor by God, as the Source of blessings for the believer. The favor that has been bestowed upon us is God’s. He is the possessor of the favor.
- Charis is the store of favor that is dispensed to the believer. God pours out favor upon us from His treasure store. The Scripture says we have received from His fullness (John 1:16).
- Charis is the favored status: This describes the believer’s position before God, standing in His favor that results from the abundance of grace poured upon us. We are standing before God right now in Christ on a platform of abundant grace. It is a place where humanity experiences the fullness of God’s favor, kindness, and goodness, undeserved and without merit.
- Charis is the gracious deed wrought by God in Christ. Again, grace is not just a disposition or attitude of favor and kindness as mentioned above. It is a tangible deed. When we talk about grace, it is not just wishful thinking that God has a gracious attitude or feels and thinks well about us. Grace is what God has done to extend His kindness to us, so that we can enjoy it to the fullest. The Son of God on the cross was grace in action. It is what God did, so that we can enjoy His goodness to the fullest. When God heals your body, through Christ’s work, that act of healing is grace.
- Charis is the gracious work that grows more and more. Have you watched God progressively transform a man’s life from ugly and messy to beautiful? Grace is a work of God that becomes brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
Exceptional effects produced by generosity ( favor)
Charis describes effects produced by divine beneficence which go beyond those associated with a specific Christian’s status. Did you notice the phrase “beyond those associated with a specific Christian status”? Grace did not end at the salvation experience. It did not cease to function after you become saved. It continues to add one blessing upon another. This is so important because many of us fail to see the benefits of God’s grace beyond the forgiveness of our sins or the fact that God is not judging or punishing us now for our sins.
Grace continues to decorate our lives with things that result in beauty, joy, and praise. Grace bestows spiritual gifts and made Apostles, for instance, from those who were murderers. Grace fills the heart with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Grace will touch your finances, your health, family, etc. Grace is the visible proof in your life that you have received God’s favor, for no one ever receives His favor and lacks evidence for it. In fact, these effects are the proofs that you have received or understood grace.
Do you remember from above that I mentioned grace has tangible effects on the recipient? It is not possible to receive grace and remain the same. It will have a visible effect in your life.
Charis is the response to generosity or beneficence
Charis is used to describe our response to God in thanksgiving and gratitude for what He has done for us. Once grace is revealed and received, an attitude of persistent thankfulness is spontaneous in our hearts. In fact, thanksgiving, joy, and praise characterize every recipient of God’s grace. Why? Grace will impact your life, meet your deepest needs, and abundantly furnish you with God’s goodness that, without fail, will leave your mouth full of unforced gratitude. There is something about receiving favor or kindness you do not deserve. It is so different from receiving what you desire or worked for. Nobody ever shows real gratitude for their hard-earned dollars. They are your rights and you demand them. Grace is not our right. It does for us what we can never dream of achieving with all our spiritual and natural abilities. Unmerited favor triggers struggle-free gratitude and praise.
I remember what happened to my life personally as the Lord began to unravel the mysteries of His grace to me. My prayer time gradually shifted from crying and begging for my needs to be met to praise, thanksgiving, and worship. Charis is used to describe our response to divine favor.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testatment (2) gives us an excellent statement that sums up the meaning of grace. It states that charis, “is what delights”! God’s grace in its totality, in all its manifestation, is indeed that which delights, and affords sweetness to man’s life. Humanity has been bitterly bearing the consequences and miseries of sin, and Christ did not come to remind us that we are in the pit of sin. He came to afford delight and joy. Grace is the antidote of the plight of humanity in all its forms. Grace has man covered, totally, and has completely and superfluously paid the full prize of sin. Satan and sin left man in a horrible mess. Grace did not only restore man to his original position, but lifted man higher than where he was first placed in the garden of Eden. Grace has brought delight to our hearts.
Did you catch the insights from charis above? If so, let’s move on to the Hebrew root word!
The meaning of the Hebrew root words as it applies to the understanding of grace is not as straightforward as the Greek words above. A notable difference between the Greek and the Hebrew language is worth mentioning here. The ancient Hebrews used concrete means to communicate their thoughts and ideas (that is things they could relate with their senses). For example, rather than the abstract notion of character, they will use the word fruit. This is different from the thinking pattern of the Greeks. How does that apply to us? It means a concept like grace, for example, will be communicated using concrete objects, events, or activities in the original Hebrew. That means they will use natural, everyday things that we can easily relate with to describe to us abstract concepts such as gr