The Grace of God Part Four
The New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, speaks of God’s grace. In fact, God administers His moral absolutes through grace.
Key New Testament Words for Grace
The New Testament Greek noun related to grace is charis. It refers to “favor, grace, gracious care, help, goodwill” bestowed on a person or group.1 It is “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight.”2 “The word charis contains the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved.”3 It is “used of the kindness of a master towards his inferiors or servants, and so esp. of God towards men.”4
Charis appears 131 times in the Greek New Testament. It “does not appear in Matthew, Mark, 1 and 3 John.”5 In the Gospel of John, it appears “only at 1:14–17.”6 The fact it appears so many times implies grace is a major subject of the New Testament.
The Greek verb that is the counterpart to charis is charidzomai.7 It appears in Luke and in the apostle Paul’s writings.8 The verb “does not have the precise sense of the noun. It is always to be construed in terms of the basic sense ‘to give.’”9 In fact, it means to “give freely or graciously as a favor.”10
The following are examples of this meaning:
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work (Rom. 11:6). Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12). For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise (Gal. 3:18).
New Testament Examples of God’s Grace
Grace for Mary. God sent the angel Gabriel “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Lk. 1:27). Gabriel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (v. 28). “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (v. 30). The expressions highly favored and found favor are derivatives of the Greek noun charis.
As a result of God’s grace, Mary became His chosen vessel through whom His eternal Son would become incarnated as the promised Messiah who will rule from the throne of His ancestor David forever (vv. 31–33).
Grace and Jesus. As a child in His humanity, Jesus “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (2:40). As a boy, “Jesus increased…in favor with God and men” (v. 52).
As an adult, Jesus spoke “gracious words” in the synagogue of Nazareth (4:22). John the Baptist declared that Jesus, “whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn. 3:34). Jesus claimed His words were the Father’s words:
For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak (12:49–50).
Speaking to God concerning His apostles, Jesus said,
I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I have given them Your word (17:8, 14).
Thus it appears the gracious words Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth were the words God told Him to speak.
John 1:14 indicates that, while Jesus was on Earth during His First Coming as God’s eternal Son in human flesh, people noticed His glory. The word glory refers to what is impressive or influential concerning a person. People were impressed and influenced by the fact Jesus was “full of grace and truth.”
The word translated “full” is used “of persons who are complete in a certain respect or who possess something fully.”11 The word translated “truth” in this context refers to what is “genuine” or “reality.”12 These words confirm the reality that Jesus genuinely and completely possessed grace to its fullest extent.
Consequently, Scripture asserts, “of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (v. 16).
Grace: The New Way of Administering God’s Moral Absolutes
Several New Testament passages indicate that, during His First Coming, Jesus established grace as God’s new way of administering His moral absolutes. Scripture says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 17). During His First Coming, Jesus brought into existence a new form of God’s grace—one that had not existed in Old Testament times.
Two facts indicate this truth: First, in the statement “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” the verb translated “came” means “come to be, become, originate.”13 Thus some form of grace that previously did not exist came into being or originated through Jesus Christ during His First Coming.
Second, in the assertion that of Jesus’ “fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (v. 16), the expression grace for grace means “grace after or upon grace (i.e., grace pours forth in ever new streams).”14 Again the implication seems to be that, during Jesus’ First Coming, He enlarged God’s grace by adding a new form of it to those that had already existed.
Furthermore, the new form cannot be that which brings salvation from the penalty of sin for the following reasons:
- In Romans 4:1–16 Paul taught that both Abraham (who lived prior to the Mosaic Law) and David (who lived under that Law) were justified from the penalty of sin by grace.
- John 1:17 seems to imply the new form of grace was intended to serve as the contrasting replacement of the Mosaic Law. In other words, it was to have the same basic function as the Mosaic Law, but it was to fulfill that function in a significantly different way.
It is important to note that the Mosaic Law never functioned as a means of eternal salvation. No person has ever been justified through the Law. The apostle Paul wrote,
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (Rom. 3:28–30).
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith” (Gal. 2:15–16, 21; 3:11).
In fact, instead of saving people, the Mosaic Law was “the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones” (2 Cor. 3:7), “the ministry of condemnation” (v. 9), and “brings about wrath” to those who are under it (Rom. 4:15).
In light of these statements, it would appear Scripture teaches the following concept in John 1:17: God established the Law through Moses as a way of administering His eternal, moral absolutes over His chosen nation of Israel. But through Jesus Christ, He established grace as the new way of administering His eternal, moral absolutes over mankind.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “charis,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 885.
- Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1966), s.v. “charis,” 665.
- Ibid., 666.
- “Hans Conzelmann, “charis,” Theological Dictionary of The New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Friedrich, ed./trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 9:391.
- Ibid., 396.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “charidzomai,” 884.
- Ibid., “pleres,” 675.
- Rudolf Bultmann, “aletheia,” TDNT, ed. Gerhard Kittel, ed./trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:245.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “ginomai,” 157.
- Ibid., “anti,” 73.