What did the bible authors and God mean when they wrote the Greek word that we translate as “Grace”? First, let’s look at what most people think of when they read the English word "grace". Then I'll demonstrate with scripture and biblical research what the Bible authors actually meant.
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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10, KJV).
Many read this scripture with the idea that grace is the opposite of works. That is not what it says. However, from this interpretation, they reason as follows:
“Grace makes it ok to sin as much as you want-- you will still go to heaven because you are saved by grace and faith, NOT works.”
This interpretation was around during the writing of the New Testament. Roughly 20% of the New Testament is devoted to correcting or refuting this false teaching in various ways. So the best way to understand God’s grace is to read the New Testament, and the rest of the Bible for that matter. But, in case you are still working on that and need some quick answers, this document presents a summary of true biblical grace. The following scripture identifies the above interpretation:
For certain men whose condemnation was written about[ 4 Or men who were marked out for condemnation] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
(Whole Chapter: Jude 1 In context: Jude 1:3-5)
These grace-changers teach as if there is no causal relationship between grace and works, or behavior. I agree that we are saved by God's grace, through faith, not by our own works. However, it is by the same grace that saves in Eph. 2:8, that Jesus created us unto good works in verse 10. This grace brings salvation this way: It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11,12 NIV).
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11,12 NIV).
Receiving a false grace that does not manifest itself behaviorally in obedience to God’s commands will not bring salvation. That is why this “license for immorality” teaching of grace is another Gospel. Paul verifies Jude’s statement above, that those who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality are condemned:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
(Whole Chapter: Galatians 1 In context: Galatians 1:7-9)
Dan Corner elaborates upon this point in his (more in depth) article on God’s grace at http://www.evangelicaloutreach.org:
We are saved by grace, but it is possible for a Christian under grace
to lose his inheritance of the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21), be disowned
by Christ (Mt. 10:33), have his share in New Jerusalem taken away (Rev.
22:19), and die spiritually if he chooses to live according to the
sinful nature (Rom. 8:13) as was exemplified by the Prodigal who became
spiritually dead and lost (Lk. 15:24,32).
Also, the same one who gave us the truth about grace as cited in Eph.
2:8,9 and Rom. 11:6 also reported that Christians could fall from grace
to the point where Christ will be of no value at all to them (Gal.
5:2-4). All of this corporately is the true grace of God, according to
Paul. To declare something different from this is to side with the
counterfeit grace message, which is just as much a license for
immorality in our day as it was in Jude's.
So then, thus far we know this much about God’s Grace:
These are the basics. For more of an explanation, and more in-depth study, read on.
What did the bible authors and God mean when they wrote the Greek word that we translate as “Grace”? The Greek NT word for grace is Charos. Written in Greek by the Jewish NT writers, the word refers back to its usage in the Septuagint – the Greek Old Testament that Paul and the other bible authors probably used, or at least had access to. If they were reading the OT in Hebrew, the word for Grace would be “chesed” instead of the Greek “charos”. But these words were used interchangeably in the Septuagint--as if the way to express the Hebrew word “chesed” in Greek was “charos”.
What then does “chesed” mean in the Hebrew mindset?
My friend Bryan is a Hebrew and Greek scholar and a bible translator. His definition of “chesed” is as follows:
“An extension of contract granted for the purposes of enabling the breeching party to return to covenant loyalty.”
This definition explains otherwise confusing usages of the word in the NT. Here we see that Grace “worked” in and through Paul:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
(Whole Chapter: 1 Corinthians 15 In context: 1 Corinthians 15:9-11)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
(Whole Chapter: 2 Corinthians 9 In context: 2 Corinthians 9:7-9)
These and many other passages of scripture are confusing to the Gentile mind because they state that grace works. Gentiles usually like to think of grace and works as opposites. This type of thinking did not exist in the biblical Jewish mind. Indeed, true saving grace does work. But not without the recipient’s permission and effort:
12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Notice that both God and the recipient are working in this passage above. This passage is no longer confusing if you take the Bible author’s view of “grace”. Neither are these passages below, where recipients of grace strain toward the prize of eternal life.
Pressing on Toward the Goal
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 4
9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
1 Peter 5
12With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.
43When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
How hard is it to “stand fast” in unmerited favor? Our word “grace” in English usually means “unmerited favor”. Certainly, God has shown us unmerited favor, but when he shows us this is important. It is only after we accept his law and repent of our transgressions of it.
1Jo 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (KJV)
These have always been the terms of his blood covenant -- whether the law to be accepted and obeyed has been the law of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Christ—the terms of granting grace for transgressions of the law have always been the same: Only after we accept his law and repent of our transgressions of it. So the meaning of grace is consistent across covenants or laws given.
To whom grace is extended and for what purpose? It is extended only to those who are willing to return to covenant loyalty according to the terms of God’s blood covenant: Laying their own life down in exchange Christ’s life, so that Christ can live through us by grace. In other words, God himself is fulfilling your end of the covenant daily through his son: His blood mediating (), and his Spirit empowering you to obey the truth.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.
(Whole Chapter: Luke 14 In context: Luke 14:25-27)
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (KJV)
1 Peter 1:22-23
22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:
23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (KJV)
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace (2 Cor. 1:12, NIV).
God only empowers (through His Spirit of grace) those who are willing to accept and follow His terms of His covenant: The New Covenant written in His blood. They cannot take credit for, or boast about the works they have performed by and through God’s grace. That does not mean that God is like a demon who is going to possess them to do things that they are unwilling to do. No, they must make in effort in responding to God’s grace by faith.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without
holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14, NIV).
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life (Rom. 2:7, NIV).
Faith and Deeds
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James may be addressing the grace-changers above in verse 18: Mocking the way that they pit grace against works—as if they are opposites.
Strongs concordance defines checed as “goodness, kindness, faithfulness..”. These 3 concepts are rolled into this covenant meaning.
Not even Jesus would allow this man to call him good:
16Now a man came up to Jesus and
asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
The only way humans can relate to goodness is through the commandments.
Rejecting God’s definition of sin (the law) is an insult to the spirit of grace.
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Those who resist his grace in this way cannot be saved:
What if we break the commandments and fail to keep our end of the covenant? Is there any future for us?
1 John 2
1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
So grace is extended to forgive (repented of) sin, and empower recipients to sin no more—returning to covenant loyalty.
Faithfulness is God faithfulness to keep his end of the covenant—which may include disowning one who spurns his grace.
2 Timothy 2
11Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
14Keep reminding them of these things.
He will remain faithful to the word of his grace:
31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
32"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
God wants to help us in our salvation, so He urges us not to receive His “grace in vain”:
2 Corinthians 6
1As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. 2For he says,
"In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
In other words, He urges us to cooperate with His grace and allow Him to have His way through us. Do not receive God's Grace in vain. He is even willing to help you return to covenant loyalty.
Here is an example of the use of chesed in the Old Testament which is an example of God’s faithfulness to his recipients of grace. Chesed is translated as love here:
10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. (NIV)
This passage sheds light on why Jesus definition of love is obedience to His commands.
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."
(Whole Chapter: John 14 In context: John 14:20-22)
God’s grace enables us to return to covenant loyalty, by giving us the power to obey Him. Not giving us power from far away, but by abiding in us, and living His holy life through us. This makes us His servants like the angels:
And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" (Rev. 22:8,9).
If you are tired of your sins, failures, mistakes, and problems that you are bringing on yourself and others, then you need more of God’s grace: To empower you to obey him through His spirit. You can keep His word, if you are willing.