Sermon by David Rothwell

July 28, 2012

This morning I want to talk about grace. Grace is a very complex word, especially in religious circles. We have songs about grace. There’s the song “Amazing Grace”, probably one of the most popular religious songs out there. There are common sayings that use the word “grace”. For example, people will often say things like “there but for the grace of God go I”. There are certain passages in the Bible that a lot of people that go to church are very familiar with. For example, the passage that says “for by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”. So grace is a word that people are very familiar with, especially church going people. It’s commonly used. The word “grace” appears in the names of a lot of churches. It’s something that’s talked a lot about. But what does it really mean?

What exactly is grace? Now, you may have a definition in your mind of what grace means, or you may have a sort of vague concept in your mind of what grace is. Either way, what I want to do this morning is take a short amount of time to really do some exploration into the meaning of the word grace. Not just the meaning of the word, but the concept of what grace is.

I believe that grace is something that is either misunderstood by a lot of people, or it’s not very clearly defined. So by the time I get done today, I hope that we will have a better understanding of what grace is, and I’m going to put a definition to it at the end of this message. You may or may not agree fully with what my definition is, but that’s okay, because the purpose of this message is to get you to thinking and reading the scriptures. If my definition is not exactly your definition, if I’ve gotten you to think about it and perhaps at least brought it into sharper focus for you than it was before, then I think I’ll have accomplished my purpose.

Now, when I grew up in the church, the teaching that I received was that “grace” means “free, unmerited pardon”. That was the definition that I heard over and over again, growing up in the church. In other words, I was taught that grace means forgiveness. Now, that’s a fairly common definition for grace. If you were to ask people what grace means, a lot of them will say that it means God’s forgiveness. As I read the Bible, I came to realize that forgiveness is not necessarily a very good definition of grace. I’ll get into some examples in just a few minutes of why I came to believe that. 

Other people have defined grace as being God’s favor, or God’s mercy. These definitions are not necessarily wrong, but I came to see that these definitions of grace are not really fully adequate. So forgiveness, favor, and mercy aren’t necessarily wrong definitions of the word grace, but I don’t think they’re adequate for the scope of what this word means.

I’d like to turn to a few passages. There are literally dozens of passages where the word “grace” appears in the Bible, more than one hundred. We don’t have time to go through all of them, but I want to go through a few of them. I want to start by turning to Luke chapter 2, verse 40.

As we read these first few passages where the word grace appears, I want you to apply the definition of grace that you have in your mind to these passages and see if it fits. As we’re going to see, some of the definitions that I’ve mentioned already, which are fairly common definitions that people have, don’t fit. 

(Luke 2:40) And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

Now, if grace means forgiveness, how could the forgiveness of God be upon him? Jesus Christ did not sin, so he needed no forgiveness. I don’t believe that the definition of grace as forgiveness fits in this passage here. Even as a teenager, I would read passages like this and think, well, how can grace mean free, unmerited pardon, when Jesus didn’t need any pardon?

Now, if you use the definition of God’s favor? Possibly.  That definition might fit here. I don’t necessarily think the definition of mercy works here, but possibly the definition of favor. But you can see already, in just one passage here, that one of the most common definitions of the word grace doesn’t work in this passage.

Now, let’s go just over a page or two to Luke chapter 4, verse 22. This is the occasion where Jesus was in the synagogue, and he stood up, found a place in the book of Isaiah, and read from it.

(Luke 4:21-22) And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?

This word gracious, in the English King James version, is the same word in the Greek language as grace. Gracious is just a form of the word grace, and it’s the same Greek word. Again, if we try to apply some of the more common definitions of grace to this, does it make sense to think that they wondered at the words of free and unmerited pardon, or of forgiveness, that came from his mouth? The words of favor, the words of mercy? These definitions don’t seem to fit exactly.

Let’s go now to Titus chapter 2, verse 11.

(Titus 2:11) For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.

Now, this would seem to be a reference to Jesus Christ. So, if Jesus Christ is called the grace of God here, which it does seem to be a reference to him, how then does the definition of forgiveness, or mercy, or favor fit? It doesn’t seem to quite fit exactly.

Just a few more passages, because I want to drive this point home, that the meaning of the word grace has a broader definition, a wider meaning, than I think has been ascribed to it by most people.

Let’s go to Colossians chapter 3, verse 16.

(Colossians 3:16) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

So are we to sing with forgiveness in our hearts to the Lord? God doesn’t need us to forgive him. Sing with mercy in our hearts to the Lord? Again, God does not need us to be merciful toward him. Possibly with favor in our hearts to the Lord? But again, it doesn’t seem to quite fit.

(Colossians 4:6) Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

So what would the definition of grace be here? How is it that our speech is to be always seasoned with forgiveness, or with mercy, or favor? Now, I could see how possibly mercy might work there. But is that really what that passage means? That our speech should always be with mercy?

Let’s compare this with Ephesians chapter 4, verse 29.

(Ephesians 4:29) Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Again, does your definition, or do the common definitions of grace fit in that passage? 

Now, let’s add to that mix the fact that the Greek word for grace is charis. In the New Testament, this word charis is not always translated “grace”. Sometimes it’s translated thanks, or thanksgiving. For example, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 57.

(1 Corinthians 15:57) But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That word translated thanks there, in the King James version of the Bible, is charis – the same word that’s translated grace in other places. So why would they translate this word charis as “thanks”? It’s also translated as “thanks” in a number of other places. I won’t bother to turn to all of those other places. Like I said, this message is really designed to get you thinking and maybe studying this on your own. You can look up and see that there are a number of places in the King James Bible where the word charis is translated “thanks” or “thanksgiving”.

So how are we to understand this word “grace”, or this Greek word charis, which is translated as grace? First of all, I think we should take just a minute or two to talk about the nature of words themselves.

Words are elastic. There is what I call the elasticity of language. What do I mean by that? In general, what I mean by that is that no matter what language you’re using, words tend to have very broad meanings, and more than one meaning. For example, in the English language, if I say the word “ball”, what does that mean? Does that mean a spherical object that’s used to play a game, like a tennis ball or a basketball? Maybe a differently shaped type ball, like a football? Or am I talking about an event in which people attend to dance? Those are just two uses of the word ball.

What about the English word “plate”? Am I talking about something that you eat food off of? Am I talking about a thin covering of gold, like something that’s gold-plated? Am I talking about the home base in the game of baseball?

In English, as in every other language, you find that it’s almost impossible to find a word that only has one meaning. Typically there are many meanings, and you find out what the meaning of the word is by the context of how the word is used.

The other concept, or principle in general, about language is that words are used to convey concepts. So one of the difficulties in translation is that in one language you may have one word that conveys a big concept, that may be difficult to explain in another language by just using one word. For example, in the English language, we talk about being patriotic, or having patriotism. Now, we all understand this concept. When I hear the word “patriotic”, I sort of flash on things like apple pie, the flag, the Fourth of July and fireworks. It’s a big concept in my mind. Now, if I were to try to translate that for somebody in another language, they may not have a word that means exactly that same thing. It may take me a paragraph to explain this concept in another language to somebody else.

If you’ve ever watched a foreign film with subtitles, you’ve probably noticed this. One of the amusing things that I’ve noticed, especially if you’ve ever watched a Japanese film with English subtitles, is that sometimes the person will be speaking in Japanese for several sentences, maybe a paragraph, and then the subtitle is just one or two words, like “Go away” or “No”. And it’s kind of amusing, because the guy just spoke a whole paragraph, how can you translate that as just one or two words in English? But the reason is because trying to convey a concept in one language to another doesn’t always work that easily.

So with these concepts in mind about words, let’s get some background on this Greek word charis to understand it a little bit better. I have written down four things about the word charis, and I think you may find this interesting.

First of all, charis in the Greek language means the property in a thing which causes it to give joy to the hearer or the beholder. To the Greek people, there’s nothing that is so joy-inspiring as something that is graceful or beautiful. So, the word charis implies the presence in something or in a person of that which inspires joy and is something that is beautiful and graceful. So if we think about this definition, this portion of what charis means, and we look back at Luke 2:40, when it says that they wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth, what they were saying was that what he said and the way that he said it was something that inspired joy in them because it was beautiful and gracious to them. So that’s one part of what charis means.

Another part of what charis came to mean, as it was commonly used in the ancient times in Greece, was that it came to not just mean the quality of being gracious or beautiful, but it also came to mean the thing or the person itself. So if something was beautiful or gracious, they would use the word charis to mean the thing itself, not just the quality of the thing or the person. So hence we see how in Titus 2:11, which seems to be a reference to Jesus, the word charis is used to actually be the person itself, as opposed to just the quality of the person. I know that’s a little bit of a fine line there, but it is a slightly different way in which the word is used.

Now, the third thing we need to understand about the word charis is that in the Greek schools of philosophy, for instance, Aristotle, Plato, these teachers – they defined the word charis to mean a gift that was freely given with no expectation of return. Something that was done as a favor to someone would be referred to as charis. And hence we see that in the Bible, oftentimes the word charis is translated favor or is used to mean favor. So again, one of the common definitions of grace is God’s favor, and this is not an incorrect definition. It just doesn’t really encompass the whole meaning of the word. But it is a way in which the word charis is used. So if somebody does you a favor, or they give you a gift, or they do something nice for you, that’s referred to as charis.

It’s kind of interesting to me how this fits in with the English language. Favor is used in a way, in the King James Bible, that we don’t commonly use it anymore at all. If you go back to the book of Genesis, there are several examples of how the word favor is used to mean beauty. For example, in Genesis 41, when Joseph is called on to interpret the dream that Pharaoh had, it talks about seven cows that were ill-favored, and seven cows that were well-favored. What it means is that the seven cows that were ill-favored were not good looking cows. They were scrawny and starving. Then there were seven well-favored cows. These were good-looking cows. They were well fed, they were fat, they were strong. So the word favor here is used in the sense of physical beauty.

In Genesis 29:17, we’re told that Rachel was beautiful and well-favored. In Genesis 39:6, Joseph is said to be a goodly man, and well-favored. This means he was a handsome guy, a good-looking man. The reason that the word favor is used here is because, in the time when the King James Bible was translated, beauty was better understood to be a gift from God. Today, our secular society seems to have pretty much forgotten this. You see women that are beautiful, and they act as though that they, by some act of their own virtue, are beautiful. They see it as something that they should be praised for, looked up to and sort of worshiped for, as opposed to recognizing that their beauty was something that had nothing to do with them. It was the way that the genes of their parents came together in their genetic blueprint. It’s a gift from God. God is the one who creates beauty.

In Daniel 1:4, we read that the children that were taken into captivity and were being trained by Nebuchadnezzar to be in his government had no blemish, and that they were well favored. It means that they were good looking children. And again, the word favor is used there in the sense that it was a gift from God. So again, the third thing that we need to understand about the word charis is that it can mean a favor as in the sense of a gift.

And finally, the fourth thing about the word charis is that in common usage, it eventually came to mean the thankfulness that somebody might express and feel towards someone who had given them a gift. So if you receive a charis, then you might have charis toward that person for having given you a charis. It means the thankfulness that you feel toward somebody who does something nice for you.

So now, I think, maybe this begins to shed a little more light on how the word charis is used in the New Testament, and why the word charis sometimes is translated as “thanks” or “thanksgiving”.

Having gone through that background of the word charis, I want to start moving a little bit closer toward what I believe the best definition of the word grace is, and how it’s used in the scriptures. If we think about the definition of charis as being a gift, and ask ourselves the question “What is it that God has given us?”, I think in the largest sense of the word, what God has given us is Jesus Christ.

We read “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son”. In one sense, the largest gift, the most overall gift that we have received, is Jesus Christ. In that sense Jesus Christ is a charis, a gift. It’s free, it’s not merited. You know, the Scriptures tell us that God commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. In that sense, truly Jesus Christ is a charis. It was something done for us that we didn’t deserve. God didn’t do it as payment toward us for anything. He commends his love toward us in that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. And so Jesus Christ himself is a charis, and everything that springs from that act of him having come and given his life can be referred to as a charis.

Let’s go to Hebrews chapter 10, verse 29. I want to show that there’s a connection between charis, that is, grace, and the Holy Spirit.

(Hebrews 10:29) Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

So here, “the spirit” is the Holy Spirit. It’s called the spirit of grace. Why is it called the spirit of grace? Well, because it came from the fact that Jesus Christ came and died for us. Jesus told his disciples, if I go to the father, then I will send you the Holy Spirit. It is a gift. Jesus Christ was a gift, and the Holy Spirit is a gift.

 (Hebrews 12:28) Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:

What is it that allows us to serve God? It’s his spirit. It is God’s spirit in us which allows us to serve him. Jesus said, if you love me, keep my commandments. It is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts that allows us to keep the commandments. It is through God’s spirit that we are able to serve him. Again, this is a reference to the spirit of God, which is a gift.

(2 Corinthians 12:9) And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

He’s not saying here that my forgiveness is sufficient for you. He’s talking about strength here. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit. My charis, my holy spirit is sufficient for you.

(2 Corinthians 12:9) …for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

Keep that thought in mind, because we’ll come back to it in just a moment. First, let’s go to Hebrews chapter 4, verse 16. I hope that in these passages, you are able to see that there is in fact a connection between the word charis that is translated grace, and God’s spirit. I think that when we see it that way, this passage in Hebrews 4, which we’re all very familiar with, will have a little bit more meaning. It’s talking about the fact that Jesus Christ is our high priest in verse 15…

(Hebrews 4:15) For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

We have a high priest who was a human being, who understands exactly what it’s like to be a human being. He was tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

(Hebrews 4:16) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

This is talking about the fact that we can come to God, and we can receive his strength, his grace – this gift from him of strength, of his Holy Spirit, to help us in time of need. But what is the time of need? Well, the context here is temptation. When we are tempted, we have to recognize that we have a high priest who was also tempted in exactly all the same ways that we are tempted, but without sin. He can help us. He can give us this gift of the Holy Spirit, this gift of strength to help us in time of need.

Let’s go over to James chapter 4. The fourth chapter of James ties in with some of these things that we’ve been talking about.

 (James 4:1) From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

So he’s talking about something that happens internally. Because of things that are going on internally, it may cause you to be in conflict with somebody else and have an external war or fight.

(James 4:2-3) Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

What is he talking about here? Let’s compare this to Luke chapter 11, verse 11. Jesus is talking about how, as physical parents, if we’re decent human beings at all, we try to the best of our ability to give good things to our children. He prefaces this in verse 9 by saying “Ask, and it shall be given you”. And as James said, you don’t receive because you don’t ask. You must ask.

(Luke 11:9-10) And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Now if we just took those passages by themselves, out of the context of the rest of scripture, we might think well, if I want to win the lottery, all I have to do is ask, because it says “ask and you shall receive”. But Jesus continues on, and he clarifies what he’s talking about. When we put this together with James, it gives us a better picture. 

(Luke 11:11-13) If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

So we see that in verses 9-10 when Jesus is saying “ask and it shall be given, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find”, he’s talking about the Holy Spirit. When we go back to the book of James, it makes a little bit more sense now, what James means here when he says, you ask and you don’t have because you’re asking for the wrong things. You’re asking for physical things, that you may consume it on your physical desires.

(James 4:2-3) …ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Now, asking for physical things is not wrong. God tells us to ask for our daily bread. “Give us this day our daily bread”.  What James is saying here is that what we primarily need to be asking for is God‘s spirit. And when we ask for things that are not good for us… It probably wouldn’t be good for me if God just gave me a million dollars. Jesus said that it’s more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. That doesn’t mean that nobody that’s rich can make it into the kingdom of God. Abraham was a rich man. It just means that it’s not necessarily good for everybody. Not everybody can handle it. God knows what’s good for us. What we primarily ought to be asking for and seeking is God’s spirit.

(James 4:3-4) Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses,

He means this primarily in a spiritual sense. We are to be married to Jesus Christ. We are to be the bride of Christ. If we have something else in our lives that’s more important to us, we are in a sense committing spiritual adultery.

(James 4:4) Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Now what is he talking about when he talks about the friendship of the world? In the book of 1 John, the world is defined as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. John says all these things are of the world - they are not of the Father. So again, if we’re asking for things that have to do with the lust of our eyes, the lust of our flesh, the pride of life – these are not the things we should be asking for or seeking. And in fact, if we are seeking these things, he calls us adulterers and adulteresses. We have a choice to make. We are either going to be the friend of God, or we’re going to be the friend of the world. We can’t be both.

(James 4:5) Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

So again, we have an internal fight that goes on inside of us between the flesh and the spirit. Paul describes it quite nicely in the latter half of Romans 7.

(James 4:6) But he giveth more grace.

 What is he talking about here? Well, I believe that he’s talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives more charis. Link this up with what was said earlier about asking and receiving, and asking and receiving not.

(James 4:6) But he giveth more grace.

We have a spirit in us – we live in the flesh. And we all came up in a system – that is, Satan’s system – and we have developed a nature. We call it human nature, but it’s really Satanic nature. We have an internal battle that goes on inside of us between the flesh and the Spirit. He’s saying that as strong as these pulls are toward the flesh, God gives his Holy Spirit, which is more powerful.

(James 4:6) But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

 God gives his spirit to those that are humble. Why does he say that God gives his grace to the humble? I don’t know that the scriptures clearly define why, but there are a number of passages in scripture that indicate that God gives his spirit to the humble.

I think I know why, and I think it’s because when we think that we don’t need God, why should God give his spirit to us? One of the Greek definitions of charis is a gift that is freely given with no thought of anything in return. In a sense, that fits God’s spirit, but in another sense it doesn’t quite fit it. There’s a passage that says that God will not send his spirit forth in vain. In other words, God does give his spirit freely to those who ask, but he doesn’t give it without thought of any return. God wants a return on his investment. 

We have the parable of the pounds and the talents. The pounds and the talents were given freely. God gives us his spirit freely. Just like in the parable, those servants didn’t do anything to earn what they were given to be stewards over. But then, the master came back, and he expected a return on that investment. And God expects his spirit to produce fruit, the fruit of righteousness in us.

Let’s say that I perceive that I have a problem with patience, which actually I do. I can be a very impatient person sometimes. Now, if I think that I can change myself, and I can develop Godly righteous character by writing down on a 3x5 card that I need to work on being patient, and I grit my teeth and I try harder, and I come up with all kinds of ways where I can be more patient, I might do myself a little bit of good. I may make a little bit of progress in that direction. I may be less of an irritant to those around me because I’m not being so impatient. But really what I’m doing is I’m saying to God, well, I don’t really need you, God. I don’t need any help with this. I can do this on my own.

The truth of the matter is, if we try to change on our own, if we try to build character by ourselves, we can go a little ways, and then we hit a brick wall and we can go no further, because we come up against our own nature. And you cannot change your own nature, any more than a leopard can change his spots. Ultimately, we have to come to the place where we recognize that we have to have God dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit actually has a work of changing us. Ephesians talks about the washing of water – that is the Holy Spirit – by the word. To make us without spot or wrinkle, to make us holy and without blemish. We can no more free ourselves from sin than the Israelites were able to free themselves from Egypt. 

That is why I believe God gives his spirit to those who are humble. Because when you’ve reached the place where you are humble enough to recognize the degree to which you need God, then when he gives you his spirit it will do some good, because you will use it. Sometimes we wonder, why does God allow us to go through all the trials and tribulations that we do in this life? I believe a large part of it is so that we will become humble enough where God can actually begin to do something with us and to change us. I digress quite a bit here though.

(James 4:6-10) But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

I told you at the beginning of this message that I would try to put a definition to grace. I believe that grace, in its most overall sense, is talking about the nature of God. This Greek word charis is the root word that our English word “charisma” comes from. It’s the word charis with –ma on the end of it. We’re familiar with this word charisma. Charisma means somebody who has a magnetic personality. You like to be around them. They exhibit qualities of graciousness and beauty and charm.

I believe that there are no other beings in the universe beside God the Father and Jesus Christ that have charisma that can compare. I think that when the time comes that we are born into the family of God, we will find that God the Father and Jesus Christ are more interesting, fun beings to be around than you could possibly imagine. I think the charisma that they exhibit is incomparable.

So when we read about grace in the Bible, I think we’re talking about the nature of God. And God wants to transfer that nature that he has to us. It’s a gift that he wants to give us, but we have to humble ourselves so that we can receive it. And it’s something that he cannot give to us all at once. We read in 2 Peter that we have been given exceeding great and precious promises whereby we are made to be partakers of the divine nature. But it doesn’t happen all at once.

Herbert Armstrong put it this way, and I think it is perfectly stated. He said, “We are made to be partakers of the divine nature until it becomes our own.” This in a nutshell is the Christian life. God wants to impart the gift of his nature, of his charis. He wants us to become just like he is, and this happens through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not just the power by which God can accomplish things. It is also his nature. And he, through giving us a little bit of his Holy Spirit, implants within us a little bit of himself. And if we will humble ourselves, and seek it, God then can allow that to begin to grow and develop in us so that eventually it takes over our entire mind, our entire being, and we become just like him. We grow to have his charis – his nature.