“…for all have sinned and fallshort of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His gracethrough the redemption which is in ChristJesus…”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines grace as: “(in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” Biblically, this is a pretty accurate definition. How can we know this? Because the Bible mentions grace several times (131 occurrences of the english word in the NAS), and each of those mentions give us a clue about its meaning.
I find it interesting to note that the Old Testament comprises most of the Bible’s pages, and yet the english word “grace” is only mentioned within it 9 times. By comparison, the word makes 122 appearances in the rather smaller New Testament. What a difference Jesus’ death and resurrection makes!
If we dig a little further and look up the word in its original greek and hebrew, we find a similar theme, though with slightly better balanced proportions. The hebrew word that was translated as grace in the Old Testament - transliterated as chen - makes another 60 appearances, usually translated as favor (51 of the total 69 appearances). The greek word is charis, and appears 156 times in the New Testament, primarily in Romans (22 times), 2 Corinthians (18), and Acts (17).
The reason I am thankful that grace is listed so many times in the Bible, is because if I went off of the meaning of the word in its original greek and/or hebrew, I would miss the idea of it being unmerited. That idea can only be extrapolated by examining the usage of the word, and is a biblical definition (letting the Bible define itself), rather than a simple definition of the word. There are so many concepts in the Bible that need to be compared with one another across its 66 books, so that we can understand what is really expressed. (I am told this is called systematic theology.)
If I had to choose a single verse to explain why the word “unmerited” has a place in the biblical definition of grace, I would choose Romans 3:23-24 (okay, so I cheated and used two verses!). “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…” If we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, then we certainly don’t deserve God’s gift of justification. That’s why it’s a gift, since we can’t earn a gift, or it would be a wage.
That word, “unmerited” seems to make all the difference to me. Most of my sin stems from my pride - from thinking that I am somehow a “better” sinner, or that my work should somehow earn me prestige and thus, I deserve better than I have. Yet this thinking denies the grace of God. In truth, I have nothing to offer Him, since I have sinned and my wage (what I deserve) is death (Romans 6:23).
Yet, by His grace - His unmerited favor - He has “…granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” There it is again. Not by my merit, but by His own glory and excellence.
This is such a huge concept to wrap my head around, and it is difficult to remember at times. I hold onto the truths that Christ has taught me through His Word. I thank Him that He defines His terms by explaining them in different ways in various places in the Bible.
May I remember His unmerited favor. What aspect of grace seems most relevant to you from what you know of the Bible? I encourage you to look up the verses that may come to mind (or do a search in your concordance or online) and read through them. Make note of these verses and how they relate to one another. You may refer back to it in the future when the concept grows hazy.