I recently went through a word study of grace in the Bible. In the NASB, the word grace appears approximately 125 times. A good amount of the time the word is used either in greeting at the beginning of an epistle or at the conclusion of an epistle. It happened so often that it almost made me think that God’s grace might be something that only applied to Christians, a concept that only made sense in discussing what God had done for us. Paul extends the grace of God so often to his readers/listeners that I can almost understand why it seems like some Christians today believe grace only belongs to them.
But what is grace exactly? That’s another thing you lose sight of as you are inundated with the word grace being used similarly then to the way we use hello today. This was the dictionary definition that I liked best - “a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior.” How perfect an encapsulation of what Christ has done for us! In my short jaunt through scripture I was able to glean a few things about God’s grace. First, Christ’s death is the evidence of His grace, His grace was given without regard to our desire for it, and it was given to everyone. Rom 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” If God’s death was given while we were yet sinners, then it seems obvious to me that it is a gift that is extended to the righteous and unrighteous alike. Second, God’s grace continues to operate on my behalf and continues to have absolutely nothing to do with my own goodness. Paul says it so simply when he says, “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” How great is God that He extends grace to us regardless of whether our lives deem us worthy of this great gift. It’s a good thing He does that too, because it seems evident that we will all need it at some point, even after we find Christ. “… [F]or 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…” (Rom 3: 23, 24)
Paul goes into even greater detail on this point in 2 Corinthians, using his own life as an example. In 2 Cor 12:7-10Paul talk about a thorn in his flesh, that was sent by Satan to torment him. When he asks God to remove it God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” I have always found this fascinating and there has been more than enough ink spilled on the theories of what the thorn in the flesh was. But if Paul’s weakness was spiritual as opposed to physical then the implications of this verse are far-reaching. Could it be that God refused to remove a temptation Paul felt because that temptation allowed God’s grace to strengthen Paul and kept Paul from exalting himself? I have no idea, but the idea that Paul could accomplish all that he did even as he struggled with his own demons gives me hope in the power of God’s grace.
It is this cognizance of our own struggles that confuses me when I see how unwilling some Christians are to extend grace to others. When I see the vitriol that is spewed against “sinners” or the downfall of society by those who claim to have accepted the free gift of God I wonder, “Where is that grace?” When I see Christians accusing other Christians of not being Christians because of their sexuality or because they believe differently than them I wonder where God’s grace has gone. People have accused me of not believing in the Bible (and by accused I mean told me I didn’t believe in the Bible) because I questioned the potential mistranslation of a text. I wonder sometimes what this world would be like if we responded with the love and grace of God instead of with the seemingly righteous condemnation we hear far too often. I know every Christian doesn’t act that way, but sometimes it seems like we think God’s grace is some finite substance, and that if we extend it to the people most in need of it, we somehow won’t have enough for our own use. I am here to assure us all; God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, and God’s grace is not only sufficient enough for you, but for every single human being.
Jason Hines is an attorney and doctoral student in Religion, Politics, and Society at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at http://thehinesight.blogspot.com.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5770