According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grace is defined as follows:
- Unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.
- A virtue coming from God.
- A state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.
- Approval, favor.
- Mercy, pardon.
- A special favor: privilege.
- Disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.
According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, when used to refer of divine grace toward mankind, it refers to the undeserved favor of God in providing salvation to those deserving condemnation. In the more specific Christian sense, it speaks of the saving activity of God that is manifested in the gift of his Son to die in the place of sinners.
The New Testament (NT) word for grace is the Greek charis. It is used approximately 150 times in the NT. The vast majority appear in the Pauline letters with a wide range of meanings.
Paul’s most frequent and theologically significant use of charis is to refer to the grace of God. Twenty-five times he uses the expressions “grace of God” or “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no intended difference in the expressions. On one occasion he combines the terms with the expression “the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:12 HCSB). Commonly he refers to “His grace,” which has either God or Christ as its antecedent. For Paul, the grace of God is not so much a timeless attribute as an activity of God. It is the redeeming activity of God that manifests itself in the redemptive work of Christ by which sinners are forgiven and accepted by God. In Paul’s thought, the grace of God is necessary because of man’s total inability to do anything to save himself and because of man’s unworthiness to be saved. Paul’s use of grace to refer to the undeserved nature of God’s salvation was particularly illustrated by his own experience. His former life as a persecutor of Christians caused him to have a profound sense of his own unworthiness. It was only because of the grace of God that Christ appeared to him, changed him, and appointed him to be an apostle (1 Cor. 15:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:12-14).
Paul’s sense of grace was so pervasive that he refers to it at the beginning and end of every one of his letters. For him, the Christian life is summed up in the grace of God. Salvation from beginning to end is all of grace. There can be no mixture of grace and works, or else it would not be grace (Rom. 11:6-7). Grace is synonymous with the gospel of Christ, and to depart from it is to turn to a false gospel (Gal. 1:6). It was the grace of God that planned salvation for sinners in eternity past before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). It was grace that provided salvation in the historical death of Christ (Rom. 3:24). It is grace that enables one to appropriate salvation, for it calls one to salvation, reveals Christ, and even gives faith which is the condition of salvation (Gal. 1:6, 15; Eph. 2:8 -9; Phil. 1:29). It is the grace of God that calls and equips one for service in the Christian life (Rom. 15:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:10). Very much like Luke in Acts, Paul speaks of God’s grace as a power, almost as a person. The grace of God was something that was with him, produced labor, humility, godliness, and sustained him in times of difficulty (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 1:12; 12:7-10). Everything, therefore, from first to last is of grace.
In the General Epistles and Revelation, charis appears 24 times, most of them in Hebrews and 1 Peter. It has the full range of meanings found in the Pauline letters, the Gospels, and Acts. In Hebrews, grace is related to the atoning death of Christ (2:9). It is grace that allows us to come to God boldly for “help in time of need” (4:16). It is grace that strengthens the heart of the believer by which he is equipped with everything good to do the will of God (13:5). It is used in the secular sense of “thanksgiving” or “gratitude” in Hebrews 12:28. In James, grace is used to refer to a power given to the humble to resist the devil and avoid spiritual adultery (4:6-7). In the Petrine letters, grace has its source in God (1 Pet. 5:10) and has a manifold nature (1 Pet. 4:10). Peter equates grace with salvation and, like Paul, sees salvation as grace from beginning to end. It was prophesied by the prophets, fulfilled by the sufferings of Christ, applied to people by a sovereign calling (1 Pet. 1:10-11; 5:10), and equips believers to serve (1 Pet. 4:10-11 ). All believers stand in a grace relationship with God, both men and women (1 Pet. 5:12; 3:7). The way to avoid being led astray by Satan into unfaithfulness is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Charis is found only in the closing verses of Revelation. However, the NT closes very appropriately with a benediction of grace (Rev. 22:21).
In Max Lucado’s book Grace, he exhorts us to see the word grace as a verb, not a noun. Grace is not something that already exists, but something that has to be acted upon.
We receive grace through the sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can extend it to others through kindness, forgiveness, understanding, mercy, and favor.