The Grace of God
In our first discussion on the topic of grace this past Sunday, I asked the class members to give a brief definition of grace. There were many given and I wrote them all down on the board as quickly as I could. One that came up was “a communicable attribute of God.” I liked that one, even though it didn’t really define, but rather categorized the word. I feared, however, that those who were not familiar with theological terms might fear that Grace was something for which they might need to be inoculated.
So a few brief definitions are necessary.· God’s attributes are His “distinguishable and essential characteristics” according to one theologian. We might say that His attributes are simply what/who He is.
· Some would place these into two categories: God’s incommunicable attributes – those which belong only to Him, such as His self-existence, His infinity, His immutability – and His communicable attributes – those He shares to some extent with His created beings (us), such as knowledge, wisdom. Etc.
In other words, grace is a characteristic of God that is also found in human beings. He also apparently expects it of us. But more of that later.
We must recognize that God’s grace, along with His mercy, compassion and longsuffering are related to His love. As John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). John is not equating God and love, but saying that love is an essential aspect of God’s nature. Love (agape’) has been defined as “That which seeks the greatest good in its object.” And this love works itself out in these other aspects.
Recognizing this, we may define God’s grace as “The expression of God’s love without condition toward those who do not merit it.”
Perhaps the Apostle Paul describes it best. After spending over two chapters in the Book of Romans describing how we – humankind – can make no claim of being right before God, he tells his readers that they are “declared right freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). He tells his readers in Ephesus that they are “saved by grace … through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Of course, we should be careful not to think of God’s grace as something only revealed in the New Testament. The word grace (Chen) is first used in Genesis 6:8 of Noah. Notice that God’s grace is mentioned before Noah’s good qualities, probably because it preceded them.
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD … Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8, 9).
But it is in the story of the exodus where the LORD not only reveals His grace, but claims it as a characteristic.
The first time we read of His claim of grace is in Exodus 22:27, speaking of mistreatment of the poor. “… if he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious!”
Also Exodus 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will be compassionate to whom I will be compassionate.”
Exodus 34:6: “And the LORD proclaimed, ‘the LORD, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and full of loving-kindness and truth!”
We often think of the Old Testament as picturing God as a God of justice and wrath, a “jealous God” and it certainly does that. Yet throughout the Old Testament there is this other picture. We need to keep both “sides” of God in view.