What is grace? We have churches named Grace this and Grace that, yet many of the people inside have no idea what the name of the church refers to.
A majority of the apostolic letters open with the words grace and peace to you and that greeting is ascribed to Jesus Christ our Lord. First, what is an apostolic letter and then, what is the meaning of the greeting?
An apostolic letter is a letter written by one of the Apostles (Paul, John, Peter, James, Jude) to the churches. These are letters that provided guidance to the churches that were formed as a result of the spread of the gospel through various means. Paul took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles as far as his travels would carry him on three different missionary journeys. Over the course of time, the Apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to these new believers. Their teachings have become part of our Scriptures or the collection of books we call the Bible.
Regarding the greeting, going back to the original Greek language the word we interpret as grace is “chairo.” In a spiritual context, it means the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life of the recipient. The Greek language often expresses concepts rather than narrowly defined terms. With chairo we have implications of acceptance, benefit, favor, gift, grace, and joy.
Some have explained the “grace” of God by calling it unmerited favor. It was our ancestors who sinned in the Garden of Eden. But this didn’t catch God by surprise because He already had a plan. That plan was through His grace to provide a way for us to be in eternal relationship with Him. It is because of His grace that we are saved when we place our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He did not have to do this, but by His benevolence (grace), He has extended to us the offer of salvation.
The popular song “Amazing Grace” really has it right when it says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” This song, that once was a hymn sung only in churches, is known by the masses as a beautiful tune that can be sung with passion and great artistry. Yet the true meaning of the first few words is completely lost on most who would never otherwise refer to themselves as wretches. We are indeed unworthy of God’s grace.
In considering the grace of God and what it affords us, one can’t help but be amazed and broken of all our pride. If we are honest with ourselves, this grace is truly nothing we have deserved. In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). It is God’s favor made available to us for the simple act of placing all our faith, our confidence, our hopes for eternal life in the work of Jesus Christ. It is available to every human on this earth, regardless of their current belief system. That, in itself, is pretty amazing. That is not the way people would think without the help of the Holy Spirit.
Understanding the grace of God will bring us the peace of God, because by His grace we have confidence that God has a plan for us and this world (Jeremiah 29:11), a hope and confidence in our life beyond death’s door into eternal life with Him. That should give us a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Two key passages on grace could be Ephesians 2:8-9 and Jude 4
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designate for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
So, grace is an extension of God’s love for us, not conditioned on our good deeds or behavior. But that gift must not be distorted to claim freedom to indulge in perverted lifestyles that deny the teachings of Jesus. To claim this grace, we need only to place our faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope.
God’s grace is a significant topic, one one which stirred the reformation some 500 years ago. Much more could be said, but just a few nuggets for thought.