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Grace (in the Bible)

A translation of the Gr. charis, which in profane Gr. meant that which causes joy, and in its scriptural use signified the gratuitous supernatural gift of God, God's favor, resulting in the new economy and favors of external providence. In Hebrew it was usually hen (first, God's favor; then later, effects of that favor), A few times it was rahamim (tender mercy), or raven (benevolent love), or hesed (dutiful love, which should cause kinsmen to help one another). The OT first stresses the favor of being God's chosen people, living in a kinship bond (hesed) with him, since by the covenant he bound himself to act as father and go'el (kinsman-rescuer). The OT mentions other effects, esp. beraka (blessing), which gives joy, strength, fullness of life, special relationship to God, and wisdom, making one spiritually perfect. The Synoptic Gospels give a similar picture: Grace brings man under a new covenant (Mt 26.28) into the kingdom of the Father (Mt 22.1-14) as his children (Mt 6.9-10) who must. imitate him (Mt 5.48). John stresses grace as light and truth, passage from death to life (Jn 5.24), a share in divine life (Jn 10.10) through rebirth (Jn 3.3). Paul pictures progressive transformation making man a new creation (Gal 6.15), a temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 3.16-17), a member of Christ (1 Cor 6.15), son of the Father (Rom 8.14-17), no longer coerced by external law (Rom 7.4 6), but moved inwardly by the Spirit (Rom 8.14), who effects both exterior performance of good and the inner act of will (Phil 2.13) and even the thought of good (2 Cor 3.5). Paul distinguishes greater gifts (1 Cor 12.13) open to all, conferring the above effects, and charismatic gifts, giving roles as apostles, prophets, teachers, or gifts of tongues, interpretation, healing, etc., (1 Cor 12.30).

There is a theme of restriction and another of universality in the OT's treatment of the receiver of grace. Restriction appears in the fact that Israel is a special people—a favor not given to all, nor from merit (Ex 33.19). Universality appears in Gen 12.3 and Is 49.6 and in other passages that foretell the call of all nations. The NT seldom expresses restriction (e.g., Mt 10.5-6; Rom 9; 1 Cor 1.26-31), but often universality: the Father gave the Son for all (Jn 3.16), even sinners (Mt 5.45; 18.23-25; Lk 15.3-9) and has even bound himself in a new, eternal covenant (Mt 26.28; 1 Cor 11.25) in which the infinite price (1 Cor 6.20) for each individual (Gal 2.20) testifies to infinite love, so that he wills to give all graces (Rom 8.32), even perseverance to the end (1 Cor 1.5-8; 1 Th 5.23-24). The two themes are compatible: restrictive statements refer to internal grace aimed immediately at eternal eschatological salvation; universal statements, to his will that all be saved (1 Tim 2.4), and the fact that one can be saved without the external favor (Rom 2.14 16). Not only the external favor, but even justification, the first step to eschatological salvation, is gratuitous (Rom 11 6; 4.4), not depending on works of the Law (Rom 3.20, 28) Yet reception of justification depends on faith (Rom 1.17; 3 28), which is not only intellectual assent but also confidence, obedience of will adhering to God (Rom 10.16), and active love (Gal 5.6). This condition is in our power: Paul urges that the grace be not received in vain (2 Cor 6.1). Although we cannot earn justification, it is Offered to all; since God wills all saved and bound himself in covenant to offer all graces to each man (Rom 8.32; Gal 2.20). Though we cannot even accept grace by our own power (Phil 2.13), we can reject or not reject. Gratuity does not preclude merit. "Merit" does not occur in Scripture, but its basis does (2 Tim 4.8; 2 Cor 5.10). But we earn only on a secondary level, in that the Father has bound himself by covenant and promises to reward. Yet, the basic reason he gives is still because he is our Father. We can reject grace even in a basic sense (cf. Rom 6.23).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Bonsirven, Theology of the New Testament (tr. S. F. Tye, 1963) 34-127; 130-139; 251; 270-351.


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