Session 8

Understanding grace

How are we to understand the word 'grace'? The answer is a little more complex than the common understanding.

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Session 8 ... transcript

Understanding grace

A word can have more than one meaning. For example: We speak of a "hard" rock, and a "hard" exam. One means solid, and the other means difficult. A solid rock, and a difficult exam.

One word ... but it has two different meanings. How do we know which meaning to apply? The context.

Now, imagine a person who doesn't have English as their main language and who only learns the meaning "difficult" for the word "hard". They never learn that "hard" could mean solid.

Then suppose they visit another country and are shown a national monument and are told that the monument is made out of granite, because granite is a hard rock. Instead of thinking that the monument carries the symbolism of something solid and enduring, they form a strange idea that it symbolises something difficult to understand. Their one-eyed understanding of the word "hard" sets their thinking in a strange direction.

There are several Bible words where it is vital to understand the meaning through a correct interpretation of the context. One of these words is "grace".

Most Christians believe that in the Bible grace means the unmerited, undeserved favour of God. They are taught that the letters G.R.A.C.E. stand for "God's Riches At Christ's Expense".

We have received mercy and favour from God, completely free ... all because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. That's a wonderful truth, and a correct understanding of the word "grace".

However, there is another meaning for grace. And most Christians are unaware of that meaning. They shouldn't be unaware, but they are. And they are unaware because the meaning of the word "grace" has been so emphasised as being the unmerited, undeserved favour of God, that they don't even consider that there might be another possible meaning.

Grace can also mean the empowering of God.

How do we know which meaning to apply? The context.

Here is an example: Hebrews 4:16 says: "Let us draw near ... to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

The word grace is used twice. It's the same root word in the original Greek text.

The first time it is used in the verse it obviously means the place where God dispenses "undeserved favour".

The second time it is used in the verse, it's apparent from the context that it means we shall receive the "empowering" of God.

Do you know that in most places where the word grace appears in the New Testament, it means the empowering of God. But the "undeserved favour" meaning has been so emphasised in Christian preaching that you would hardly realise this.

It's good that preachers want to bring glory to God by emphasising His kindness, but it shouldn't take us to a place where we start to think that we have no role or responsbility in the life of faith. That's not faith. That's fatalism.

While we are on the topic of context, here is a key to understanding Scripture. There are many passages in the Bible that on first reading may seem a little harsh. We might wonder why the Bible tells us about certain actions or directions given by God.

Decide today that if you are not sure if God is being fair, that you will always judge that God is right and fair. Because the overall context of the Bible is that:

  • God is good
  • God is faithful
  • God is just, and
  • God is love

God does not just show love; God is love. Everything He does is because of His love, and with redemptive purposes in mind.

You can trust Him. He cares for you. He loves you.

And it's not just the words of Scripture that affirm this truth. God demonstrated His love at the cross.

While we were lost in sin, completely unworthy, enemies of God, Christ died for us. If you ever have cause to question or to doubt, look to the cross.

Jesus' arms outstretched are God's arms opened wide to receive you. Because He loves you.

Now, the appropriate response is to love Him and trust Him. Be sold out for Jesus. And He will empower you in your life of faith.

These are the simple truths of the Gospel, as laid out for us in the words of the Bible. So … what should we do? How should we respond? How should these truths affect our lives? Go now to the next session: “How then shall we live?”