Editorial: Grace upon Grace

A vital power in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is graceGrace means both a knowledge of all God’s love, forgiveness and caring for us that is ours in the Lord Jesus and the power that the knowledge and experience of grace gives to our living for him.

The Greek word for grace is charis, meaning simply the favour of God, granted freely and undeservedly to those who believe in His son.  Charis is also translated as gracious and graciously to describe the words and actions of God and Jesus.  In the synagogue at Nazareth, as Jesus spoke of his fulfilment of the words of Isaiah 61 about God’s anointed one preaching good tidings to the poor, healing the broken-hearted, freeing captives, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour, his hearers marvelled at the “gracious” words which he spoke (Luke 4). (until he spoke about God’s favour to the Gentiles)

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, chen, is translated as favour and chenan is a verb meaning to be gracious.  Thus, Noah “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen. 6:8).

In Job 33, looking forward to the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ, Elihu tells Job how God works with a person and how a mediator who shows him God’s uprightness will cause God to be gracious to him. So he will see God with joy, for God has rendered to him His righteousness and redeemed his life from the grave so that he might see the light.

John writes of Jesus in John 1:14-18 that he was “full of grace and truth”.  Jesus makes the grace and truth of God, which filled his being, known to us in his life.  We see his grace in his care for the lost sheep of his people, in his gracious words of spirit and life, and in his healing that expressed so powerfully his Father’s purpose to make us clean and straight and strong and free from sin to serve Him. 

We see Jesus’ truth in his uncompromising words to the religious teachers of Israel - pointing out their hypocrisy, their putting human traditions above God’s law and their wrong teaching.  To other sinners, who confessed their sins and sought his help, he showed a remarkable spirit of grace and forgiveness that was intended to inspire them to sin no more.  Yet, he could also be blunt in reproving his disciples, as he was with Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan.  You are an offence to me.” (Mat 16:22-26)

John continues, saying, “And of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”- an overflowing, pouring out of his grace and love as we see expressed many times in the inspired words of the Apostle Paul.  This grace is not a technical absolution of sins imparted by a duly ordained priest, nor is it a mere emotional feeling stirred up by music and exciting preaching.  Grace is experienced in our appreciation of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ and of his hard won triumph over sin for our sakes that we might be forgiven because of our faith in him.  By that faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, the absolute rule of sin over us is broken and we begin to experience the joy and peace of a new relationship with our heavenly Father and His Son.

 “Therefore, having been justified (counted righteous) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the glory of God. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”  (Romans 5:1-10)  So, grace describes our new relationship with God through our Lord Jesus that opens our life to the power of the Lord Jesus’ life, love and intercession for us  (Romans 8:33-39). 

In the preaching of the gospel recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, grace plays a very important part.  We read in Acts 4:32-33 of the unity of those who believed in the face of threats and trial, of their sharing with each other all that they possessed, and the bold witness of the apostles to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  “And great grace was upon them all.”  Here, the word grace includes not only their faith in the Lord of grace and truth, but the joy and confidence inspired in them by his grace toward them.

Acts 11:19-23 tells how some of those scattered abroad by the persecution, led by Saul of Tarsus, came to Antioch in Syria where they preached the Lord Jesus to Gentiles.  “And the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” Hearing of this, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch.  “When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.”  Evidently, the grace of God was not only the essence of the gospel they had believed; it was apparent in the lives of these Gentiles who were now committed to the Lord Jesus.

Acts 14:1-3 describes Paul and Barnabas in Iconium preaching boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and his bearing witness “to the word of his grace” by enabling the apostles to do miracles to confirm that very wonderful word.

Paul himself uses that phrase twice in his farewell words to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20) as he journeyed to Jerusalem expecting imprisonment.  Paul reminds them of the example that he had given them in the two-plus years he had lived among them and of the content of his preaching, warning them that chains and tribulations lay ahead of him in Jerusalem as part of his ministry from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  He warns them about the savage wolves, men speaking perverse things, that would come among them after his departure and urged them to “watch”.  Then, in v 32, he says, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

This “word of His grace”, God’s grace, expressed in the life of the Lord Jesus and coming to us through our faith in him and through our truly being in him, is a word with power.  It has the power to build us up spiritually and give us an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  For that is the purpose of this “word of His grace”, the sanctification or consecration of a new creation of people who live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sakes died and was raised (Galatians 2:20.3:13:).

The Apostle Paul tells Titus to teach older men, older women, young women, young men and servants the noble qualities of mind and behavior which must be learned and practised by disciples of the Lord.  He exhorts Titus to show himself in all things a pattern of good works�in teaching showing integrity, dignity and sound speech.  “For”, Paul writes, “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, looking for the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”  (Titus 2:11-14). The grace of God, made known to us so abundantly in His son, is intended by God to profoundly change our minds, our speech and our behaviors.  Grace is shown us to train our minds so that we might live godly lives that are focused on the coming of our Lord.

In the 13 New Testament letters that bear his name, the Apostle Paul always says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ”.  As the apostle of the Lord Jesus, inspired in his writing, Paul communicates grace and peace to his readers.  His mission, as we noted in Acts 20, was to testify to the grace of God.  These are not merely routine words of salutation.  The apostle uses them because the grace and peace of God and of His son are such important elements in disciples being spiritually empowered to live lives that are truly in fellowship with God’s Son (I Cor. 1:9).

We are often critical of those who claim a personal relationship with our Lord, on the basis of a very superficial understanding of the call of Jesus Christ and an induced emotional experience.  Yet, the greater depth of understanding of the meaning of his life and sacrifice and of his relationship to God that we have been privileged to receive must surely draw us to him with a fuller personal commitment.  Our relationship with our Lord must be very personal, and, being so, will be blessed and empowered with grace and peace.

So, dear brothers and sisters, let our thoughts, our words, and our deeds be always  expressive of the overflowing grace that we have all received “of his fullness.”  Blessed  with his grace and truth, let us, by the open statement of the truth, commend ourselves to every one’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor. 4:1-5), “correcting our opponents with gentleness”  (2 Tim. 2:24-26).    

Br. Bob Green

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