I take words to be important and the definition of words essential to communicating with each other. Thankfully God made this possible for us to understand His Word by putting it into two recognized and established languages without ambiguity when it comes to meaning; Hebrew and Greek.
One word that gets kicked around a lot these days is the word, GRACE.
From both languages the primary meaning is clear as the favor of God, His leaning toward us even though we do not deserve it because He loves us.
Grace has the same meaning in both Hebrew and Greek as “extension toward”.
It is safe to say that this is the true biblical meaning of the word. God freely extending Himself, His favor, grace reaching (inclining) to people because He is disposed to bless and be near them. This has been the definition of grace in Hebrew and Greek for over five thousand years.
In the Hebrew language letters are symbols and create “word pictures”. The Hebrew word translated as grace is חן (hhen, Strong’s #2580) and is a two-letter parent root. The root words for grace create a picture of an encampment surrounding an open space that has the idea of a safe and beautiful place surrounded and protected by the tents on the outer edges of the beautiful place of rest and security.
This is demonstrated in numerous passages where the word is used such as:
“Be gracious to me, Lord , for I am weak; heal me, Lord , for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror. And You, Lord — how long? Turn, Lord ! Rescue me; save me because of Your faithful love.” Psalms 6:2-3
“Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me, for I take refuge in You. I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings until danger passes. I call to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me. He reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me. Selah – God sends His faithful love and truth.” Psalms 57:1-3
In Greek /xáris (“grace”) answers directly to the Hebrew (OT) term 2580 /Kaná (or “hhen”) (“grace, extension-toward“). Both refer to God freely extending Himself (His favor, grace), reaching (inclining) to people because He is disposed to bless (be near) them. (1)
“GRACE IS GOD’S UNEARNED, UNDESERVED, UNMERITED FAVOR” (2.)
Undeserving as we are, He freely sent Jesus to bridge the gap between Himself and us.
2 Corinthians 5:18,19 “Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8.9
If we do anything to deserve it then it is no longer grace but law.
“Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.” Romans 11:6
THE “NEW” DEFINITION OF GRACE
In recent years there has been an attempt to “redefine” grace as “empowerment to do good”. This seems to have possibly originated or at least was made popular by Pastor James Ryle who defines it as, “Grace is the empowering Presence of God enabling you to be who He created you to be, and to do what He has called you to do.”
As good as that may sound it has never been defined this way in Hebrew or Greek in the Bible. The only place where we are told that we are “empowered” is by the indwelling Holy Spirit who resides in all true believers in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit provides “grace gifts” to empower believers which is where the term “charisma” comes from. xárisma (from “grace,” 5485 /xáris) – properly, the operation of grace (divine favor), i.e. a grace-endowment to edify the Church (note the -ma suffix, focusing on the end-result of the endowment of grace). (1.)
xárisma (“grace-gift”) divinely empowers a believer to share God’s work with others, i.e. Spirit-empowered service to the Church to carry out His plan for His people. (1.)
xárisma (but not limited to) “spiritual gifts.” xarismata (the plural form) literally means “grace-endowments.”] (1)
The “grace gifts” are the spiritual gifts given to the church for building up the body of Christ and which are operated in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are called “grace gifts” because they come by the grace of God; His unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor extended freely to all who by this grace become believers in Jesus Christ and His giving of Himself freely in our place on the cross.
These gifts are ours by endowment by the Holy Spirit as our inheritance as believers in Jesus Christ. There is no qualification for receiving or operating in these gifts except faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross, in our place, on our behalf as God extended His gracious favor to undeserving sinners. Once we are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit we can freely move and operate in these gifts under the anointing and direction of the Holy Spirit.
This new definition of grace as “ the empowering Presence of God” makes it appear as something that comes and goes by some unknown means and we have to be at the right place at the right time to get in on it.
This in my opinion, is an attempt to diminish the true meaning of the grace of God; His favor shown to us through Jesus Christ which is the basis of our salvation and our growth in it as an experiential reality. Not some outside force or empowerment but the power from the indwelling Holy Spirit living within every believer as their blood bought birth right and inheritance.
Empowerment is neither found in Hebrew nor Greek as a definition of grace and has not been as stated previously for over five thousand years, however it has become a “new” definition for folks that are more comfortable with the idea that God empowers us so that we will do what He wants us to do; like keep His laws.
Folks that hold to the definition of grace as “empowerment” also seem to continue to remind their followers to fear God in order to keep them in line. Here then is the predicament:
Which is it? Is it supernatural empowerment that keeps us in line with God and if so how do we get it or is it the fear of God that keeps us in line? What do we do to deserve this special “empowerment”? Is it a free gift or do we earn it by our own efforts of obedience?
The Jews believed that if they attempted to keep the law then God would be obligated to “empower” them to do so by their prayers and acts of obedience.
What is different about this view and trying to keep the law of God by our own efforts just as the Jews attempted to do for fifteen hundred years with no success.
The other reason folks are uncomfortable with the true meaning of grace is out of fear that if we tell people the truth, that they are completely forgiven of all their sins; past, present and future; which by the way, they all were in the future when Jesus died on the cross, then this will give them a “license” to sin.
“In my observation, people don’t need a “license” to sin, they do quite well without one.” (3.)
However, when people grasp the concept of grace as God’s unmerited favor given to all who by faith receive the free gift of salvation paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, and they realize the depth of the love of God who willingly gave up His only begotten Righteous Son for those of us who did not deserve anything but His wrath; just as Jesus said to the Pharisee, “to those that realize how much they are forgiven, they are the ones who love much.” (Luke 7:47)
In other words our “obedience” and service to the Lord Jesus flows from our deep appreciation for His undeserved, unearned, unmerited favor (Grace) that he demonstrated by laying down His life willing to die in our place, (because He loved us and certainly not because we deserved it) as the sacrificial Perfect Lamb of God to free us from the power of sin and death.
This is the ultimate picture of pure grace; undeserved, unmerited, unearned favor from God extended to undeserving rebellious mankind all because He so loved us that His greatest desire was to bring us back to Himself; even being willing to send His Only Son to die in our place so we could be reconciled to Him.
The problem with the definition of grace as an outward empowerment is that it puts “us” as the focus of needing to receive God’s outward empowerment to do what He wants rather than receiving His power through surrender to and dependence on His Holy Spirit who lives inside us to guide us into all truth and to conform us to the image of Christ from the inside out; in short the Life of Jesus manifested in our bodies and souls by His Spirit.