Tuesday, February 7, 2012

113. The Nature Of Grace

113.0 - A Return To True North: Obviously, Grace is a very important concept regarding God's redemptive agenda. In recent times, grace has come to be popularly understood to simply mean "unmerited favor."  This is actually more the definition of Mercy, than it is grace. In truth, mercy is certainly a product of grace.  But, the two terms are not interchangeable.  Grace is a much more elemental term than mercy, as mercy stems from grace, and not the other way around. 

So, let's just look at the recognized definition of the word "Grace." Webster's Dictionary defines Grace as, "Seemingly effortless beauty, ease and charm of movement, proportion, or form; a charming quality or characteristic." Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary defines it as, "Any excellence, characteristic, quality, or endowment."

The Greek word which is translated as grace every time, save one, in the New Testament is "Charis."   Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament , a widely and highly regarded work, gives this definition for that word, "That which affords joy, pleasure, delight." Strong's Dictionary of the Greek New Testament - also a very highly regarded work gives this meaning: "Graciousness (as gratifying) of manner or act."

113.1- The Simple Meaning of Grace:  The correct idea of grace is simple, then - just as these reputable lexicons render it.  
These and other dictionaries define grace, in short, as simply a kind of "innate goodness" (innate meaning, from the beginning, or occurring originally or naturally.) 

So, the idea being conveyed in these books speaks simply of a naturally occurring or characteristic goodness.  Thus, these dictionaries give us a much broader definition of grace than is involved in the popular idea of simply "unmerited favor." 

And, that is the way grace should be understood in the New Testament. It is the naturally occurring or characteristic goodness within God's nature. God is "graceful," or naturally good.

113.2 - The Common Language: We should point out that the Bible does not have its own special meanings for the words which it contains. In fact, just the reverse is sought after by translators of the Bible. The translator seeks to have a broad and accurate knowledge of the common usage in both the from and to language being translated. 

This is necessary so that words can be employed accurately with regard to their commonly held meanings. In any reputable translation of the Bible, every effort goes toward this accurate rendering into the commonly held usage.

So, redemptive accuracy is far better served when one understands grace as the general references render it.  It is simply a naturally occurring goodness.  

In the New Testament, then, the word grace usually speaks to us of that naturally occurring goodness, and, in some cases, the products of it, as occurring in the nature of God, and by extension, also in that of man.

113.3 - The Authentic Role Of Grace: When we correctly understand the true nature of grace,  the stage is then set to understand the wonderful role which grace plays in the transformation of the believer. And, that extremely valuable and absolutely essential insight  is entirely lost through the "unmerited favor" definition.

113.4 - How Grace Comes - What Grace Does: So, here is how Grace, when correctly understood, can be seen to profoundly change, in very real terms, and  for the very much better, the believer's here-and-now, daily life. It works as follows. 

As we are merged with the Living Christ, after our conversion, then grace, like faith, is another one of the character qualities of Christ's nature which is transferred to the believer. In other words, that naturally occurring goodness, the same innate goodness which guided the design of God's redemptive plan, and the same goodness which exists in the character essence of Christ is then also embedded in the character of the believer through the Spiritual merger. 

 And our access to this naturally occurring goods brings a spectacular change to the way God's people are governed and guided in their here-and-now, day to day life. Paul confirms this transition to a new and beautifully effective means of personal government by his statement in Romans, chapter 6.  

He says there, "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." With this statement, Paul affirms that in these New Testament times we have transitioned from the external government of the law to the internal government of grace. 

In the Living Christ, we are now guided by a naturally occurring and compelling goodness; more precisely, the goodness of Christ, expressing itself within the believer. And, this profound change  brings a wonderful new simplicity to the believer life. 

Now, he or she simply responds to those natural inner urging's of goodness as the means of ordering and directing his own faithful steps. In this way, grace becomes an effective internal replacement for the awkward and ineffective external law.

113.5 - A Vastly Superior Way: Obviously, this is a far superior method of governing our daily lives. It is one that fits naturally where the external law did not. And, it is entirely the gift of the Living Christ living within the believer's character essence.

How very logical it is when you think about it. God has found a way to bring effective personal government to the human heart. It is the easy government of His own naturally occurring goodness. It is the much more intuitive government of instinctive goodness, which flows from the nature of the indwelling Spirit Christ.

What could be more normal? As the good impulses of Christ course through the believer's heart, he now serves God, in authentic goodness, with the same natural affinity with which he once served sin. 

So, where, previously, the dark urges of the rebellious motive of self-determination designed our daily decisions and our life-course - now our actions and direction are determined by the naturally good impulses of "the inner law" - the law of Christ's grace within. 

And, to be sure, this gracious new form of heart-government does not make us a law unto ourselves.  Rather, it wonderfully attunes us to God's highest law - His own heart.

113.6  So, That's What God Meant:  Oh, so that's what God meant when He said this in both the Old and New Testament.  "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes; and, you will keep My judgments and do them." 
So, it is grace, not mercy, which really produces the insights, wisdom, and more effective and comfortable heart-government that truly elevates us, and correctly directs our daily steps, and designs the good solutions which life often requires.

Thus, faced with a choice between the non-heart-impacting idea of mercy, and the idea of a life-altering access to God's naturally occurring goodness -  we should always choose the authentic idea of grace. Indeed, that accurate understanding of grace is the "golden goose" which yields the precious, every day treasure of natural goodness to the believer.