By Rev John McSweeney
Understanding ‘Grace’ in the New Testament demands of us a brief examination of the concept in the Old Testament. This is because the Hebrew words that are at the basis of our word ‘Grace’ were mainly translated by gratia (Latin) and charis (Greek), and they encompassed a variety of meanings and ideas.
Hebrew words and concepts
What were these meanings and ideas?
Inexhaustible justice (sedeq)
Of these, hesed is the most important, expressing God’s loving-kindness to His faithful ones.
Manifestation of God’s Grace
God’s generosity (His Grace) is offered to all, with the Election of Israel an example of God’s gratuitous Grace, for Israel did not merit election as God’s People. Rather, Israel was freely chosen by God to be the People of God.
In time the Land became the symbol of God’s Grace.
Now, this gratuitous choice and the gift of the Land are not without a purpose: the Covenant relationship with all its attendant requirements is demanded of the People.
The Grace of God looks for partners, and exchange, a communion.
The effect on God’s elect
The effect on humanity that comes from God’s Grace is BLESSING. This leads to many benefits for the People of Israel, especially a personal encounter between God and His creatures – something that results in a call to holiness (which is consistently mentioned in the Prophetic texts).
Grace in the New Testament
Jesus: revelation of God’s Grace
The Coming of Christ, God’s Son, for the salvation of the world, shows just how far God’s divine generosity and loving-kindness can go!
The source of this unheard of action is the mingling of tenderness, fidelity, and mercy by which God defined Himself, and to which the New Testament will give the specific name of Grace (charis) or ‘undeserved gift’.
(We note that the actual word charis is not in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk, Mt, Lk), although the concept is there. It is John’s Gospel and Letters and Paul’s writings which clarify the Christian concept of Grace.)
In the person of Christ, “Grace and truth have come to us” (John 1:17), we have seen them (John 1:14), and suddenly we have known that “God is love” (1 John 4:8); thus, on seeing Jesus Christ we know that God’s action is Grace, a gift for us all (Titus 2:11; cf. 3:4).
The gratuity of Grace
For Paul, the initial gratuity of election (Rom 11:5) marks the whole of Christian existence. That is, salvation is a gift of God and not the reward due to work done; otherwise, as he says, “Grace would not be grace at all” (Rom 11:6).
Indeed, Paul emphasises the gratuity of Grace by saying that it was while we were sinners (not even good people, who may have done good deeds) that God chose us and reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son on the Cross (cf. Rom 5:6-10).
The fruitfulness of Grace
Furthermore, Grace is not fruitless – it produces fruit. And the fruit of Grace is good works/deeds, which complete God’s Grace (cf. 1 Thes 1:3; 2 Thes 1:11).
What this means is that we must collaborate with God: we are always on the alert “to obey Grace” (2 Cor 1:12) and to respond to it (cf. Rom 15:15; Phil 2:12). Good deeds do not earn God’s Grace; nevertheless, they are the correct response of the faithful person to this gracious gift of the Lord!
So, for both John and Paul the Grace of Christ is the gift of life in the Spirit (cf. John 5:26; 6:33; 17:2 and Rom 5:21; 6:14). Indeed, the Spirit is the Gift (Grace) of God par excellence; and He it is who gives us life in the fullest sense of the word.
And so we see that the biblical understanding of the word “Grace” has a vast background, encompassing many ideas. We need to take each of these and reflect on them in this Year of Grace, so that the Holy Spirit may mould us into the image of Jesus Christ, and thereby enable us to be vessels of God’s Grace to the world!
National Prayer: A Year of Grace
You have blessed this ancient land
with many gifts, especially its people.
We thank you for the Year of Grace,
a time to start afresh from Christ.
You invite us to contemplate the face of Jesus your Son,
that we may experience a new wave of grace,
and that the light of Christ may burn more brightly in our lives.
Attune our hearts and minds
to the presence of your Holy Spirit,
that our Church may be transformed,
our relationships be healed,
and our nation grow in compassion and justice.
With the intercession of St Mary MacKillop,
who showed us new ways of living the Gospel,
we make our prayer
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us