I'm finding the word “grace” an interesting one at the moment. In conversations with other Christians, in sermons, books, articles and blogs, this word frequently makes an appearance.
Think about this…
We’re saved by grace (Eph 2:8), amazed by grace, moved by grace, participate in the means of grace, and before we eat we “say” grace. Then if move into the realm of sacramental theology grace can be treated as a “thing” administered with the bread, wine or water (or other sacramental actions); the “inward, invisible grace” that is represented by these “outward and visible signs”. We go even further when we narrow grace down into sub-categories. There’s prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace and glorifying grace. Why do we do that? As one of my supervisors succinctly remarked – “grace is grace”.
Sometimes I wonder whether this word has been reduced to another piece of Christian jargon. Worse still is it just brought up to say to the world “See, I’m not Pelagian – It’s about grace”?
I do have a concern that this very important term is being used in a way that leads to it being detached from the one who is himself gracious. James B. Torrance has summarised this problem well. He is speaking on a different topic but the principal remains the same.
We become more interested in the blessings of the Gospel which accrue to us from the work of Christ than in Christ himself, so that we can subtly separate the blessings of Christ from Christ, and the work of Christ from his Person.
If we relate this to “grace”, there is a very real danger that we become more interested in “grace” as a kind of “thing” in itself than in the “gracious one” – Jesus Christ.
This is evidenced, for example, in the way that we pray. Do we pray for “more of God’s grace”, or do we pray for “more of God, who is gracious”? To think of this differently, is it meaningful to say to my wife “here have my love” but not actually give her my very self? No, it’s not. My love for my wife cannot be detached from the relationship that exists between us and the very people involved in that relationship. The same is true with “grace”. We cannot conceive of grace apart from the God who is gracious. He is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God” (Exodus 34:6). Once again, James Torrance says it better than I ever could.
Grace is not a ‘thing’, an impersonal ‘cause’. The Church has too often spoken about imparted grace, efficacious grace, created grace, invisible grace, infused grace in ways which can blur its personal nature. Grace is God freely and personally giving himself to us in covenant love in Jesus Christ to draw us by his Holy Spirit to bind us to himself in loving fellowship.
When we speak of grace, pray for grace, participate in the means of grace, it is important that we keep in mind that the word “grace” is really shorthand for the “God who is gracious”. In all that we do it is God who is freely giving himself to us out of his eternal, loving nature.
That’s what we mean by "grace".
And it is truly amazing.
James B. Torrance, "Christ in Our Place," in A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1999, 35-51), 41.
James B. Torrance, "Prayer and the Priesthood of Christ," in A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1999, 55-67), 63.