Grace, Its Twofold Aspect

In the first instance, grace is that principle, in contrast to demand as exemplified by the law, on which God has acted, and continues to act, towards mankind. Many passages in the New Testament illustrate this, for instance, Ephesians 2. 8, ‘by grace are ye saved’. Grace in this sense was not unknown in the Old Testament, although direct references to the word are few. An important example is indicated by Galatians 3. 18, where the AV does not convey the full thought, in saying of the inheritance, ‘God gave it to Abraham by promise’. The word ‘gave’ has a root connection with the word charis, translated ‘grace’, and is rendered in 1 Corinthians 2. 12 as ‘freely given’. The NIV translation of Galatians 3. 18 reads, ‘but God In his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise’; so also JND, But God gave it in grace to Abraham by promise’.

However, Titus 2. 11 states that ‘the grace of God… appeared to all men’. This refers to the incoming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel of which He is the Subject, and indicates the distinctive character of the present dispensation, in which, according to Romans 5. 21, ‘grace reigns’, i.e. it is the dominant principle of the kingdom of God, established in Christ at the right hand of God and in the Holy Spirit come down from Him. 2 Tim. 1. 9-10 also connects grace with the ‘appearing’ of our Saviour Jesus Christ, in the sense of His incarnation as Man, involving His life, death and resurrection. One of the best-known references to grace in this primary sense, as connected with our Lord Jesus Christ, is 2 Cor. 8. 9: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…’

In this sense, grace is a feature which Christians can and should display in their own dealings with other believers and men generally, and thus reflect in some small degree the character of God Himself; as, for example, in Colossians 4. 6, ‘Let your speech be alway with grace…’, and Ephesians 4. 32, ‘Be ye kind one to another … even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’.

Grace is, however, presented in another sense, as referring to something positive that we receive from God and the Lord Jesus Christ, involving the action of the Holy Spirit as indwelling the believer. John says of Christ, ‘of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace’ (better translated, as in RSV and JND, ‘grace upon grace’), John 1. 16; and Romans 5. 17 speaks of our receiving ‘the abundance of grace’ in view of reigning in life. The Lord said to Paul, who had besought the removal of his ‘thorn in the flesh’, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’, 2 Cor. 12. 9. These references clearly all point to an effect in the believer, not simply an apprehension of God’s disposition towards us. It really involves power in the soul. For this, we are utterly dependent on divine Persons. In contrast to grace as a principle of action, we cannot assist anyone else with the supply of grace in the second sense. In the New Testament it is always ‘the grace of God’ or ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’, He being the One in whom it resides as an illimitable resource, communicated as needed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; as in Hebrews 4. 16, ‘grace to help in time of need’.


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