The Grace of God: Uniting God and Man
The grace of God is the chief attribute of God’s nature, by which Man may be united in fellowship with Him. As such, the chief attribute is not in relation to rank or hierarchy, rather it is such in relation to the character of God. The whole of mankind has been afforded the opportunity to enter into relationship with God as a result of his grace, a work that is in God’s ability alone to afford. This opportunity is presented to man as God’s to his creation as a way of return from a broken relationship.
There is nothing in man that can merit this gift, he is fallen and separated from God as a result of Adam’s sin in the garden. The nature of mankind has become marred and is bent on sin and pleasures of this world, opposed to God and the things of God as Paul’s letter to the Romans expounds on this subject. The working of grace belongs to God alone, for he is the one with the authority and ability to save an individual in this lost condition. The Old Testament speaks of this grace just as loud and clear as the New Testament. Not only do both testaments present God as gracious, but they also make clear that God is offering to bring us back into fellowship with Him by his gracious offer and that He alone is able to do this. Grace is the universal opportunity by which mankind can be united with God.
Understanding God’s moral attributes thoroughly is not necessarily a pre-requisite to understudying grace. A person may find favor in the sight of God by receiving God’s favor and kindness available to them. There is a definite need to understand that this is the love of God and as such is the driving force behind grace. Grace is an attribute of God’s love by which God deals with man not on the basis of their merit or worthiness, what they deserve, but simply according to their need; in other words, he deals with them on the basis of his goodness and generosity (Erickson, 320).
The Love of God is the attribute from which God’s grace flows, for Scripture declares that “God is love” in 1 John 4:8. There are multiple attributes to the moral nature of God. Among them are moral purity, integrity, and love. Erickson lists the moral qualities of God and, in reference to the attribute of love, qualifies grace as one of the dimensions of his love (Erickson, 18). God is love and, in order to truly understand his grace, one must first begin with the attribute of love. The most quoted and most clearly stated reference to God’s love can be found in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Based on the condition of man’s separation from God, due to the sin of Adam, there is no fellowship with God (Genesis 3:3). The consequence of the fall is death and was pronounced upon Adam, passing to his descendants, who also suffer from the curses affects on all of creation. Through the man Adam, sin and death entered the world (Romans 5:12), and, contrary to God’s desire for fellowship, the holiness of God and the justice of God have kept them apart. Without action on God’s part, this disconnection would keep man out of God’s presence and cause him to remain under the penalty of death perpetually.
There is no necessity for God to act to bestow endless existence upon man; for from creation, immortality in the sense of endless existence is an inalienable endowment of mankind (Shank, 21). There is nothing in man to merit the endowment of life eternal upon him. God’s reason for doing so must be linked, then, to his moral attributes and to his desire to repair a broken relationship. This is true for both the creation of man and thus his redemption into unity with God. Man, having failed God and in his disobedience, has reaped the consequences of sin and death; he is unable to turn the situation back to the original fellowship, as it was in the garden, and his own righteousness is desperately short of meeting God’s standards. Romans 3:23 declares that “all fall short of the glory of God.” Godless, and without a connection to the Creator of life himself, man is in a state which is incomplete and void of wholeness. As such humanity is then in a state remaining under the penalty of death from the garden where the original union with God was broken. Moreover, he has the future physical death and an eternal consequence of being separated from God.
Grace reaches down and acts on behalf of man even though there is nothing in him to merit this. Such an act from God is based on his moral goodness, his love for his creation and acts for man whose position is directly related to his incapacity to redeem himself. Every effort to relate or commune with God apart from his grace is fruitless and vain. Life is short, equated with a breath or as a vapor, and it presents itself with unpredictable twists and turns that often leave people unfulfilled and seeking more. Purpose, fulfillment, and everlasting life is the desire of every human being. “More life, and fuller is the desire of every heart. And it is such a life — abundant and eternal — that God in grace designs to bestow upon men” (Smith, 56, 57). A lack of love, lack of life, and lack of fulfillment plague the human race. Every effort of man to reach God via religion echoes such a thought. Man seeks to justify himself on account of good deeds, but will find every attempt an utter failure. “The idea of self-justification is deeply ingrained in humanity,” and only the grace of God remedies the dilemma that man cannot navigate himself (Shank, 5).
Biblical Overview of Grace
As mentioned before in brevity, God disclosed his love and grace to all creation prior to the coming of Jesus Christ. Many have made the error of suggesting that the God in the Old Testament was primarily wrathful, while giving over to a tenderer, gracious side in the New Testament. Grace, however, is apparent throughout the whole of Scripture. The Hebrew word for grace is hanan, which is a kindness expressed in a gift (Duffy, 18). When a person gives a gift to another, that offer is a kindness, expressed within the gift itself. The gift can be understood as being gracious or having mercy on someone who does not deserve such and is not seeking such kindness.
The Hebrew understood God to be gracious, although he was most certainly not to be tempted, or disobeyed. Israel’s constant rebellion and unbelief attests to the character of God in balance. God was very gracious to his people, as Jacob was given children while Esau spared him, even offering to accompany Jacob in Genesis 33. The Torah is “gift and grace” according to Psalm 119:29. Yahweh was a gracious Lord to the Hebrew, as this was his nature. Based on the nature of God, his actions match his character and person. “There is for the Hebrew no dualism between an interior disposition of benevolence and the outward gifts of grace. It presupposes a lack in the one to whom grace is shown” (Duffy, 18). God’s heart of love caused him to act graciously upon the people because it is his very essence and nature to do so.
Moses found favor with the Lord as God passed before him on the mountain and revealed his nature, saying, “The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Hals, 16). By the very words of God, his loving nature is revealed. There are a number of distinct differences in each word, so upon further review, one might ask what these differences are. Between “merciful” and “gracious,” “the whole list boils down to: mercy, mercy, mercy! An accurate theological summary of these synonymous attributes of Exodus 34:6 would be the word ‘grace’” (Hals, 16). God’s grace sought to unite man with God even in the Old Testament, for it gave a glimpse of what was to come.
The gracious act of one man accomplished what was impossible to all and resulted in justification, salvation, and the reconciliation of man to God. This was not a simple task as it required the greatest act of grace ever known to man. The New Testament word charis signifies goodwill, actual graciousness of character, and compliance, amiability, and favor. “Thus the word is used for divine favor” (Torrance, 2). Eternal life came through Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit overshadowed his conception and he lived a sinless and pure life. His death was as an innocent lamb, whose blood was shed for the life of the people. “The cross stands at the heart of divine grace. The gospel of the grace of God is the gospel of a crucified and risen Savior” (Turner, 18). His resurrection was triumphant and his ascension to the right hand of the Father, powerful. He made the way for lost mankind to be brought back into unity with God in fellowship. “Christ himself is the objective ground and content of ‘charis’ in every instance of its special Christian use” (Torrence, 21). The grace of God is found in Jesus Christ in that he never ‘had to’ come to this earth to die for sinners, yet he laid his life down. The use of the word “grace” is epitomized in the work of the cross. The work of grace can only ever be credited to God.
It is free favor, and infinite mercy, which ring in the dawn of salvation. The Lord Jesus did not come into the world to look after goodness and righteousness with him, but to bestow them upon persons who have none of them. He comes, not because we are just, but to make us so; he justifies the ungodly (Spurgeon, 122).
By justifying the ungodly, he provides them with the authority to enter into fellowship with God, for offense of sin is forgiven, and the union may begin.
By Grace Alone
Clearly, the grace of God is to be found throughout the Bible. But is this grace the only means to enter into union with God? Why grace? Ephesians 2:8 gives some insight into this question, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Salvation or what has already been described as union with God comes through the ‘charis’ of God and not through any means of man. The greatest gift ever given was the gift of Gods only begotten son, the person through which God’s divine favor would become available. The sinless and morally perfect Christ became sin and was the sacrifice provided for the sin of the world as the “lamb of God” which follows the format of the Old Covenant. When the good works of man could not save humanity, the salvation by grace, “not works, so that no one can boast,” appeared in Christ (Ephesians 2:9). The church Fathers never taught salvation by works or deeds and even the children of Israel received grace from God. “Even the best actions of man are tarnished by pride, for he believes that he can himself, without God, accomplish good” (Whitley, 117). Man is never in the place where he has within himself what it takes to be united with God.
Subject to position, there is no way for union between God and man to take place without God’s grace. Man has his part in this union with God subsequent to the work already accomplished on his behalf, because man must make the choice to believe or not to believe. The concept of “will” and “volition” on the part of man is an inescapable truth in receiving God’s kindness. Scripture speaks for itself, declaring that, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). No biblical figure has walked with God — doing so apart from faith. Pleasing God is based on faith. Approaching God is also based on faith. “Grace is the powerful engine, and faith is the chain by which the carriage of the soul is attached to the great motive power” (Spurgeon, 44). Grace alone brings God and man in union, but it is through faith that a connection to grace occurs in man.
Grace is also not a “cheap” thing. Mere faith in the grace of God does not suffice. “It is not enough to simply believe in Jesus and accept the offer of grace; there must be a real alteration of the inner person” (Erickson, 950). God’s intent was not to free man from morality, but rather, from the curse of sin and death proclaimed upon them. Through this freedom, man can enter into fellowship with God, but that never gives license to sin. On the contrary, this new fellowship with God and the ensuing relationship to be built seems to suggest that man has been given the grace, or favor, to walk in the ways of God. “It is obvious, then, that the concept of sovereign grace, cannot include license, for life in grace is a life of good works which glorify God” (Ryrie, 82). A person in union with God will live a life that pleases God, even when they make a mistake or error in judgment. Grace is not cheap, unless the death of Christ is now viewed as just a cheap death. Rather, it is the most costly gift ever bestowed on mankind.
Universal Grace (Unlimited in Scope)
Grace is universally available to all people and is sufficient for all of humanity when applied by faith. The availability of grace in this sense is that both Jews and Gentiles have the opportunity to enter into union with God. The mistake must not be made that might allow the thought that this suggests all of mankind has already received the grace of God, leading to a universal salvation applied to all whether they believe it or not, but that man as a whole has the opportunity to do so. Grace was given to the Hebrew first as the Lord looked upon them with favor.
One might conclude from Israel’s status as the chosen nation that God’s concern for and interest in humanity are limited to the Jewish people. Yet it is apparent that the Jews were chosen not to be exclusive recipients of God’s blessing but rather to be recipients and transmitters of it. Rahab and Ruth the Moabitess are prominent instances and are even found in Jesus’ genealogy (Erickson 561).
Obviously, God sought to make room for outsiders to enter into the faith of Israel. These proselytes are not the only instances of God’s grace extended to the Gentile nation. Jesus, the Messiah, was concerned with the Samaritan woman (John 4) and he offered her living water (Erickson, 561). Countless other examples of Jesus’ grace and concern for both the Jew and the Gentile raise questions pertaining to the validity of a belief of a biased God. Every race of man, every sex, every person of every economic status, and any other status or position known to man, has been offered the grace of God which can bring them into union with God.
The distinction between Jew and Gentile is broken down and all are “under sin.” There is provided and offered in Christ a new access and relationship to God. It is “through Christ” and is “in Christ.” (Chafer 118).
Paul’s call to the Gentile nation and Jesus’ ministry to those that were excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant “make the universality of God’s grace apparent (Erickson 562).” Peter’s vision in Acts 10 was God’s command to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. He was told to eat not only clean animals, but unclean would now be acceptable as well. Some have suggested that the Gentile must be grafted into Israel,
The Gentile, whether he is the Syro-Phoenecian woman, the medieval Englishmen, or the modern citizen of New York, cannot conceivably know the fullness of life that is in Christ unless he is grafted into Israel (Knight, 90).
A more biblical exposition reveals the true nature of being grafted in. Romans 11:17-21 speaks of the ‘wild olive shoot, having been grafted in among the others, and now sharing in the nourishing sap from the olive root.’ Both the Gentile and the Jew are the branches, whether they were there already or not, but Christ is the root. More properly put, he is the “true vine” (John 15:1). Jesus is the vine, or the root, from which the Gentile has been grafted. Therefore being grafted into Israel is not necessary because Jesus is the vine from which the life-giving sap flows. All mankind has an opportunity to enter into union with God: Jew or Gentile.
The chief attribute of God’s nature by which man may be united with him is grace. The grace of God is an aspect of his Love, one of the moral attributes of God’s nature. Because of the grace of God all of mankind has an opportunity to enter into fellowship with him. Understanding of grace as favor, or the goodwill of God towards man, is fundamental in establishing the very nature behind the possibility of union with God and man. God’s original intent was, of course, to be with man in the garden in unity and fellowship. Due to the fall of Adam and Eve, and the separation that consequently occurred, God acted out of great kindness and favor by providing grace. Man had nothing within him to merit this act of God; but God still acted on man’s behalf. This is why it is understood as grace and mercy. Without the shedding of Jesus’ blood, without his very entry into this world, there could be no union between God and man.
Grace was prevalent throughout both Old Testament and New Testament periods. Any argument attempting to persuade one to believe otherwise does not take into account the whole of Scripture. Abram was shown favor along with Moses, David, and various others like the children of Israel. They were brought out of bondage, through the wilderness, and given the grace and gift of the Torah. They were a people chosen by God to bare the light of his grace in the Old Covenant. Being faithless on many occasions God still remained faithful and gracious to them. The New Testament only raises the level on God’s grace, through the Son Jesus, and his death for the sins of the world. Paul and the Apostles were given the command to take this good news of grace to the Gentile nations, proving once again that God is truly gracious and compassionate. This grace when carried out into the life of the follower of Christ touches every area of that life. In unity with God comes a repair of fellowship. If that fellowship has been repaired then it would follow that other earthly relationships may then be repaired. Further study might shed certain light as to this implication and to the application of the grace of God and the unity it brings to Man’s relationships on earth.
The unlimited scope and thus the universal availability of grace for all has been made abundantly clear. God is holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is also just and righteous. None of these attributes alone can work to unite fallen man with God without the moral attribute of love working through grace. While none of God’s attributes are set in a hierarchy, the grace of God is the chief attribute of God’s nature, by which man may be united in fellowship with him, having been revealed by God through the thread of Scripture.
* Brandon Greene is known as Christian rapper “Legacy.” Brandon has been committed to creating excellent music to motivate and inspire Christian thought and action since 1995. He is currently a seminarian engaging with topics related to theology and social justice. In the past he has engaged in hot button debates, creating Christian Hip-Hop, and promoting Arminian theology within that context.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Grace. Philadelphia, PA; The Sunday School Times Company, 1992.
Duffy, Stephen J. The Doctrine of Grace. Collegeville, MN; The Liturgical Press, 1993.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books, 1993.
Knight, George A.F. Law and Grace. Philadelphia, PA; The Westminster Press, 1962.
Ryrie, Charles C. Th.D. The Grace of God. Chicago, IL; Moody Press, 1963.
Shank, Robert. Life in the Son: A Study in the Doctrine of Perseverance. Springfield, MO; West Scott Publishers, 1960.
Spurgeon, C.H. All of Grace. Chicago, IL; Moody Press, NA.
Smith, Ryder C. B.A. D.D. The Bible Doctrine of Grace. London, England; The Epworth Press, 1956.
Torrance, F. Thomas. The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. Grand Rapids, MI; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948.
Hals, Ronald M. Grace and Faith in the Old Testament. Minneapolis, MN; Augsburg Publishing House, 1980.
Whitley, W.T., M.A. LL.D. The Doctrine of Grace. London, England; Student Christian Movement Press, 1932.