GRACE: What It Is and How It Has Been Understood by the Church -- By: Ronald E. Diprose

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 10:2 (Summer 2001)
Article: GRACE: What It Is and How It Has Been Understood by the Church
Author: Ronald E. Diprose

What It Is and How It Has Been Understood by the Church

Ronald E. Diprose *

[*Ron Diprose is a commended missionary from the assemblies in New Zealand and has been the Academic Dean at the Instituto Biblico Evangelico in Rome since 1987. His doctoral dissertation in the field of Historical Theology was entitled Israel in the History of Christian Theology.]


When I am living by grace, all I am and all I do is based on another’s merit and on qualities that have been conferred upon me. Despite the fact that the Christian gospel is essentially a message of grace, surprisingly grace has not been a popular concept during most of Church history. In fact, beginning with the attempt of the Judaizers to discredit the gospel preached by Paul, there have been repeated attacks on grace. Consequently many of those who have called themselves “Christians” have lived more like slaves than like sons of God. At the same time large sectors of Christendom have tried to earn salvation by doing penance without ever reaching certainty that enough has been done to appease a righteous God. For their part, Evangelicals have fallen into the trap of legalism by giving the impression that full acceptance by God is based on personal performance rather than being based entirely on His grace.

In the first part of this article I seek to define grace by considering some key New Testament passages on the subject and by offering a simple definition of the word itself. This serves to establish the following paradigm: In the New Testament saving grace and the transforming effects of grace appear together. In the main body of the article I survey how grace has been understood during subsequent centuries in the light of this New Testament paradigm. We will see that from the fourth century on grace has been discussed primarily with reference to how

salvation is applied and in relation to the question of whether saving grace is potentially available to all people or only to a limited number. Not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was this matched by an emphasis on the life-changing dimension of grace. This emphasis has been much in the fore during the past two decades.1 This is a healthy trend as the apostles urged believers “to continue in the grace of God” and to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (Acts 13:43; 2 Pet. 3:18).

What Grace Is

The best way to define grace is by observing how key New Testament passages describ...

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