Misunderstandings of Grace -- By: Tom Wells
RAR 3:1 (Winter 1994) p. 33
Misunderstandings of Grace
I have sometimes wished we didn’t use the word “grace.” Isn’t that heresy? Consider for a moment what I mean.
We desperately need the content of the word grace, of course. The word stands for an idea that we cannot live without. I have no quarrel with that. But the word “grace” creates a problem for us. The problem is this: the use to which Christians put the word “grace” is not the use the word has in daily English. Our everyday English use of “grace” suggests a human virtue or quality of attractiveness. That leads to constant misunderstanding. For most believers, I think, grace is a rather hazy idea. That will be true even for those who have learned the little acrostic: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The acrostic tells us what grace gives us, but not what grace is.
Now someone may say, quite rightly, that we have lots of theological words of which this is true. They are used in everyday English in a somewhat different way than they are used in the Bible and in our theological systems. Why then single out the word “grace”?
The answer is this: in many of those cases there is no plain synonym that one might use for the biblical or theological idea. We don’t have that problem with “grace.” A clear and easy synonym for “grace” is “favor.” Simply put, God’s grace is God’s favor. When Paul, for example, describes himself as called by God’s grace in Galatians 1:15, he means that it was by God’s favor that he was called. It was a favor from God that Paul became both a Christian and an apostle.
Let’s bring this closer home. If you have been saved by God’s grace, then you have been saved by His favor. Salvation is yours because He favored you. The gift of salvation is one of His favors to you. This is what the Bible means when it speaks of salvation by grace. It means that you and I and all other believers are saved because God favored us over others. We have often heard that God has no favorites,
RAR 3:1 (Winter 1994) p. 34
but that is not true. He has millions of favorites, and the phrase “God has no favorites” would never have arisen if our English translators had given us the word “favor” where they have substituted the word “grace.” It is important to add, however, that God does not practice “favoritism,” a word that carries the idea of injustice with it in English usage. God is just. God gives every man and woman what that person deserves, or God treats him better than he deserves.
This article, however, is not intended to be a comment on the quality of our English translations of the Bible....
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