Grace Summarized [Acts 20:20-32]
by Bob Young

What is grace? As a book from some years ago asks, "Is Grace a blue-eyed blond?" Is it undeserved or unmerited favor? Several words are related: Grace, gifts, graciousness. How can we capture the meaning of this little word that has caused and is causing so much controversy concerning how one is saved.

Grace, gracefulness, graciousness, favor, thanks, gratitude. Related forms: gifts given out of good will, charismata.

Definition and Survey of NT Usages
To show favor or kindness. Words formed from this root indicate well being. Charis was not only attitude of gods, but of men, and the emperor.

Jesus said little about it--at least not as an undeserved gift of God. There is a theme of God's condescension to weak, poor, hopeless, and lost, an immeasurable remission of debt, a gracious reward in kingdom of heaven, and a pardon leading to new life: these are central themes of his ministry.

But still, there are relatively few occurrences--

There you have it--two passages in four gospels. In total only eleven verses in the gospels. Interestingly, the word is found in all 28 chapters of Acts. You might think the epistles would be full of references to grace, given the plethora of recent books written on grace, but not so. Consider the following chart.
Book        Total References      Average per Chapter
Romans             20                    1.25
1 Corinthians       6                    0.38
2 Corinthians      13                    1 
Galatians           8                    1.33
Ephesians          12                    2                
Philipians          3                    0.75
Colosians           5                    1.25
1 Thessalonians     2                    0.4
2 Thessalonians     4                    1.33
1 Timothy           3                    0.5
2 Timothy           4                    1
Titus               4                    1.33
Philemon            2                    2
Hebrews             7                    0.55
James               2                    0.4
1 Peter             8                    1.6
2 Peter             2                    0.67
1 John              0
2 John              1                    1
3 John              0
Jude                1                    1
Revelation          2                    0.09
In summary, the word is translated 130 times in NT as grace, 6 as favor, 8 as thank(s).

Exploring Grace Concepts
Despite this lack of information, we can a see thread. For Paul grace equals the essence of God's decisive saving act in Jesus Christ, his sacrificial death, also of all its consequences in the present and future (Rom. 3:24ff.) Charis at beginning and end of Paul's letters is more than polite cliche. It is not just good wish for salvation, it is qualified as grace of Christ (2 Cor. 13:13).

Paul unfolds the reality and power of this grace in stubborn conflict with rabbinical ideas of justification by works or even synergistically. Thus sets up two antithetical, mutually exclusive series of ideas:

JC makes it possible for justice in the pardon not to conflict with grace, Rom. 3:21, 8:32; Gal. 2:20. The problem with grace is not whether we earned it, but whether Christ earned it. In Christ, God's grace is given as precious gift (1 Cor. 1:4). Apart from him can be no talk of grace (1 Cor. 1:30, John 1:14). This grace never becomes a quality we possess in own right, nor is it to be placed at our disposal.
Paul understands the whole movement of the Christian life from beginning to end as grace, 2 Cor. 6:1-9; Rom. 5:2, John 1:16.

A Summary of the Gospel
A summary of the gospel might be seen in the phrase "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). As a single, pregnant term, grace expresses the central, distinctive message. If Christianity created love from agapao, not so with grace. Grace was a regular word. It was in general use and exchange, but was virtually born again and immersed into Christ's spirit to express all the NT seeks to convey of God's action on humanity's behalf.
Thus it is more than attractive, charm, rejoicing, gladness. In OT, 170 times the word renders favor (LXX). It is never used to convey God's saving acts in the OT. Hesed never approaches charis. Yet grace becomes a sort of synonym for salvation in the NT. The idea is that of free generosity.

Various Kinds of Grace?

In terminology we seldom consider, one could biblically speak of creative grace, sustaining grace, sanctifying grace. For us, the only real grace in saving grace.
Thus we see the matter of biblical emphasis:

The Ephesian Letter

When we come to the Ephesian letter, salvation is "by grace, through faith," but the phrase may seem out of place in the overall context of the letter. Consider the various occurrences.


God has acted on his initiative. That is the grace of God. To be proactive is to be gracious. This is the initiation of the gift. What other factors may be in view is immaterial. God has extended himself, his nature, his character, God has exhibited himself as a giving God by giving to the undeserving, Romans 5.
God's initiating act is also powerful in and of itself with nothing to be added. The gift is on its way. But acceptance is not in view. Grace puts God in view. Grace puts the giver in view, not the recipient. Grace is a declaration of God.

Throughout the NT, faith is how we can be reckoned as recipient. But grace is of God. May we never forget it.

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Last updated December 8, 2011