Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grace in the New Testament

I bring this up because there is a struggle to come up with a definition of the word “grace” over at Green Baggins. The only word study on the word “Grace” that I’ve seen is the one that T. F. Torrance did in his The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1996 reprint of his 1948 edition).

From the Introduction:

I. The Greek Conception of Charis

A. Charis in Classical Greek

B. Charis in Hellenistic Greek

C. Charis in Philo

II. The Biblical Conception of Grace

A. Grace in the Old Testament (aheb, hesed, and hen)

B. Grace in the New Testament

Of this he says:
In the New Testament charis (χάρις) becomes a terminus technicus. While other meanings are still current, there is a special Christian sense of the word coined under the impact of Revelation to convey something quite unique.
He divides “Grace in the New Testament” among three groups which he analyses: Grace in the Gospels, Grace in the Epistles of Paul, and Grace in the other New Testament writings. Of these, he summarizes, “there seems no doubt that the Pauline usage of charis became normative for the whole church”.

For Paul, it is always described as Ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And of Paul’s usage, makes several points:
In Paul, there is no separation between the person and the work of Christ. He does not know Christ after the flesh, but Christ crucified and risen after the Spirit. Christ crucified and risen is God’s power and God’s grace-act among men. In the background there is always the thought that charis is the grace of God, but in the foreground it is the person of Christ, and the act of Christ that fill the focus of vision.

The simplest and the most profound expression of grace Paul gives is perhaps the following: δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3:24). It would be safe to say that Paul never speaks of grace, except as grounded in the self-giving of God in the person and death of Jesus, and in every instance it is the objective side of its content that predominates. There is no hint of any psychologising in his use of the word charis. ….

In its primary sense in St. Paul’s epistles grace has to do with the act of divine intervention rather than with our receiving of it. Charis is now the presupposition of all man’s relations with God and constitutive of the whole Christian life. Grace is the decisive deed [accomplished by God] which makes the ground of our approach to God an act and word of His in which He irrevocably committed. It means the establishing of something quite new among men, a new relation to God, not one in which the divine command forms the basis of our relations with God, but one in which the divine self-commitment invites us to approach Him on the grounds of love, because in Christ the divine will has been perfectly fulfilled on our behalf. Grace is a colossal deed that cuts away the ground from all our [“any other”] human religion, and establishes a new religion in the Gospel, so wonderful that men are utterly overwhelmed, and so radical that it entails a complete reversal of all previous attitudes and ideas. Such a reversal means that we cannot think our way in to the wisdom of God, which is, as Paul says, the Cross, because God has done a deed which makes our wisdom foolish and which interrupts us in our career.

“…Grace is the will of God to constitute man’s life afresh on a wholly new basis and in a renewed world, to set him free from sin and Satan; to endue him with the Spirit, to make him the possessor of a supernatural life. It is thus the presupposition of the whole Christian life, not one principle which (along with others) works within that life.”

There can be no doubt that Paul did think of the impact of grace upon men in terms of power, for “the Kingdom of God”, he said, “was not in word only, but in power”. The Gospel was not in word only, not a fiction, but in power and reality, creating its own results in righteousness and truth. … The Christian’s righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption are to be found in Christ Himself, and so Paul can speak of these as differentiations of charis even when they are manifest in the believer … Charis is never adjectival on the lips of Paul, but always dynamic.

... Grace means the primary and constitutive act in which out of free love God has intervened to set our life on a wholly new basis, but also means that through faith this may be actualized in flesh and blood because it has been actualized in Jesus Christ, who by the Cross and Resurrection becomes our salvation, our righteousness, and our wisdom. Thus any attempt to detach grace in a transferred sense from the actual embodiment of God’s grace in Jesus Christ is to misunderstand the meaning of the Pauline charis altogether.
Torrance notes here in a footnote that “To detach grace from the person of Christ and to think of it as acting impersonally upon man is inevitably to land in determinism. That was Augustine’s mistake.” The medieval Roman church, and thus the whole Roman Catholic church followed him in this mistake.
To sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel, It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace.
“By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that, no striving will add one iota.”

No comments:

Post a Comment