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Just Thinking

I Was Just Thinking … About the Panorama of Grace

Grace is all about joy! God’s grace is how he expresses and how we experience the fullness of his joy.

John Newton, the former slave ship captain turned Christian pastor and poet, celebrated his experience of God’s grace in song. His poem, “Amazing Grace,” written in 1772 to illustrate his 1773 New Year’s Sunday sermon, has become one of the world’s most popular songs. If we look carefully at the flow of Newton’s thought, we notice that he does not consider ‘grace’ to be a synonym for ‘forgiveness’.

Newton understood the argument of Ephesians 2: 4–7 “But God … made us alive together with Christ, even when we were dead in our transgressions (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in useful kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This means that the grace of forgiveness makes it possible to receive from the infinite treasure chest of God’s joy even more and grander expressions of grace as useful kindnesses.

Limiting our conception of grace to its expression as forgiveness is like looking at the Grand Canyon through a paper towel tube; it keeps us from seeing and responding to the breathtaking panorama of all the joy God wishes to extend to us through Jesus. In other words, a constricted understanding of grace, constricts our appreciation of God.

The connection between the affection of joy and the activity of grace is easier to see in the Greek language used by the New Testament authors than it is in English. The word for joy (χαρά) provides the root for the word for grace (χάρις), for gift (χάρισμα), for gratitude (εὐχαριστία), and for giving thanks (εὐχαριστέω). From the extensive use of the terms for joy and grace outside of Scripture, we understand that an act is labeled “gracious” only if there is joy in the heart of the actor. It’s also true that the cause of this joy is independent of any characteristic of the recipient. Rather, the joy of gracious actors arises from their contemplation of some perceived fullness in themselves or their situation.

“Grace,” then, is the term we use to characterize every action motivated by personal joy that is aimed at bringing about a corresponding joy in someone else. This is as true of us as it is of God. Grace itself is not necessarily connected with sin. God’s act of grace in the ministry of the Son is only one of many acts of grace that flow from his eternal joy in himself. But most of his gracious actions have nothing to do with the sin in our lives. Evidently, what’s so amazing about grace is not that God acts to overcome the obstacle of our sin; how else would he act when he delights so much in all that he is? What’s amazing about grace is the vast scope of the glory of God that it opens to our view.

We sense this when we consider that God was gracious in the work of creation, and he was gracious in his dealings with Adam and Eve prior to their sin. Luke reminds us that the Father was gracious to the incarnate, sinless Son (2:40). The Father extended grace to him as the means for success in his ministry, which accords with Paul’s sense of God’s grace as the means for success in his ministry (1 Corinthians 15:10; Ephesians 3:8; Romans 12:3).

Thus, Paul affirms that all ministry gifts are acts of grace which can be extended by the recipients to the rest of the fellowship (Romans 12:6ff.; Ephesians 4:7ff.; along with Peter in 1 Peter 4:10). More importantly, however, the goal of the grace of the cross and the resurrection is that all who are united to Jesus will be able to experience the riches of God’s grace in useful kindness both now (Hebrews 4:16) and forever in the age to come (Ephesians 2:7). Once sin has been abolished, grace will continue to pour forth from God’s throne like a river.

This was the panorama of God’s grace that Newton had in view when he celebrated the grace that saved him, the grace that brought him through trials, and the prospect of a life of joy and peace in eternity, for which he expects to continue praising God after ten thousand years.

… Next week we’ll continue thinking together as we explore how best to respond to grace.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “I Was Just Thinking … About the Panorama of Grace

  1. Interesting how the Greek root affects so many words. We have a lot to be thankful for. None of us are worthy.

    Posted by Debbie Brinley | 26 August 2019, 13:27
    • Yes, we do have a lot to be thankful for, and I’ll write more next week about all of our responses to grace. … In the meanwhile, I think it’s important, as we think about God’s grace, to remember that our worthiness or unworthiness is irrelevant. The impetus of grace is joy in God’s heart as he considers his own goodness; so the purpose of his grace is to make it possible for us to enjoy that as well. Along with the examples I gave in the blog (where God’s grace was active in creation and toward Jesus in his ministry), consider this one that I didn’t have room for in the blog: You are a superb jam maker; you delight in your ability to make jam and in the creative ways of combining different types of fruit that occur to you. You’re so happy with this aspect of yourself that you make more than a ‘reasonable’ amount of jam so you can share this joy with others (note: I am a verified recipient). This is grace. A consideration of my worthiness is not part of the process. Whether I am another excellent jam maker (which I’m not), or a long-time friend, or part of a needy family in the community, my status doesn’t affect your urge to give someone else the opportunity to share your joy. Are there other motivations happening at the same time? Yes, I suspect so, depending on the person who will be the recipient of your jam. This is even true of God: love and mercy are inextricably woven into the grace that saves (Ephesians 2:4-5). But when we consider grace all by itself, we recognize that joy is its genesis and joy is its goal.

      Posted by Doug Knighton | 26 August 2019, 14:26

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  1. Pingback: I Was Just Thinking … About Responding to Grace | Promises for the Battle - 1 September 2019

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