What is grace? (Part 3)

I’ve been very bold in asserting what grace is (and isn’t)—and it’s all made such very good sense to me. 🙂 However, I think it may be time to test my claims by plugging our practical definition of grace (God-given ability to fulfill God’s good intentions for our lives), back into the biblical texts to see if it fits. Let’s start with a little something from 1 Corinthians 15.

 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain ; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Corinthians 15:10 NAS

No doubt you noticed that Paul’s statement in this passage is very similar to the fictional one I criticized in parts 1 & 2 of this series.

Image Credit: Louish Pixel (Flickr)

I’ve included these words of Paul here for a couple of reasons: (1) Because I think it is the only honest thing to do, and (2) because I’m proud, and I was afraid that I may have given the impression that I think it is inconsistent to verbally acknowledge the role of God’s grace in some circumstances—if we aren’t doing so in every circumstance, all the time .

I’d like to go on record saying, that would just be silly.

My purpose in making use of that familiar, based-on-a-true-story-illustration was only to express a suspicion that such exchanges often reveal a warped understanding of grace—namely a relegation of God’s grace to the realm of the mysteriously intangible, and a disassociation between the effects of grace and our own choices and efforts,  .

But isn’t a mysterious disassociation pretty much what Paul is communicating in the Corinthians passage?

 …I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me

I don’t think so. Here’s why:  Even in this statement where Paul is highlighting the preeminence of grace in his labors for the gospel, he also implies that it is quite possible for grace to be unfruitful in his life.

 …and His grace toward me did not prove vain

Maybe he is merely stating the obvious. You know—for the sake of emphasis. Maybe he’s saying that God’s grace toward him did not prove vain…because, duh, it can’t.

I might be able to entertain that possibility were it not for a couple of other verses that make Paul’s position on this matter very clear.

2 Corinthians 6:1 NAS      And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain

Acts 13:43 NAS     Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Why would he urge folks to continue making good use of God’s investment of grace, if it wasn’t possible for them to do anything else—if grace independently brought about its own will?

So, when Paul says “not I, but the grace of God with me,” I have to conclude that he is most definitely not denying the necessity and importance of his own faithful labors. Rather, he is recognizing the grace of God as the essential and prerequisite ingredient in all that he does.

So, does our definition of Biblical grace fit into the above passages?

Well, try it. Just substitute God-given ability to fulfill God’s intentions wherever the text reads, grace (of God).

When you’re done with that, here’s a few more to try:

Luke 2:40 NAS     The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom ; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Acts 4:33 NAS     And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.

Romans 1:5 NAS     …through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,

Romans 5:2 NAS     through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand ; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 12:6 NAS     Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith ;

1 Corinthians 3:10 NAS      According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.

2 Corinthians 9:8 NAS     And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed

Galatians 2:9 NAS     …and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Ephesians 3:2 NAS     if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;

And there are many more…

So what do you think? Does this understanding of grace seem fair, logical, and Biblical? Or have I, perhaps, missed something?


3 thoughts on “What is grace? (Part 3)”

  1. I like that there is in your definition an element of God’s gift, an element of our activity and an element of purpose.
    Without wanting to clutter the definition (which is one of the best I’ve come across) the element that is missing (for me) is the recognition that grace comes from the heart of a gracious God. The gift to enable us to fulfil God’s purpose is not a “Here, take this, and get on with doing my will” but a “Here, take this, and come and join me in the delight of creation.”

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