A BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF GRACE
Definition, which Webster defines as “a statement about what a thing is,” may not be the right word when the thing to be defined is infinite, such as God, and perhaps grace as well. To define is to limit, showing the distinction between the thing to be defined and things similar . If I define a boot as footwear, usually made of leather, that covers the foot and part of the leg, I distinguish it from a shoe, which is something similar. But one can’t do God that way, for there is no reality that is similar, or to which he can be compared. God is indefinable. If he could be defined, then he could be limited, or “put in a box” as we sometimes say.
We can follow Webster and make a statement about what God is, such as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, or Creator, Judge, Savior, but there is no end to what God ‘is.” One may exhaust his vocabulary, and still there would be more to be said, infinitely, about God. The same may true of grace, but I nonetheless venture to give a biblical definition of grace — one so gloriously and meaningfully framed. I add a few words of interpretation.
What glorious good news! Grace defined! It is all there, the preexistence of Christ, his incarnation, his redemptive sacrifice, man’s salvation. The linguistic cadence is elegant: Riches to Poverty, Poverty to Riches.
The New Jerusalem Bible renders the first line, “You are well aware of the generosity that our Lord Jesus Christ had . . .” Yes, these Roman Catholic scholars were insightful in rendering the Greek charis (grace) as generosity, an acceptable definition of grace. Grace is generosity; generosity is grace. The gracious person is the generous person — generous not only with money, but with time and talents as well. The generous person can listen with other people’s ears and see with other’s eyes. Is not the God of grace that way? “He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see?” (Psalm 94:9).
Jesus as the eternal Logos was rich in heaven. As “equal with God,” as Paul describes him in Philippians 2:6, he owned the universe, and was ruler over all the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:10). He gave all this up by “emptying himself” and taking on the likeness of man. He was now poor, owning virtually nothing more than the robe on his back. He is described as having no place to lay his head. He humbled himself even to death on the Cross, dying as a criminal. Then there was the poverty of rejection.
All for our sake, that we might be rich in heaven as he was once rich in heaven. That we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) is a mind-boggling promise. We will be joint-heirs with Christ in heaven! His poverty yielded our riches. Grace defined!
It is of course a blessing to be rich in this world’s goods, and to be generous therein, but we must guard against deceiving ourselves into believing that earthly riches in any way compare with the riches in Christ, which begin on planet earth and find fulfillment in heaven. Grace forever! The ultimate tragedy is to be rich in earthly wealth and yet poverty-stricken in spiritual riches.
Riches to Poverty. Poverty to Riches. The divine mystery spells grace.