“Grace is an outrageously relational term.”
– Dr. Ed Khouri
“How is the indwelling Spirit not relational?” – David Crabtree

Toward a Fresh Definition of Grace – Part 2

“God’s Kingdom Realm has arrived!” That’s what Jesus instructed His disciples to say when they entered a new town. The coming of the Kingdom, because of the presence of Jesus, totally changed the realm of authority that His disciples operated in. With the change in authority, there was a change in how Grace operated.

Luke 10 – Jesus sends out 35 teams to announce the Kingdom of God

When you enter into a new town, and you have been welcomed by its people, follow these rules: Eat what is served you. Then heal the sick and tell them all, ‘God’s kingdom realm has arrived and is now within your reach! – Jesus Christ, Luke 10:8-9 (TPT)

We know the story. The disciples came back excited about what happened. They saw that their own authority significantly shifted. Demons submitted to them as they commanded, in the Name of Jesus, them to leave. Fresh authority. Fresh Grace. All because of Jesus and His willingness to give Kingdom authority to those who believed in Him. It is still true today. All who believe in Jesus are empowered by the infilling Holy Spirit and have the authority of the Kingdom realm resident within them. Good news! Good, and powerful, Grace!

The Holy Spirit and the New Covenant changes how we see Grace

Paul makes no sharp distinction between grace and the Spirit as the source of personal power in the Christian age. – Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia p550

I think Dr. Bromiley does a creditable job in strongly linking Grace with the Person of the Holy Spirit (see the article “Toward a Fresh Definition of Grace Part 1” for the full quote). The Apostle Paul does likewise, seeing in the Holy Spirit the in-dwelling source of power to do the works of Jesus and to live a righteous life.

Ask most folk (as I do in seminars and conferences) what the definition of the word “grace” is, and they will almost all say that it is “unmerited favor”. They can be forgiven as this is the traditional definition given to the word “grace”. I will gently argue in this article that Grace is defined more as “God’s empowering presence” rather than just “undeserved or unmerited favor”. The traditional definition does come from the Old Testament (Old Covenant) where “grace” does indeed mean “unmerited favor”.

Let’s do a little word experiment and substitute the words “unmerited favor” where the verses contain the word “grace” and see if the meaning changes. You’ll be surprised.

Unmerited (undeserved) Favour

Let’s have a look at a few Bible texts using the word “grace”, and substitute it to say “unmerited favor”, bearing in mind that “unmerited favor” means that whatever we get comes through God’s choice to give us something (grace) without us doing anything to merit it. In other words, we do nothing to deserve His grace other than believing in Jesus (faith).

He mocks proud mockers but gives unmerited favour to the humble. – Prov 3:34

  • It would appear here that the humble have actually merited something.  Doesn’t make total sense.

And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the unmerited favour of God was upon him. – Luke 2:40

  • Jesus, because of His sinless life, did not need unmerited favor because He merited everything. He deserved everything. He was pure and perfect. Grace, in His case, has to be something different to unmerited favor.

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the unmerited favour that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy … welled up in rich generosity… But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this unmerited favour of giving. – 2 Cor 8:1-2, 7

  • How can we excel in something we didn’t deserve? Again, it doesn’t make sense.

You then, my son, be strong in the unmerited favour that is in Christ Jesus. – 2 Tim 2:1

  • Jesus did not have “unmerited favor” so how can Timothy be urged to “be strong” in something Jesus did not have.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the unmerited favour of God he might taste death for everyone. – Heb 2:9

  • So now we have “unmerited favor” giving Jesus the strength to face death. That’s certainly a weird form of “grace”.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s unmerited favour in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10

  • Now we have unmerited favor taking different forms which “each one” of us gets to administer or govern. Since when do we get to administer God’s “unmerited favor”?

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, unmerited favour increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also unmerited favour might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:20-21

  • If grace is “unmerited favor”, it now has authority to rule in Christ’s righteousness to bring eternal life. Obviously, “grace” means something entirely different and powerful in these New Testament verses.

Grace is a word robust with Power

Grace is a word that should rich and robust with POWER! It is God’s empowering presence that saves, sanctifies and transforms! But, over time, the concept of power has almost been removed from our understanding of Grace. Wrongly defining “Grace” as “unmerited favor” alone disempowers and paralyzes the church.

Grace is God’s Empowering Presence

Let’s have a look at these texts again, this time substituting the word “grace” with the words “God’s empowering presence”. It is amazing what a difference it makes.

He mocks proud mockers but gives God’s empowering presence to the humble. – Prov 3:34

  • This makes total sense now. Paul’s comments that what he is he is by the Grace of God despite the fact that he says that he is one of the “lesser” apostles.

And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and God’s empowering presence was upon him. – Luke 2:40

  • This verse now states that Jesus was filled with the powerful weight of God’s presence.

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the empowering presence that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy … welled up in rich generosity… But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this empowering presence of God of giving. – 2 Cor 8:1-2, 7

  • God’s presence does indeed empower us so that we can excel in being generous.

You then, my son, be strong in the empowering presence of God that is in Christ Jesus. – 2 Tim 2:1

  • Timothy is urged to “be strong” in something that also resides in Jesus. It’s now a powerful verse that makes a lot of sense.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the empowering presence of God he might taste death for everyone. – Heb 2:9

  • Now we have a verse at speaks about the intentional, sustaining, power of God that was available for Jesus as He faced his crucifixion.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s empowering presence in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10

  • This verse now speaks of Spirit-filled people of God who are gifted and empowered to used their God-given and God-empowered ministry gifts to bless and build up the church.

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, God’s empowering presence increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also God’s empowering presence might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:20-21

  • This verse now speaks to the truth that Grace both saves believers but also empowers them to live righteous lives. I this sense Grace needs no balance because it is the power of God operating in people’s lives.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – The Apostle Paul, Romans 1:16-17

Toward a Fresh Definition of Grace Part 1

David Crabtree
Author: David Crabtree

David has spent more than 30 years in Senior Leadership, and is the founding senior pastor of DaySpring Church (Sydney) where he led for 27 years. He is currently living in Highlands Ranch (Denver), Colorado where he is a teacher, preacher and author. He is married to Narelle (also a senior pastor) and has 2 children with 6 grandchildren. Life's good! David and Narelle are also members of the Bethel Leaders Network (BLN) and have a role as BLN Builders.

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