The meaning of grace
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. [Ephesians 2:8 NIV]
There is a reason that many of our words in English have Greek and Latin roots. Much of our western culture is based on ideas and institutions that originated in Ancient Greece and were adopted as ideals by the Romans. The Romans then spread these ideas into their empire and were then carried on by the established Christian church. It’s why we espouse democracy and elect senators and make music in the Ionian and Aeolian modes!
That’s not to say that alternative philosophies and cultures weren’t known or available — Judaism stands as a beacon of truth in ancient pagan times — but since societies were isolated from each other there was not much interaction with eastern traditions and ideas. It is interesting to note, though, that it was eastern philosophers who showed up to worship the Christ child after following his star!
The ancient greek civilization had a concept and a word which described something truly extraordinary. Aristotle defined “charis” or “grace” as something which was exceedingly beautiful and unexpected and which was spontaneously shown without any sense of obligation or expected recompense. It was virtuous in every way and in all circumstances and derived its wonderful qualities from itself without regard to any other influence.
“Charis” is the root of our word “charity”.
So the word for grace was well understood in pre-Christian culture and quite literally was put on a pedestal to be admired. The pinnacle of art was to create something “graceful” and have it displayed for all to enjoy.
It’s not surprising that when early Christians were writing to each other in the New Testament and were looking for a word to describe the exceedingly beautiful and unexpected characteristic of God that had been displayed in the life, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus, the word that sprang to mind was “charis”!
Here was a characteristic of God that nobody expected.
The “gods” (small “g”) expected (demanded) devotion and sacrifice and were capricious and inconsistent in whom they chose to pester on any given day. But the true creator of the universe is emphatically and demonstrably not like that. He loves indiscriminately and lavishly and without precondition. His magnificent and beautiful grace is a gift(!), and the only possible benefit which might conceivably accrue to him is the requited love of his creation (to whom also he gave the gift of choice!).
If we are to be faithful reproductions of the character of Christ, then we too should be spontaneously and indiscriminantly showing “charis”. We should be committing random, and sometimes targeted, acts of kindness with no expectation of anything in return. This is, of course, the basis for “agape” love!
I think it’s significant than when writing to the churches he started and was helping to develop, Paul most often opens his letters with two words — praying for “Grace and Peace” (“charis” and “shalom”) to his readers.
It does us all good to “give thanks, with a grateful heart” every day for what Paul describes as this “indescribable gift”.
I pray that Grace, Peace, and abundant blessings will be on you and yours!