GRACE | CADET CORY FIFIELD
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey calls grace “‘the last best word’ because every English usage [he] [could] find retain[ed] some of the glory of the original.”
In an effort to understand the fullness of the word grace one must consider the use of the word within the Bible. We will see that within the Bible more than one word has been translated into the word Grace. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word typically translated asgrace is “chen” and means favour or goodwill. This favour or goodwill is associated with both God and Man and refers to favours or blessings. Keeping this in mind, grace in the Old Testament “is not an abstract quality, but is an active, working principle, manifesting itself in beneficent acts.” One example of this is in Genesis 6:8, where it is written, “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.” This reference, like many others (Gen. 29:21, Exod. 32:11, Judges 6:17), uses the word favour instead of grace. In this case, it refers to the way God showed favour to Noah and his family by sparing their lives while destroying the rest of humankind. This favour is freely given and the recipient has done nothing to earn it. Others displays of grace can be found in the story of Joseph in Genesis, in the story of Gideon in Judges, as well as in the story of Esther. In all of these stories, grace manifests itself in a tangible act by God or another human being.
In the New Testament the Hebrew word translated as grace, “charis,” does not refer to a tangible act but rather has several other meanings including “the emotion awakened in the heart of the recipient” of a favourable act and “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man.” Examples of the first meaning can be found in Luke 4:22, 1 Cor. 15:57, and 1 Tim. 1:12 where grace refers to gratitude. As for the second definition, which likely provides the most critical understanding of grace, it can be found in numerous texts in the New Testament but in particular, it is found in the writings of the apostle Paul. Paul’s use of the word grace may be a result of his own experience with grace in his conversion. One example of this definition of grace can be found in Ephesians 2:5 and 8 where Paul writes that humankind has been saved by grace and that this grace flows through Jesus Christ. Other examples can be found in Rom. 3:24, 1 Cor. 1:4, and Eph. 3:7.
In The Salvation Army, the word grace is found in the eighth doctrine, which says, “We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.” In this reference, the word grace is used to describe the way in which one is justified or made right before God. It refers to God’s prevenient grace that works within an individual before the conversion experience. This grace convicts people before they experience salvation and gives them the ability to recognize that their lives are not complete until they have given them over to God. In this instance grace is a reminder of God’s desire for all of humanity to enter into relationship with him.
Within the context of the Christian Community, grace is sometimes broken down into different types. According to John Wesley, these types include prevenient, convicting, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying grace. Wesley defines prevenient grace as that which gives humanity the ability to recognize their need for God and to respond freely. The second type of grace, convicting grace, provides humanity with a conscious awareness of the way they are versus the way God intended them to be. Wesley suggests that the experience of conversion or of being born again is afforded to humanity through the third type of grace, justifying grace. This is the point in an individual life where they make a conscious decision to begin living a life that is pleasing to God. The fourth type of grace, known as sanctifying grace, represents the grace that allows humans to continue on the path towards righteousness, being made into the likeness of Christ. Finally, this leaves, glorifying grace. It is through glorifying grace that our mortal bodies are made immortal on that final day so that we can spend eternity with God (1 Cor. 15:53). It is important to note that the fullness of grace cannot be contained in these simple definitions but they offer a foundation upon which one can build a deep understanding of the word.It is clear that the word grace, while being only one word, has come to mean many different things. This truth remains as one looks at the word grace in the context of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. They both agree that all Christians are in need of grace, but they have very different understanding of how one receives it. In the Catholic Church, an individual receives grace through the sacraments, whereas Protestants believe that grace is for everyone and comes directly from God. The complication with this is that in the Catholic Church, the church is the only place where one can receive sacraments, which implies that the church has some authority in the delivery of grace. This becomes a very significant point when you consider Wesley’s understanding of grace presented earlier in this paper. If the church controls the flow of grace then the church also controls whether or not an individual can receive salvation at all.
Another perspective on grace is presented in the movie “Amazing Grace”, which tells the story of William Wilberforce and his fight to end the slave trade. In the movie, Wilberforce is relentless in his efforts to shut down the slave trade. The most significant presentation of grace in this movie is seen when Wilberforce sacrifices status, wealth and health for the sake of his cause and yet it is abundantly clear that if successful he stand to gain nothing personally. Wilberforce doesn’t even know the people he is fighting, for he simply knows what is happening is wrong and fights to end it. This is indeed a true act of grace. There are moments in the film where it appears he may give up but he is clearly convicted by his conscience or the Holy Spirit and driven back into the thick of the battle. In the end, Wilberforce is victorious and through grace, the slave trade is brought to a halt.
Earlier in this term, I was asked to define grace and I defined it as receiving a gift that you do not deserve. After writing this paper, I see that while my definition on the surface is accurate it does not even come close to expressing the fullness of God’s grace. I was particularly intrigued by Wesley’s breakdown of grace and the role of the different functions in the faith journey. This breakdown of grace revealed to me that I have been a recipient of God’s grace for a long time. Long before I understood grace, I was experiencing it. This insight is huge. When I look back on my life, I can see the way the different functions of grace have been present in my life. I see grace in my conversion. I see grace in the way I am maturing as a believer and now as a leader. I see that grace is about so much more that Christ dying for us while we were still sinners. He did do that, and my life would be nothing without it, but His grace has affected so much more than where I will spend eternity. I accomplish nothing in life but for the grace of God. That is a massive statement. As I look forward to my life as an officer, I pray that I will never forget those words. If God allows me to have any kind of earthly success in the eyes of my cohorts I pray that I will always give Him the credit. As Salvation Army Officers, I believe we are more dependent upon the grace of God than ever before. It is God who saves and yet we are being called to partake in this great ministry. It is quite incredible when you think about it. If that is not grace then I do not know what it. We, who were once lost and, for that matter, still are, at times have the opportunity to show this amazing grace to others. I pray that as an officer I will be filled with God’s grace so that it overflows into everyone I meet.
Speaking of the overflowing of grace, the movie “Amazing Grace” made me think about what it means for us to be deliverers of grace. I had never realyl thought about grace in terms of what the person giving grace gets out of it. When God gives us grace, He gets nothing in return; we are the sole winners in the exchange. In my own life, I know that this is a real struggle. There is always that part of me that is selfish and wonders what I will get out of the situation. In the movie, William Wilberforce seemed to get nothing for his hard work. I pray that in my own life, God through His grace, will teach me how to give grace without any selfish motive. It is my hope that as an officer my leadership will encourage other to show the kind of grace that God has shown to me. I pray that people from every lifestyle will be welcome into my corps without fear of judgment or accusation.
Grace is a critical part of the life of a Christian for without grace there would be no Christians at all because it is only by grace that we are saved to begin with. If this is true, then Christians should make it a priority to understand fully the grace, which they have received and it is my hope that this paper has begun that process.
For footnotes and bibliography, click here.
Cadet Cory Fifield (along with his wife Kelly) is a part of the Friends of Christ session. Cory is a gifted musician and rumour has it that he is an avid player of Settlers of Catan.