Defining Grace

By Craig Bluemel


Strong’s Dictionary of New Testament words defines the Greek word for ‘grace’ as follows (highlighting added):


grace” = 5485  charis (khar'-ece); from 5463; graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): KJV-- acceptable, benefit, favor, gift, grace (-ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, -worthy).


Strong’s says that charis comes from a root word, “chairo” which is defined as follows:


chairo (khah'-ee-ro); a primary verb; to be "cheerful", i.e. calmly happy or well-off; impersonally, especially as salutation (on meeting or parting), be well: KJV-- farewell, be glad, God speed, greeting, hall, joy (-fully), rejoice.


Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament words says of charis:


GRACE = 1. charis ^5485^ has various uses, (a) objective, that which bestows or occasions pleasure, delight, or causes favorable regard.  (From Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words) (Copyright (C) 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)


We can summarize the intended meaning of grace, as is taught in the Greek New Testament, as follows:


GRACE = The Divine influence upon the heart, the manner or act of favorable regard, resulting in the heart becoming delightfully calm and happy, pleasurable, cheerful, and well-off.


Divine influence is the effect of God’s dealings with mankind.  His influence concerning grace is favorable, and when responded to in obedience, it results in the heart becoming delightfully calm and happy, pleasurable, cheerful, and well off (even when the circumstances remain unchanged).  In contrast, when God’s influence is His judgment for sin, we would not describe it as “favorable regard.”  Numerous examples in scripture to illustrate the exact opposite of God’s favor.


2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.  (NAS)


While grace is the Divine influence upon the heart in a manner or act of favorable regard, the pure definition of the Greek word charis does not eliminate the necessary “works” required for salvation.  God uses His influence on mankind in various ways, but always with respect to salvation.  In some way or another, often unbeknownst to us, His spirit influences the lost and unbelieving thru the words and actions of those who bring the good news of the gospel of Christ to others.  While God is able to speak directly to men by audibly directing them toward Jesus the Redeemer, most often He does not because humans are made in His image and likeness.


If men choose to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, then God’s “influence” is favorable, making the heart delightfully calm and happy, pleasurable, cheerful, and well-off.  God’s earnest desire is that all men would experience His favor.  He does not want them to spend an eternity away from His wonderful presence.  He is a God of love, and He simply commands repentance (i.e. works) for men to be saved from His wrath.


1 Timothy 2:3-5 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  (NAS)


2 Peter 3:9 The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people’s conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance. [The Amplified New Testament, (La Habra CA: The Lockman Foundation) 1999]


God desires all men to be saved by turning to Him in repentance.  Repentance is an act; it is an expression of personal remorse and contrition for sin.  By definition, when someone, “repents,” (using repent as a verb), they are engaged in activity.  Any activity is a form of, “works,” because it is an expenditure of energy.  In Acts 13:43 Paul and Barnabas were urging the converted Jews and Greek proselytes to, “continue in the grace of God.”  if we are saved by grace alone, as hyper-Calvinism teaches, then how can you “continue” in God’s ‘grace’?


Once the Greek word derivation and intended meaning of ‘grace’ is understood, the application of its literal meaning greatly changes one’s concepts and increases personal accountability to God.  No longer can the believer glibly use grace as a convenient way of appeasing his or her conscience.  How grace influences the mind and heart of an individual is up to God; how a person RESPONDS to His Divine influence is up to us.


How or in what manner a person chooses to respond to Divine influence governs the nature of that individual’s ‘works.’  The TYPE of ‘works’ then becomes the determining factor for or against salvation and only God truly understands the motive.


Perhaps God will speak to your heart through this simple research, and you will grow in His grace by understanding how “Divine influence affects your heart” and life.  The primary purpose of this brief study is to show the relationship between grace (properly defined) and works.  The unfortunate err of Christendom in teaching that salvation is by grace, and grace alone, should be carefully scrutinized in the light of scripture.


This brief study is not intended to bring people under legalism’s bondage either, and there are very conscientious, sensitive, and obedient Christians that may interpret what has been written here only in light of their individual failures and weaknesses.  God forbid that condemnation should replace one’s correct understanding of scripture. 


There are plenty of legalistic churches out there whose pastors and members glory in their “obedience.”  Quite often, these folks are comparable to the scribes and Pharisees in the days of Jesus’ ministry.  Gloating in one’s self-righteous character is perhaps one of the worst sins because it disregards the nature of true righteousness.  In John 1:17 we read how the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized only through Jesus Christ. If our works alone could accomplish God’s redemption, what need would we have for a Savior?


The righteousness of God comes to us ONLY through faith in Jesus Christ, and with God, there is no partiality and no distinction (Romans 3:22-24).  Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Just the same, any decision to “believe’ is considered “works.”  Motive is everything to God; some people came to see and hear Jesus teach, simply for the loves and fishes, not unlike Christians that follow the prosperity message being promulgated by false teachers satiated with greed.  Below in closing is the narrative whereby Jesus delineates between seeking the eternal or the temporal:

John 6:26-29 (NASU)

Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on him the Father, God, has set His seal." 

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God ?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” 






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