Grace is defined simply as God’s unmerited favor. Most new and seasoned Christians know this meaning of grace. But grace is so much more than this. In this post we will explore a fuller meaning of grace across the Bible.
Meaning of grace in the Bible
We can get a bigger understanding of grace by studying the word in both the Old Testament and New Testament.
One caution though:
As we explore these definitions, know that the definition of the word is pegged to the context in which it was used.
Therefore I will be using selected Bible verses and/or stories to show the meaning of grace in context.
Grace meaning in Hebrew
The Hebrew word for grace is chen. It means favor. Depending on the Bible translation you are using, you might see the word favor instead of grace. Same idea.
The word is used to describe one individual having a friendly, pleasant, sympathetic, accepting attitude towards someone else.
The first time the word chen is used in the Bible refers to Noah:
But Noah found grace [chen] in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:8 KJV
Noah is contrasted with the global wickedness on the earth at that time. God planned to send the flood to wipe out the entire population.
But not Noah.
God saw Noah’s efforts at living a righteous life and was pleased with him.
God’s positive attitude (grace) towards Noah allowed Him to spare Noah and his family.
But I want to hurriedly say that in the Bible the Hebrew word for grace (chen) is not limited to describing God’s disposition towards us.
Let me explain.
Grace in the Old Testament
As I said earlier, grace simply means favor. There are many places in the Old Testament where chen is used to describe human favor towards another human.
For example, take Joseph while he was down in Egypt serving as Potiphar’s slave:
Joseph found favor [chen] in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Genesis 39:4 NIV
Notice that while Noah found favor in the eyes of God, Joseph’s favor came from Potiphar.
So grace in Scripture does not only apply to God’s interaction with humans but also human to human interaction.
I would like to believe though that wherever one of God’s children benefits from the grace of another human being, even that is a Divine move of God.
More on that later.
Grace meaning in Greek
In the New Testament, the Greek word for grace is charis. This word has a number of different meanings, depending on the context.
When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the word charis was used for chen. Therefore, one meaning of charis is favor.
Just like Old Testament, the New Testament as well uses favor to refer to both God and man’s positive, sympathetic, accepting attitude.
One of the first places we see charis is in what is traditionally known as the Christmas story:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 NIV
Like Noah, Mary’s life pleased God and so God accepted her and had a favorable attitude towards her.
But charis is more than just the idea of acceptance. It also carries the idea of showing favor with a focus on giving some kind of gift or benefit to the individual.
God’s favor was demonstrated towards Mary by Him choosing her to be the one to birth and raise Jesus.
But the biggest benefit that ever was is the gift of salvation.
It is the Hebrew word chen and the Greek charis that forms the base for the term “unmerited favor” which usually refers to divine disposition towards humans.
Let’s examine that phrase briefly.
Unmerited favor meaning
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word unmerited as “not adequately earned or deserved”. Put this with the definition of favor above and a picture emerges.
Usually when we talk about unmerited favor, we are talking about God’s grace towards mankind.
Unmerited favor means that God has a sympathetic and pleasant and friendly attitude towards us although we do not deserve it and although we did nothing to earn it.
When Adam and Eve sinned, the whole human race became guilty of sin. The consequence of sin is death, eternal death.
For the wages of sin is death… Romans 6:23 ESV
What we really deserve is to die. And this death is an eternal one without hope of ever experiencing salvation or heaven.
But God has instead given us life (eternal life) through Christ Jesus.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV
We do not deserve the life of abundance available to us but God has gifted it to us anyway, absolutely free.
And this my friend is what makes grace what it is.
and all are justified freely by his grace [charis] through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24 NIV
What the grace of God can do
Grace stretches further than God saving us from our sins. Remember, grace also has the added component of benefits.
One benefit is that we get strength and power to handle the trials in our lives.
As Paul was praying about a recurring trial, God spoke to him:
But he said to me, “My grace [charis] is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 1 Corinthians 12:9
God didn’t save you to leave you all by yourself in this life. His grace is here with you, being the wind beneath your wings.
The reason you have not buckled under your own trials is because of God’s grace. It is able to give you the power to go on living even when you truly want to give up and throw in the towel.
But charis also refers to human to human interaction in the New Testament.
Extend grace meaning
In Luke 6, Jesus was teaching his disciples. He encouraged them to be kind to others, especially to those who we are unlikely to be kind to.
This is what he said:
If you love those who love you, what credit [charis] is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit [charis] is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [charis] is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. Luke 6:32 – 35
The word credit is the Greek word charis which means favor or grace. We can see that God expects believers to extend grace.
Apparently, extending grace is one of the characteristics that sets us apart from the world.
We show grace by loving those who don’t love us and being kind and giving to those who do not deserve it.
What is the spiritual meaning of grace
we have grace is much more than God’s unmerited favor towards mankind.
From Noah to Joseph, Mary to Paul, as well as strangers, family and friends, we can see the fuller picture of grace in the Bible.
What does this mean for everyday living?
H3 Walk confidently
For starters, know that your salvation is secured not because of who you are but despite who you are or what you have done.
You never have to work for God’s grace. Otherwise, it will not be grace.
So, you can hold your head up high and walk your Christian walk with confidence, no matter what your life has looked like up to now and regardless of what it looks like right now.
Let nobody allow you to feel guilty after you have repented and turned.
God’s grace is always greater than sin.
H3 Show grace to others
God has lavished his love on us by showing us grace. In like manner, God expects us to show others we belong to Him by extending grace.
This is not easy to do when you consider how many people have hurt you. Let’s not even talk about those who are even now trying to make your life miserable.
But, extend grace anyhow. Not only does God require it but it is likely to truly stretch you. It will cause your faith to grow and your relationship with God will blossom.
H3 Look out for God’s favor
God will often use other humans to deliver his favor. He used Potiphar to favor Joseph.
In your life, it might be that you received a scholarship to get started this semester or someone has taken to you and decided to help you out with a situation.
Someone showed up with the money or opportunity you desperately needed?
That’s God’s favor.
Challenge yourself to write down as many instances of God’s grace and favor in your life. Go on a gratitude binge and give thanks to Him.
H2 Final words on what does grace mean in the Bible
Although we went a little further than just the “unmerited favor” meaning in the Bible, we still covered only minimal ground on grace.
Nevertheless, I pray you have gotten a better understanding. How has this new information impacted you? Where will you start with implementing grace in your life?