Archive for September, 2012


A bit on Grace…

September 20, 2012

This is one of my posts for my Religious Studies Discussion Question this week.

The debate between Law and Grace seems an issue as one may bring up such verses as “O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19b). in contrast to Paul’s “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV). Yet, things get more complicated when Augustine’s reading of grace comes at the expense of attacking the Jews for their love of the Law (Stowers 1997, 14). Furthering the issue that Augustine read Paul in a Neo-Platonist way that creates a dualism instead of a more holistic understanding of Grace (3). 
People speak of Grace as a means that appears to cover sin, or worse and excuse to keep sinning. While Grace very well does as such, there seems to be a thin layered understanding of what Grace is. The often used definition of “unmerited favor” seems shallow when one realizes that God has shown His Grace throughout the Old Testament from the very first “sin” where instead of instant death, God casts Adam and Eve out of the Garden lest they eat of the Tree of Life and remain in their fallen state as immortals. Furthering this idea is Cain and Able in which God marks Cain with a mark to keep him safe from being murdered for his act of murdering his own brother. In essence, God protects a murderer and it appears justice is not a priority to God at least in this instance.
Gundry points out that ““Galatians 2:16a reads, “but knowing that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith of Jesus Christ.””, gives us a key insight that Grace cannot be earned. As Cain did not earn Grace yet was saved from retribution or revenge, so we find faith somehow preserves us from wrath as well as our “earned” wages of sin.
In the New Testament we have mainly two views of justification. The Greek view brings with it the idea of justice with punishment (Gundry, 2003, 357). While in Jewish thought, we have the idea of amnesty or that the righteous prevail (357). Paul, who is writing to both audiences, seems to fall more into the idea that the “righteous” will prevail “through faith”. Paul uses the story of Hagar and Sara to show the contrast of human effort versus the spiritual gift of Grace.
Paul’s allegorizing of the conflict between Hagar and Sarah in terms of the conflict between law and grace is, in our opinion, an example of legitimate allegorizing for it rests on a genuine analogy. The univocal element in the analogy can be clearly stated. As Ishmael was born of human effort, so the Judaizers are seeking righteousness by human effort. And as Isaac’s birth was the result of God’s gracious act in fulfilling his promise, so it is with the people of God. By their birth of the Spirit, they become children of the promise, members of Christ’s body and citizens of the “Jerusalem which is above.” (Jewett, 1987, 175)
We see Paul’s view of “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17) becomes clearer in the mini Romans of Galatians. Chapter 3 of Galatians opens as if Paul is screaming:
 3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (NIV).
Paul sincerely warns that human effort leads only to the idea of rejecting the Cross of Christ and thus accepting the Roman idea of being on the wrong side of justification, meaning accepting God’s wrath over Grace. Paul’s argument is not only is Grace that saves you, but also it is Grace that maintains you. Since Galatians was a mix of Greek, Jew, saved, and unsaved people, this was purposed to allow the reader to see the importance of Grace. Paul, in essence, shows us there is no other means for truly being justified unless one humbly accepts the Grace that is given by God through Christ. Ben Witherington points out that this was also a time of persecution where the Christian would be singled out as denying the worship of Lord Caesar (447). It would be easier to hide as a Jew as they were an accepted religion to Rome. In a sense, Paul is calling those who believe to come out and show themselves without fear and that by faith, God will bring about the justification (in the Jewish view) for those who have faith as Abraham showed with Isaac.
In Genesis 4:10, God states that Able’s blood calls to him from the ground. To kill someone called for equal justice, meaning “an eye for an eye”. Yet, instead of justice, Cain receives a mark. Many view this mark as a curse, however if one realizes Cain is marked so that no one else will judge and kill him. Cain should have been judged and killed for murdering his brother, yet instead was shown grace by means of the mark. I might point out that Hebrews 12:24 speaks of this very thing I am presenting:

“You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and  to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.”
This is a typology of what is a deeper understanding of God’s grace at the Cross. While we tend to believe we enact the Cross, we do nothing. Romans 5:10 states clearly,  “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
In that verse we learn that even in our fallen state and even being at odds against God so much as we are enemies, we were reconciled at the Cross. That is the same as the mark of Cain. However, as with Cain, we will die in our sins if we do not have the Life of Christ. The point is that many people are content with the “forgiven” part and still live in the desert outside of paradise as Cain chose to do, yet we also have the Resurrection that gives us His Life or the Life of Christ Jesus
Did Cain escape punishment and never had to face “justice” (as per the idea of Greek thinking)? To answer that question we would have to be God. Yet, we are told that the wages of sin is death and Cain did die. If so, then Cain paid his wages for his sin at his death. One can only speculate what Peter means when he stated Jesus preached to the imprisoned spirits from Noah’s age (2 Peter 3:18-21).
Without argument Grace is unmerited favor. However there is much more depth than that to the definition. While I am not fluent in Greek or Hebrew, scholars like Zimmerli point out that within the Greek definition and root word for Grace is such words as “joy, rejoicing, merriness” which to a degree seem to be expressions of emotions. If I be so bold as to say that Grace is the emotion of loving joy God feels for us (Zimmerli 1981, 9:359-60).

Reference List
Gundry, R. H. (2003). A survey of the new testament. (4th ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Jewett, Paul King. 1987. “Children of grace.” Theology Today 44, no. 2: 170-178. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 19, 2012).

Stowers, Stanley K. 1997. A rereading of Romans: justice, Jews, and Gentiles. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Witherington, Ben. 1998. Grace in Galatia: a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 19, 2012).

Zimmerli, ed. 1981. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 7th ed. Ed. Gerhard Friedrich and Gerhard Kittel. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Eerdman.