Grace: What It Isn’t, What It Is (5)
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’” Numbers 6.22-26
Grace begins with God
We have said that grace is not merely a good feeling that we get, related somehow to our faith in God. Nor is grace a license to sin, as though grace flows toward sin like water toward a house fire. And grace is not a blank check to forgive everybody who may offend against God or us.
Certainly grace includes aspects of assurance, joy, long-suffering, and forgiveness. But we can only really understand grace, and what it is unto and for, by beginning with God Himself. For grace is of God, by God, and unto the worship and glory of God. Grace is all about God before it is all about us.
The Old Testament idea of grace is captured in the word, חֶ֫סֶד, chesed, which means goodness or kindness, and is often translated “steadfast love”. Grace is God’s unchanging, unfailing, all-sufficient love. In the New Testament, the word, χάρις, charis, conveys the same idea of grace asa favorable attitude toward someone or something, a disposition of favor and good will.
Grace is thus first of all a divine disposition of favor. Grace indicates an attitude in God, if we may speak in such terms, which is focused on His creatures in a variety of ways. God’s favorable attitude extends to all His creatures, everything He has made or has allowed to come into being. God looks favorably and kindly upon His creatures, including people, and is disposed toward them for good. We see this throughout Genesis 1, where, as God unfolds His work of creation, He stops to assess it at every stage, to make sure His good – and ultimatelyvery good – intentions are in place. The entrance of sin in the world in Genesis 3 did not alter the disposition of God toward His creatures, although it radically changed their circumstances and prospects.
I suppose most of us realize this brief description of grace as a divine disposition of favor toward us. But in order to grasp the unfathomable greatnessof God’s grace, we need to consider two other aspects of the divine Being.
The aseity of God
Aseity is a term, deriving from the Latin a se, “to” or “in” or “of Himself”, that refers to the fact that God is complete and perfect, lacking nothing, and needing nothing outside Himself. Paul refers to the aseity of God in Acts 17.24 and 25: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”
Put succinctly, God does not need you and me. God knows all purpose, meaning, satisfaction, completion, contentment, and joy in and of Himself. He does not need us. He doesn’t even need to look upon us with favor. If we didn’t exist, or the entire vast cosmos never came into being, God would be unaffected and unchanged. He depends on nothing external to Himself for everything that He wants or needs.
So complete and perfect and satisfied in Himself is God, that He is not moved even by our most pure worship or most devoted and sacrificial works. Our worship and devotion to God – which are enabled by His grace, as we shall see – are only what are due to Him, and what enable us, as His image-bearers, to realize the full hope and promise of our existence, as we enter through worship and good works into the presence, promise, pleasure, and power of God as He is in and unto Himself.
And yet, God, out of the fullness of His joy and goodness, wisdom and power, majesty and compassion, holiness and justice, looks on us His creatures with favor, intending to do us good. Amazing grace!
The transcendence of God
The idea of the transcendence of God refers to the great distance that separates us from Him. The New Testament translates Psalm 8.5 as referring to humankind’s being made “a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 2.7), or, as some translations have it, “the heavenly beings”. Even though the word in Hebrew is the same as that for God, this translation is correct. Translations which state that human beings are created “a little lower than God” miss the point entirely.
We are not created “a little lower” than God. We are created “infinitely lower” than God. We make a mistake in thinking that God is like us, only bigger, better, wiser, more powerful, and so forth (Ps. 50.21). God is not like us. There is nothing in all the vast cosmos like God. He is sui generis among all beings, a Being unique within Himself, completely and entirely separate from all other beings, and altogether beyond their reach or grasp, save for His grace.
Yet because we are created in the image of God, the desire for God persists in the soul of every human person. God would be cruel, putting such a trait in each of our souls, if He did not also provide the means for us to connect with, know, enjoy, delight in, worship, and devote ourselves to God for His glory and our good.
And this is precisely what the grace of God accomplishes. Grace bursts through the veil that separates the uncreated and the created, overcomes the limitations of sinful flesh and the corruption of sinful desires, lavishes the goodness of God upon all His creatures, and floods the souls of His chosen ones with the revelation of His glory and the power that brings salvation.
And all this begins in God, in the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who together have determined to look down upon us and all creation with favor undeserved, unfailing, and incomparable in its scope and benefits.
1. Why do we need to understand God in order to understand grace?
2. How does the idea of the aseity of God help us to appreciate the greatness of His grace?
3. How does the transcendence of God help us to appreciate the greatness of His amazing grace?
Next Steps – Preparation: In your morning prayers, add a few moments of meditation on the grace of God as a disposition of favor toward us. Praise God for His aseity and transcendence. Resolve to worship and serve Him by His grace. Then go forth in the power of grace to show His grace to the world. At the end of the day, thank God for the ways His grace was evident to and through you.
Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.