I hear the word “grace” used a lot by church people in singing and Bible readings. What is grace and how is it different from faith?
Bill Warren responds:
One of the best-known passages on “grace” and “faith” is Ephesians 2:8-9: For by means of grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not from you – the gift is from God. Not from works, so that no one should boast. Grace is the reason salvation is even possible, for the possibility of salvation is a gift from God and not due to anything done by us that would obligate God to give it to us.
A primary context for understanding “grace” in the New Testament is the Greco-Roman society where “patrons,” those higher up the social ladder, sought to have “clients” from those below them. The patrons bestowed increased social standing, social access, and even material bene-fits on their clients, thereby providing things that were beyond the reach of the clients otherwise. In return, the clients showed their gratitude by being faithful to their patrons. This included speaking well about them in all settings, acting in their daily life in ways that reflected well on their patrons by being upright in their character and relationships, and being present at public activities to support their patrons.
In the NT, “grace” is a reference to the benevolent attitude and gifts given by God to us in Christ (the mediator between our patron God and ourselves as His clients). Without any obligation to do so, God has graciously decided to be our God and give us love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. Whereas normally the clients would even die to protect the honor and show their loyalty to their patron, the opposite occurs with our God: Jesus dies for us! God is the ultimate patron worthy of our loyalty, upright always in character, and worthy of our allegiance (worship). So grace originates with God, while faith is our response to God’s grace.
We show our thankfulness for God’s grace and offer to be our patron by accepting Him as such (turning to Christ as our Lord and Savior). Our faith response means that we pledge to be faithful to God in Christ (the content of faith), accepting God’s place in our lives and agreeing to fulfill our role as “clients” under the lordship of Christ (the action part of faith), thereby not following any other false gods or ungodly desires or lifestyles (other patrons, since a client should only have one supreme patron). This is the faith response that God merits and desires from all of us.
Bill Warren Ph.D. is NOBTS professor of New Testament and Greek in the Landrum P. Leavell, II, Chair of NT Studies, and Founding Director of NOBTS’ H. Milton Haggard Center of New Testament Textual Studies.