How many times do you use the word grace in a day?
I have asked publishing editors to “give me grace” anytime I send them a rough draft that I know still needs work. I think, Just call me “Grace”, every time I slam my shoulder into a door frame or trip over my basset hound. And I’ll guess that a full 80 percent of my friends have used Grace as a middle name for their daughters.
Colloquially grace (when used by just about anyone other than a prima ballerina) has become synonymous with forgiveness and acceptance, but that’s not quite right.
I realized this a few months ago when I was asked to do a theological review of another author’s book. The argument was being made that a certain biblical character was “full of grace” toward another person, but I didn’t see that perspective from the Scripture. For the first time, I did an in-depth study of grace as it appears in the Bible. I learned that grace is an action of God–not of humans.
Jesus personified grace while He was on earth: “At first everyone was deeply impressed with the gracious words that poured from Jesus’ lips. Everyone spoke well of Him and was amazed that He could say these things.” (Luke 4:22)
And because of Him, we have been offered God’s grace: “You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth.” (John 1:17)
Paul has a lot to say about grace, especially in his letter to the Romans. As a former hunter of Jesus-followers who had accepted God’s grace, he knew better than anyone the transforming power of God’s grace.
The only time we are ever told to demonstrate grace to other humans is in Colossians 4:5-6:
Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly (The Voice).
But even here, Paul is telling his readers to use their words to advertise God’s grace, not to exercise their own versions of grace on others.
When we use words incorrectly, we rob them of their meaning. Consider the classic example of this: love. Because we claim to “love” french fries, Coldplay concerts, and Netflix binges, our “loved ones” may sometimes feel more valued than McDonald’s but receive less attention than Stranger Things. The incorrect use of love has changed its meaning and application in society.
We don’t want to similarly water-down the concept of God’s grace by equating it with forgiveness and acceptance, by looking to receive it from others, or by thinking we can extend it ourselves. Grace that reconciles sinners with God is wholly divine.
And that is why Grace is such a great name! We hope that our daughters will fully know God’s grace, and that others will recognize Him in them. Not because we expect them to be the next Misty Copeland.