Episode 11: Grace | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast

Episode 11: Grace


     Grace is incapable of explanation,” so proposes the British speaker and writer, John Blanchard. Such words are difficult for those of us who prefer thinking in black and white, in terms of definitions, in terms of logical coherence. But the infinite God fits inside none of these limiting categories. If we were able to spend centuries attempting to define God, we would still come up short. Rather than seeking to define–and thus control–I suggest we seek to describe–and thus stand in wonder and amazement before God and God’s grace.

In the Old Testament

     It didn’t take long following the actions by Adam and Eve for grace to appear in the biblical story. Humanity took on the trait of sinful disobedience with tremendous passion and energy. Indeed, they were so good at living with this newly acquired, rebellious nature that Genesis records God’s inclination to get rid of them all. Yet, one man, Noah, found favor in the sight of the Lord. (Gen 6:8) Grace, charis in Greek, is often translated using the word favor in the Greek Old Testament. Indeed, not until Psalm 45:2 do the NAS95 and the NRSV find it appropriate to translate the idea as grace. The essential difference between the two words is that favor describes our status when we receive grace from God while grace is that which the sovereign ruler bestows on those he favors.

     Among accounts in the Old Testament, the Joseph narrative contains many references to finding favor, or more specifically receiving grace. Joseph finds favor before Potiphar (Gen 39:4), and before the chief jailer (Gen 39:21), Jacob prays that his sons may find favor before “the man”–who is actually his missing son–and have Benjamin returned to his presence (Gen 43:14). The people of Egypt ask for Joseph’s favor in exchange for continued provision of food (Gen 47:25) and Joseph asks for Pharaoh’s favor to bury his father in the land of Canaan (50:4).

     Two sayings found in the book of Proverbs provide further examples for the use of this term.

The LORD resists those who are proud, but the Lord
bestows favor on those who are humble. (3:34)

A good name is preferred to great riches, good favor
more than silver coins and gold. (22:1)

Favor and grace are similar; which English word we use depends on our perspective toward the event itself. One passage clarifies the grace which comes from the Lord and its impact on those who receive this grace. In the midst of Zechariah’s prophecies concerning the fate of Jerusalem and her inhabitants comes a promise of grace.

I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the
inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and
compassion, then they will look upon me, not as one
over whom they have recently danced in victory,
but they will mourn and weep over me as though I were
a beloved son or even a first-born child.
(Zechariah 12:10)

     Let’s face it, grace is not the expectation we have for how authorities will respond, let alone if we have actually rebelled. Instead, we anticipate the authorities will behave toward us as though we were lesser people than they themselves and less worthy of their time. On the other hand, grace is the determination to behave toward someone else with compassion, with mercy, with kindness.

Elsewhere in the Gospel of John

     There aren’t many other passages to explore in the Gospel of John when examining grace. The word itself only appears in John 1:14-17. Yet, this brief appearance sets the stage for understanding the remainder of this gospel.

The Word came in human flesh and resided among us
like a nomadic traveler, then we saw the Word’s glory,
a glory associated only with one uniquely with the
father, glory filled with
grace and truth.
John testified concerning this one as he heralded,
“This one is the one of whom I spoke, ‘one will appear
after me who has always been before me, because he is
of greater importance than I am.’” Out of his fullness we
all receive
grace abounding beyond grace; because
the Law was given through Moses, yet
grace and
came about through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17)

Twice in this section grace is associated with truth. In the other instance, the word grace is used twice in quick succession. The result is clear, Jesus reveals grace as well as truth. Both qualities are associated with the glory of the Word become flesh.

     The key to understanding grace in the Gospel of John is found in the Incarnation, the Word in flesh residing among humanity. This imagery intentionally recalls the time when the Israelites constructed a tent for worship, called the tabernacle–the verb form is translated here as “reside among us like a nomadic traveler.” As they waited for Moses to return from the mountain, the Israelites fashioned an idol. This statue of a calf was made by melting down and using the jewelry received from the Egyptians, jewelry bestowed upon them because God indicated he would bring them into favor in the sight of the Egyptians. (Exodus 3:21-22, 11:3, 12:35-36) They are now using the blessing of God to construct an idol and rejecting the provision by God.

     Moses must plead with God to accompany the people when they depart from the mountain in Sinai. (Ex 33:12-23) Moses’ final words of petition are especially instructive.

If you yourself do not go out with us, then do not bring
me up to that side; for how else will it be truly known
that your people and I have found favor before you,
unless you go out with us? Then your people and I will
glorify you among all the nations, as many as exist on
the earth. (Ex 33:15-16)

This passage describing grace at the beginning of the Gospel of John calls to mind specific moments from events found in the book of Exodus, a common occurrence as we have seen.

Concluding Thought

     The Gospel of John tells the story of God walking among and dwelling with his people, bestowing them with provisions when needed: supplying wine at a wedding (Jn 2), healing the sick (Jn 4, 5), feeding them in the wilderness (Jn 6). Grace, fully expressed in the life of Jesus, reflects the favor God has toward his people so that God might be glorified among the nations. Indeed, later in this gospel some men from other nations request to see Jesus, an event that prompts Jesus to indicate it is now time for him to be glorified and thus for the Father to be glorified–and a voice from heaven confirms Jesus’ insight. (Jn 12:20-28) Grace is found in the provision God makes for all people through Jesus, provision found in both the physical and the spiritual realms.


     Before one can fully experience grace, one must recognize the need for grace. The need for grace results from the chief characteristic of grace; Grace is given, it is not earned. Grace is received, it is not demanded. Take a moment to give some thought toward your attempts to earn approval from someone else, your attempts to be good enough to gain their recognition. Write down any thoughts which come to mind.

  • Consider when and how someone else granted you grace when you had not earned it from them. See if you can write down three instances.
  • Now, focus on God’s grace toward you. See if you can identify three moments in your life where you receive an unearned blessing from God. Write those down. Finally, Take time to thank God for his grace.