“Grace” is a word so often used in Christian contexts that the meaning can be quickly lost, leading to confusion in terms of application. The Greek word “charis” (we get the word “charity” here) was translated “grace” and has often been understood to mean “love,” “favor,” or “pleasure.” Originally, “charis” was used as a greeting, as Paul often demonstrated in his letters: “grace to you.” The implication includes joyfulness, rejoicing because of favor or a gift given for the sake of someone else. Grace makes effectual our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9), but there is a broader meaning.
Robert C. McQuilkin (the first president of Columbia International University from 1923-1952) wrote a short book called “God’s Law and God’s Grace” (published posthumously by Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1958) wherein he stretches our understanding of the way the word is used in the Bible:
“We may think of grace primarily as that which belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace is what the Lord Jesus Christ is, in His essence, in His character. Then there is the thought of that grace manifested to others: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9). John states that of His fullness have we all received and “grace for grace” (John 1:16). They wondered at the gracious words, or the words of grace, that proceeded out of His lips (Luke 4:22). Again, the word grace is applied to the gifts of the Spirit. These indeed are called “charisma.” “See that ye abound in this grace also” (II Cor. 8:7). This is the grace of giving; since all the words of the Holy Spirit in and through men are gifts from God, they may be called graces. Closely related to this meaning, but still distinct from it, is the use of the word “grace” or “graciousness” as exhibited by the Christian. Christ is within the believer, and when the Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and makes them real in and through us there is the Christian who is full of grace, although not in the absolute sense of the perfections of Christ Himself.”
We may consider this summation as a definition: grace is the character of Christ manifested to and received by others by the word and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift, making the things of Christ real in us and through us. Grace is making Christ real.
Somehow we have it in our minds that grace is given with nothing expected of the receiver, that it makes friends between an offender and one offended. Grace comes at a price to the one who extends it and to the one who receives it. The grace of God does not come without a price—God cannot merely extend to a sinner any of His grace apart from the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sinner who is met by the grace of God is transformed into a new creation that denies ungodliness and lives soberly, righteously and Godly in the present age.
What does living in grace look like? Is it living under a list of “do’s” or a list of “don’ts?” Years ago I heard someone say of the Bible that the Bible is a book of “do’s” and not a book of “don’ts;” so, if you do all the “do’s” you don’t have time to do the “don’ts.” This is an idea of what it looks like to live a life where Christ is manifest in us and through us. It is neither libertine nor is it lax. It is not Reformation Theology nor is it Calvary Chapel.
The opening chapters of Romans communicates that all men are sinners and are under the condemnation sin brings, death. The miracle of the gospel is that by repentance, one is able to receive righteousness from God by grace through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (justification). The gospel goes on to show that the one who turns from their sins and finds new life through the grace of God in Christ Jesus is transformed and empowered to live free from the power of sin (sanctification), being dead to sin. Romans 7 shows how this works in the example of marriage: a woman married to a man cannot marry again without being called adulterous unless her first husband has died, releasing her from the first marriage. When a spouse dies, the law of marriage no longer applies.
The law has dominion as long as one lives (7:1) and is binding (7:2) but is able to be broken by death (7:3). Through the death of Christ, we have become freed from the law (7:4). Since we are delivered from the law by death (7:6), sinful passions work in us, but we are dead, delivered. The law is not sin, but holy (7:12) and good (7:13), showing what sin is (7:7). Apart from the law sin is dead (7:8). Sin revived under the law and deceives, bringing death (7:9, 11).
When by faith we die to sin in Christ Jesus, sin no longer has power over us. The law continues to reveal God’s perfection and the ongoing presence of sin as we remain here in the flesh, but we no longer must sin—the repentant are by faith dead to sin and alive in Christ. This is where the struggle remains: free from the power of sin, but still living in its presence. This is why we can identify with the Apostle Paul in saying that, while dead to sin, sin is still alive in me. This is part of the hope we have as believers: that when we sin, we are always being cleansed as we confess, looking forward to the day we no longer experience its’ effects. This is where grace, Christ made real, is at work.
“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-25)
The Christian is surrendered to God in Christ Jesus, so giving in to the very thing Jesus died to save us from does not please God, nor does sinful living produce the kind of life He desires for us. Romans 7 is convicting because it reminds the Christian of where he or she came from (being bound to sin by the law) and where he or she is now (free from the law and bound to Christ) and what he or she may anticipate through eternal life: Christ made real.