What’s the deal with ‘grace’? Part 2
God’s grace to us in Jesus – the Gift – is truly amazing! We have it all in Christ now. And we have an incredible future of revelling in the glory of God’s grace for all eternity (Eph 1:14, 18). One reason why God’s grace is so amazing is that it is multifaceted, kind of like a diamond.
In Part 1, we saw how John Barclay helps us understand the multifaceted nature of grace with his ‘six perfections’. What are these perfections again? They are all to do with the giving of a gift. The six perfections are ‘superabundance’ (a gift excessive in size or permanence), ‘singularity’ (someone’s sole mode of operation as merciful gift-giving), ‘priority’ (a gift given prior to the recipient’s initiative), ‘incongruity’ (a gift given without consideration for whether the recipient deserves the gift), ‘efficacy’ (a gift given in order to achieve a certain goal, which achieves this goal), and finally ‘non-circularity’ (a gift given without any expectation that it will be reciprocated). Any or all of these perfections could be meant when someone talks about ‘grace’, at least in Paul’s ancient context.
In light of that, what perfections of grace can we see in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians? In other words, if God’s grace is like a diamond, what facets of that diamond does Paul polish and hold up for us to see?
The perfections of grace in Ephesians
The incongruity of grace (the undeserved nature of God’s Christ gift) is probably the most prominent facet of grace in all of Paul’s letters. Paul loves to show off this aspect of grace! This is true of Ephesians. In 2:1–10, we are reminded that God’s life-bringing salvation is given to the undeserving ‘dead’ (2:1–3). Moreover, God’s grace precludes any form of human worth, here expressed as any ‘work’ (2:9) which could lead to boasting. In other words, there’s nothing we have done in the past (we were dead!) or could ever do in the future (he gives us good works to do) to deserve God’s grace. Our worth does not factor in at all! In 3:1-13 the incongruity of grace is intensely personal for Paul. Although he was ‘less than the least’, God has given him ‘unsearchable riches’ in Christ (3:8). And his life illustrates God’s unprecedented inclusion of the Gentiles on equal terms with the Jewish people (3:6). The incongruity of grace shines through.
There’s nothing we have done in the past (we were dead!) or could ever do in the future (he gives us good works to do) to deserve God’s grace.
But that’s not all. Paul also emphasises the priority of grace (a gift given prior to the recipient’s initiative). We saw this already in the image of God giving life to the dead (2:1-3). But it’s especially prominent in chapter 1. God’s initiative goes all the way back to before time began! Paul emphasises God’s election of believers ‘before the foundation of the world’, repeatedly praising God for his sovereign will and eternal plan which has come to fruition in the life of chosen believers (1:4, 5, 11, 12).
God’s initiative goes all the way back to before time began!
One facet of grace that arguably does not appear in Ephesians is the non-circularity of grace (a gift given without any expectation that it will be reciprocated). God’s grace expects the response of ‘good works’ (1:4; 2:10). Of course, he gives even these to us, but we are still urged to ‘walk’ in them (2:10). Paul urges his recipients to ‘live worthily’ of their calling (4:1; ch. 4–6). However (and this is so important!) this is all within an adoptive relationship. As I argued in my last post, God does not treat us as anything other than a beloved child (1:5). That’s why Paul urges us to ‘follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children‘ (5:1). We only need to consider a parent’s irrepressible love for their child to begin to appreciate how God relates to us.
God’s grace is ridiculous!
Probably my favourite, however, is the superabundance of grace (a gift excessive in size or permanence). Paul tirelessly draws attention to this in Ephesians. Believers have been given ‘all spiritual blessings’ (1:3). These blessings have been given out of God’s sheer ‘pleasure’ (1:5, 9). God’s glorious grace (1:6), described as abundantly ‘rich’ (1:7), is ‘lavished’ upon believers (1:8). Paul gushes even further in ch 2, piling up his descriptors for God’s superabundant grace. God saved us because he is ‘rich’ in mercy and because of his ‘great love’ with which he loved us (2:4). God saved us so that he could display the ‘immeasurable riches’ of his grace, ‘with kindness’ towards us in Christ (2:7). God’s grace is ridiculous! It is outrageous, lavish grace, poured out on the utterly unworthy.
So, what’s the deal with ‘grace’? For Paul, God’s grace is the Gift: Jesus himself, given to us for our salvation. In Jesus, we have everything (Eph 1:3). We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t initiate it. Yes, we respond to it with a new grace-shaped life, but we never earn it, because we are already God’s beloved children. And it is outrageously lavish beyond our wildest dreams!
We can only respond the way Paul does at the end of ch 3: ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.’
Paul Avis (Associate Pastor)