Unity Forum and The Foundations of Our Salvation in Christ

Dr. James D. Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary

Lincoln, Illinois 62656


Occasions of Grace in Paul


“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope -the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2.11-11)


Occasions of Grace: God’s self giving to man in Jesus Christ. The need for grace, justification by faith, entering and abiding in Christ, the predestination of the elect are just some of the great theological themes vouched safe to us by Paul.


Prior to the theological extension of charis in the New Testament, the Greeks used the word to designate the beauty or grace which makes ‘a thing and especially a person, attractive. The word then came to mean the favor or the benevolence of the gods; the effect of this favor is also a grace. The angel’s greeting to Mary in Luke 1.28 evokes these various meanings (of. Lk 2.52).  Greek inscriptions of the first century speak of the grace conferred on a city by the emperors.  In Hellenistic religious circles, the idea of grace was associated with that of mysterious power (cf. J. Wobbe, Per Charisgedanke bei Paulus (Munster, 1932; J. Moffat, Grace in the New Testament (London, 1931); W. Hanson, “Grace in The New Testament” in W. T. Whitely, The Doctrine of Grace (London, 1932); in tracing the early history of the various doctrines of grace it is vital to note that often the Latin gratia translates both charis and charisma.


Many ranges of classical meaning for ‘charis’ appear in the New Testament-egs: (1) gracefulness or loveliness, Lk 1.22; Col 4.6; (2) graciousness or favor, Lk 2.52; (3) gratitude as the emotion awakened by such favor, Lk 17.9; Rom 6.17; and (4) a concrete expression in the sense of liberality or bounty, I Cor 16.3; II Cor 8.6, 7,19; see Jones, Lexicon, Baur, Lexicon; TDNT; DNTT; Louw and Nida, Domain Lexicon; Lampe, Lexicon.  It is Paul’s theology of grace which expands the semantic significance (see the significance of ‘Semantics’ for biblical exegesis and theology in John L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962); James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: The University Press, 1961); Rudolf Carnap, The Logical Syntax of Language (London: Kegan Paul, 1937); Noam Chomsky, Studies On Semantics in Generative Grammar (Hague: Mouton, 1972); Colin Brown (ed), NIDNT (3 vols) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975-78); Nigel Turner, Christian Words (Edinburg: T & T Clark , 1980); Ceslas Spicq, Notes de lexicographie neo-testamentaire 2 vols (Orbis biblicus et orientatlis 22, Fribourg: 1978); John Lyons, Semantics (2 vols) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Benjamin Kedar, Biblische Semantik (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1981); John F. A. Sawyer, Semantics in Biblical Research (London: SCM, 1972); Paul Ricoeur, Le conflict des interpretations; essais d_hermeneutique (Paris: Editions du Seuill, 1969); G. Ryle, “Use, Usage and Meaning” Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 35, 1961); Raffaele Simone, “Semiologie Augustinienne” Semiotics 5, pp 1-31, 1972; Stephen Ullmann, “Semantic Universals,” in J. H. Greenberg, ed., Universals of Language (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, pp. 172-207).

In the New Testament, charis is primarily a Pauline word. Two fundamental issues are always crucial to Paul’s use of this magnificent theological term: The atoning death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The grace of God is ultimately revealed in the person of Christ.  Grace reigns through God in Christ (cf. Rom. 3.21-6; 5.1-21; Titus 2.11-14).  It is safe to affirm that Paul never speaks of grace except as grounded in the self-giving of God in Christ, and in each instance it is the objective side of its content that predominates. There is not the slightest hint of any psychologizing in Paul’s use of grace. [The internal consequence of grace is sanctification, but not the Eastern Orthodox form - Gross, La divinsation]


Grace, Salvation and Discipleship


The primary concern of this study is to expose the occasions of grace in the theology of Paul.  In his epistles grace has to do with the act of God’s intervention rather than with our receiving of it. Grace is the presupposition of our initial salvation and the daily life of discipleship.


Grace, Ground of Christian World-View


Paul thinks of grace as disclosing a new worldview that has broken in on the world from the empty cross and tomb and is now operative in the Gospel and its extension (II Cor 4.6,15; 5.17; I Cor 2.12; Col 1.13). In the Pauline epistles, charis is not in any sense a quality adhering to Paul, but a particular manifestation of the gracious purpose and power of Christ. Paul often speaks of others as being in the grace of God, or as standing in grace, or falling from grace, or as being under grace (of. Rom 5.2; 6.14; 12.3; 15.16; Gal 5.4; Eph 2.5; Heb 6.4ff.).


Grace is thus the new supernatural order, which breaks in upon us, but manifests itself in our faith, and in our Christian existence. Grace is the very source of our status as new beings (Cf. I Cor 3-10; 15.10; Gal 2.7; Rom 12.3; 15.15).


Our righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption are only in Christ, and we can speak of these as stages of relational differentiations of charis even when they are manifest in the life of each believer. Charis is never adjectival in the lips of Paul, but always dynamic. Whenever Paul speaks of grace-gift in a detached sense it was not charis he used, but charisma, and what is more, he did not derive charisma from charis but from pneuma (cf. I Cor 12.4-11; see both Martin and Carson on I Cor 12-14; ‘Charisma’ in TDNT/DNTT; also my Spirit of God with extensive bibliography).


In Pauline theology, grace expresses both the result and the source of joy (II Cor 1.15; Wobbe, p. 14), supernatural favor and mercy (Rom 11.6; Eph 2.6,7), Christ (Titus 3-7; II Cor 8,9) and in the Spirit. Grace is a divine privilege above all else, and then a gift given to men (Eph 2.4-7); both mercy and plenitude (pleroma) express the riches of Christian discipleship. This wholly gratuitous gift is poured out abundantly (Eph 1.7-8) to strengthen and console (Rom 1.11-12), to bring peace and effect good works (Rom 5.1; II Cor 9.8). Therefore, it must not be accepted in vain (II Cor 6.1).


Enabling grace (II Cor 3.4-5) is even attached to the giving of alms (II Cor 8.1). Still, voluntary almsgiving is an effect of grace properly so called (II Cor 9.14).  In one instance, Paul identifies grace with Jesus Christ (Titus 2.11) in order to magnify the nature of the ultimate gift. God’s grace is not only a source of moral action but also of sanctification (Rom 5.5).


Grace—The Epitome of God’s Saving Activity: John 3.16


The Pauline theology of charis fits into three categories: (1) Grace as the foundation of our salvation in Christ; (2) Grace as the outgoing mission to the nations (ethnics); and (3) Grace as building up the churches.


A.  Charis in Salvation: When Paul speaks of grace, he is invariably thinking of Christ in connection with it. He must frequently speak of the ‘grace of God,’ but it is in Christ that God’s grace is revealed and by Him that it is mediated to men (I Cor 1.4; Rom 5.21).  He uses the ‘grace of God’ twenty-two times and the ‘grace of Christ’ fifteen times, indicating both the Father and the Son as the fountain of grace (of. contemporary Hermeneutical issue of neutering God/Language, i.e. sexist language regarding God, Father and Son; see my Contemporary Hermeneutical Problems for my response to the international debate).  Paul’s simplest expression is found in Rom 3.24 where he explains that sinners are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is this act of God that Paul regards as one of astonishing self-sacrifice (II Cor 8.9). The magnitude of the sacrifice he describes in Philippians 2.5ff and Romans 5.6ff.  It is in this respect that grace also differs most from the mercy of God in the Old Testament.  It is not merely strong compassion for the sorrowful, weak, and needy, but it is self-renouncing love that so yearns to save that it surrenders all the glory that is its own, and welcomes all the poverty that is another’s.  Christ freely gave himself to die for sinners while they were yet enemies of God (Rom 5.6-11; Eph 2.4ff). Therefore, the result of man’s salvation is achieved apart from the law (Rom 3.21); for if salvation can be effected through man’s own works of merit, then “grace is no more grace” (Rom 11.6).  If grace is not to be conceived according to the Rabbinic idea of God’s mercy as something merely auxiliary to man’s own efforts for righteousness, then, grace, apart from man’s efforts, is the will of God to constitute the new man in Christ, thus making man the possessor of eternal life (Rom 6.23). This new meaning of charis expresses the universality of God’s favor in its extension beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. This extension came as a surprise to the early Jewish Christians as they recognized that privileges formerly belonging exclusively to Israel were now extended to the Gentiles (of. Acts 22.17,23; 15.7,11,etc).  Paul attributes his apostleship to the Gentiles to the grace of God, and in others he attributes the Gentiles’ admission into the body of Christ to God’s grace (cf. (1) Paul’s Apostleship to the Gentiles—I Cor 3.10; 15.10; II 1.12; Gal 1.15f; 2.7; 2.21; Rom 1.5); (2) Gentile admission into the Church—II Thess 1.12; 2.16; I Cor 1.4; II Cor 6.1; 8.1; Gal 1.6).


While it is clear that God’s grace in salvation is free and unmerited, the extent to which God and man cooperate in salvation and how salvation is offered to man and received by man, is not always so clearly understood. Some passages emphasize the free loving will and purpose of God in salvation, while others set forth the human side with its attendant responsibilities and activities. These two extreme views of the matter are probably best represented by the Reformation doctrine of ‘sola gratia’ (grace alone) and the Roman Catholic doctrine of “gratia cooperans” (grace cooperating with man enabling him to perform works of merit).


In the New Testament, the work of salvation begins with God’s call (kaleo - Rom 8.30 or klesis - Rom 11.29), the call is done through the Gospel (II Thess 2.14), which Luke calls the ‘Gospel of God’s grace’ (Acts 20.24). The called person must be a willing believer of the Gospel which entails his response to God’s offer of His grace (Eph 2.8,9) (cf. Baur’s work on grammar; the neuter touto (that) of Eph 2.8 does not grammatically modify the feminine pisteos (faith). The theou to doron (gift of God) has reference rather to the salvation which is made possible by God’s grace and appropriated by man through faith). Grace does not override man’s will and violate his responsibility; and that in man which enables grace to be effective in his life is what Paul calls faith.  Further, repentance and immersion for the remission of sins (Lk 24.45-59; Acts 2.37-42) like faith are conditions of acceptance rather than works of merit.


The same responsibility is implied in the Christian life. We are exhorted to perseverance (Acts 14.22; I Cor 16.13; I Thess 3.2) to watchfulness (I Cor 16.13; I Peter 5.8; Rev 3.3; 16.15) to struggle and endeavor (I Cor 9.24-27; II Tim 2.5; 4.7), to labor on behalf of fellow saints (Rom 14.19; 15.2,14; Gal 6.1), and, in general, to the exercise of all virtues, as well as to the performance of all the duties of Christian existence.


B.  Charis as Power: Paul uses charis with reference to new divine influence(s) within the new being. Two dimensions of grace are affirmed by Paul:  (1) God’s redeeming favor, and (2) the results of this favor in Christian character and conduct (cf. Romans 5.2 - “this grace wherein we stand” affirms grace as the source of our new status.  Galatians 5.4 “charitos” reveals that grace is something (someone) one can remove oneself from (Acts 20.32; I Cor 15.12; Heb 6.6ff).  Pauline theology of charismata, especially Romans 12.6, declares that Christians “having gifts (charismata) according to the grace (charm) that was given to us.” The power principle to which Paul attributes the various- charismta is not the charis itself but rather the pneuma (Spirit, I Cor 12.4-11).  In I Corinthians 12 Paul attributes to the Holy Spirit what he has previously in 1.4-6 had attributed to grace (cf. compare I Cor 1.5 to 12.8; 1.7 to 12.4-1 - given by God’s grace (1.4) and constituting God’s grace in the sense of the administration and working of the Holy Spirit (12.11); Paul also uses charis in the sense of ‘thanks’ (cf. Rom 6.17; 7.25 I Cor 10.30; 15.57; II Cor 2.14; 8.16; 9.15; Heb 12.28; I Tim 1.12; II Tim 1.3; Col 3.16; Eph 4.29. This polyvalence of ‘charis1 is lexically examined in the Nida/Louw Domain Lexicon, 2 volumes (charis - kindness, 88.66; gift, 57.103 (also charisma, gift); thanks, 33-350; good will, 25.39).


Essentially, Paul discusses occasions of grace under three categories:  (cf. “Occasions of God in Paul, Luke, and First Century Judaism” in Anglican Theological Review LXIV 4 (Oct, 1982):562-577)


I.  Grace and Mission: Both categories express primarily movement and growth rather than maintenance. These categories are interfaced by what Paul elsewhere calls “The New Creation” (II Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15).


          1.     Grace and Praise (Rom 1.5; Gal 1.5; 2.9) By righteous living through Christ we received

                   grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for His name sake among the


          2.     Grace and Righteous Living (Rom 6.14,15) (Law and Grace) “you as members to God

                   are instruments of righteousness.”

          3.     Grace and Glory (Rom 15.8-16)  “...in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His


          4.     Grace and Paul’s Mission (II Cor 4.15)  “...as grace extends to more and more people it

                   may increase thanksgiving (eucharistia) to the glory of God.”

          5.     Grace and Generosity (II Cor 9.11-14; Phil 1.7-11; Col 1.5-6; I Cor 16.1-3; II Cor 8.Iff)

                   “...for generosity...will produce thanksgiving (eucharistia) to God; ...because of the

                   surpassing grace of God in you...as issuing from God’s expansive grace, operating in                                       believers.”

          6.     Grace and Incarnation (Stewardship and Incarnation): Though He was rich, He became



Behavior expressing indwelling grace has worldwide implications. By obediently responding to charis, which is “in” or “among,” they will simultaneously act as instruments to increase eucharistia from others to God. Grace abounds for humanity, so thanksgiving will abound to God.  Paul sees grace as a cosmic force—charis becoming eucharistia—becoming charis.  “The Cosmic Circle” - The occasion of this marvelous word play is the issue of the Corinthian collection for the poor in Jerusalem.  “In the worship of obedience and praise both God and human beings enjoy charis.” (ibid, p. 56?)


II.  Grace and Worship:  Paul found occasions of grace within his daily walk and witness.


          1.     He uses charis four other times in the worship expression “Thanks be to God.” Each

                   occasion exemplified radical results from the progress of the Gospel.

          2.     Transformations from slavery under sin to righteous behavior - Rom 6.17-18; 7.21-15.

          3.     Victory over death won by Christ’s resurrection - I Cor 15.42-47.

          4.     Effectiveness of Paul’s mission in spite of deep and disastrous misunderstandings between

himself and some within the churches - II Cor 2.14. This effectiveness is paradoxical because of grace.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” II Cor 12.9. The grace that advances the church is experienced in the form of a cross - Phil 1.29-30.

          5.     Awestruck Thanksgiving (though without the appearance of the word chars) - Rom 11.33-

                   36; II Cor 9.11-15; I Cor 15.15-57.


III.  Grace and Growth: Charis as the ever-present power for upbuilding The Church is graphically exposed in Paul’s fourteen references to the grace-gifts he calls charismata. According to Paul, each believer is granted at least one of these grace- gifts (I Cor 7.7; 12.6,11). Sometimes they are received in connection with conversion and baptism (I Cor 12.13; Gal 3.2ff); it is possible that others may receive gifts at a later stage of development (I Cor 12.31; 14.1 - note that the immature Corinthians had received grace-gifts., i.e., they were not awarded for “super-spirituality”). Some gifts were supernatural (I Cor 12.10-11); other, like teaching or doing acts of mercy (Rom 12.7,8) empowered believers for daily expressions of graciousness. Certain charismata, like Paul’s celibacy (I Cor 7.7) appears to provide a long term disposition (of. II Cor 1.8-11). The point here is that one person’s gift was to stimulate thanksgiving among all believers. Perhaps that is why charismata and the talk about them are to be publicly shared, especially in the context of corporate worship (I Cor 14; Col 3.15,16), where the stated goal is that all participants should be built up in their faith (I Cor 14.3-5; 12.24-26,31).  Awareness of grace-gifts should empower response to thankful worship. The interfacing of worship and ethics is clearly expressed in Romans 12.Iff, “I appeal to you...brethren.... Having gifts (charismata) that differ according to the grace (charis) given to us, let us use them...”  (II Cor 1.15; Philemon 22; Rom 1.11-12; I Cor 16.3; II Cor 8.6-7; II Cor 9.5, where the collection is called eulogia or blessing).


‘Occasions of grace, ‘ whether in mission or in building up the body of Christ to prepare for outgoing (mission) (Eph 4.11ff), most readily occur where praise and service meet.


See some of the following Restoration literature for discussions on grace: Millennial Harbinger, W. Scott’s Evangelist, Christian Evangelist Index, Standard Index, Christian Magazine, Christian Standard, Restoration Quarterly.


Appendix: Occurrences of charis in the New Testament


(See Kurt Aland, Computer Konkordanz zum Novum Testamentum Graece (Berlin/NY: Walter De Gruyter, 1980); articles in TDNT/DNTT)


Luke:  1.30; 2.10; 2.52; 4.22; 6.32-34; 17.9;

John:  1.14, 16 (2), 17

Acts: 2.47; 4.33; 6.8; 7.10,46; 11.23; 13.43; 14.3,26; 15.11,40; 18.27; 20.24,32; 24.27; 25.3 9

Romans:     1.5,’?; 3.24; 4.4,16; 5.2,15 (2), 17,20,21; 6.1,14,15,17; 7.25; 11.5,6 (3); 12.3,6; 15.15;


I Corinthians: 1.3,4; 3.10; 10.30; 15.10 (3),57; 16.3,23;

II Corinthians:  1.2,12,15; 2.14; 4.15; 6.1; 8.1,4,6,7,8,9,16,19; 9.8,14,15; 12.9;13.13,14;

Galatians:  1.3,6,15; 2.9,21; 5.4; 6.18

Ephesians:  1.2,6,7; 2.5,7,8; 3.2,7,8; 4.7,29; 6.24;

Philippians:  1.2,7; 4.23

Colossians:  1.2,3; 3.16; 4.6,18

I Thessalonians:  1.1; 5.28

II Thessalonians:  1.2,12; 2.16; 3.18

I Timothy:  1.2,12,14; 6.21

II Timothy:  1.2,3,19; 2.1; 4.22;

Titus:  1.4; 2.11; 3.7,15;

Philemon:  3,7,25

Hebrews:  2.9; 4.16(2); 10.29; 12.15,28; 13.9,25

James: 4.6(2);

I Peter:  1.2,10,13; 2.19,20; 3.7; 4.10; 5.5,10,12

II Peter:  1.2; 3.18

II     John:  vs. 3

III   John: vs. 4

Jude:  vs. 4

Revelation:  1.4; 22.21






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