Long ago, Mary of Nazareth was jolted by the arrival of Gabriel, God’s messenger, telling her she was to bear a son to be named Jesus. A son who would rule forever. She was assured that she had no need to be afraid. God had favoured her and was holding her in that favour.
And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’[b] But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. (Luke 1:28-31, NRSV)

The word “favour“ in this passage is also translated by the word “grace”, or by “blessing”, or by “kindness”. The word we know as “grace” is found over 100 times in the NT. The word is in Luke (including Acts), and John. Most of the occurrences are in the writings of Paul, apostle of Jesus. (It is only not found in the first and third letters of John.)

Bible use of the noun χάρις (charis), translated as “grace”, varies. It is regularly but not always rendered as “favour”. The English word "grace" is also used in different ways.

Early in the pages of the OT there is report of a moment when the Egyptians had no reason to feel kindly towards their labourers:
“I will cause the Egyptians to treat you in a kind way. Then when you leave, you will not go with your hands empty. (Exodus 3:21, NIRV) Many translations use the word
“favour” here for how the escapees will be treated by their masters. In its version of the moment the Greek OT (Septuagint, or, LXX) has χάρις (charis). (The Hebrew word in that Bible is found about 69 times in the OT and is often translated as “favour” [favor].)

John wrote about Jesus, using the same word to say what Jesus’ entry into the world had meant - Jesus brought the undeserved kindness (or favour, or blessing) of God. One translation puts it like this (all underlining added by me to draw attention to the term):
The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us. (John 1:14, CEV) ….. (text omitted) Because of all that the Son is, we have been given one blessing after another. The Law was given by Moses, but Jesus Christ brought us undeserved kindness and truth. (John 1:16-17, CEV)

Thus we see applications of the “grace” word:
  • Mary was favoured in the role she was God-given in the coming of Jesus. 
  • Those, though undeserving, who received (or receive) Jesus are favoured with God’s limitless mercy, which is for all who will.
There is more...
Jesus, the one who brought and brings grace, can have the “favour” word applied to him in the (scanty) report of his early years:
And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40, ESV)
Jesus became wise, and he grew strong. God was pleased with him and so were the people. (Luke 2:52, CEV)

We read the “grace” word in descriptions of events during Jesus’ public activism.

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” (Luke 4:22, ESV). Jesus was speaking in his hometown synagogue. Hearers were impressed with the words of grace coming from him. I wonder if they were taken that moment by more than Jesus’ oratorical skills and grasp of their Bible. Perhaps they welcomed exhilarating Isaiah 61 promises of the LORD’s actions in favour of their nation. (As my guess - maybe Jesus developed what the Servant of the LORD would do for God’s people? That could be provocative!) All too soon they were scandalised and furious with him - as you may read for yourself in the context. If they had been viewing him favourably, they ceased to do so.

The word was used in another way by Jesus himself:

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!
(Luke 6:32, NLT) This is similar to Jesus’ question:
Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? (Luke 17:9, NRSV). Well-treating others who treat you well is common sense; hardly noteworthy or praiseworthy. The slave doing just what the master ordered was not making a gift of that service! (”Slavery” ? - might be a topic for another time?)

In his second volume, Luke made further use of the word. He tells us that at first in Jerusalem the message from the early followers of Jesus of the risen Saviour was well-received:
praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47, NRSV) For then, at least, “the people” thought well of the early believers.

A little further on we read:
The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. (Acts 4:33, NLT) God prospered their efforts and they experienced “success” - I see this as perhaps inner strengthening of them in their mission and, maybe broad acceptance in the populace. (If so, I demur from the esteemed NLT translators!)

Although the “grace” word is not used here, I propose that this is an OT passage which gave similar indications of what God is like, and what God likes to see:
but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24, NRSV) It seems too easy to forget that first aspect of God's character.

Although again without the word “grace” (Matthew has “reward” instead), I think what we find here from Jesus is in similar vein:
But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors[a] love their friends. (Matthew 5:44-46, CEV) Those who receive grace and live by grace are called to live out grace.

Paul used the “grace” word to summarise God’s work in the believers:

You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. (Ephesian 2:8, CEV)

Or, in a more cautious translation of those words:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8, NLT)

God was, and is, a God of grace. That same mercy is actively available to you.

The song about grace being amazing is well known. There are alternative versions.

Not so long ago Philip Yancey wrote about “Vanishing Grace” - the sad replacement of Jesus’ ways by other ways of treating people.

God has not changed.

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NIRV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL READER'S VERSION®.Copyright © 1996, 1998 Biblica. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of Biblica.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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