May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. –2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV
The God of biblical revelation is no impersonal absolute. The living God is the God of love and grace. But what do such terms mean? It is in Scripture that big terms such as “love” and “grace” are embodied in stories as well as in direct affirmations. In particular it is Jesus Christ and his story that provides the lens through which to view what the big biblical ideas are about.
What does divine love look like? Love is manifested in action, as the story of Jesus exemplifies. Jesus embodies the divine love in his coming and his cross. As John 3:16 famously affirms, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Paul elaborates, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). John adds to this testimony: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). As in the OT, in the NT practical consequences follow. Jesus exhibits a new paradigm for loving others (John 13:1-7). This love serves. This love shows hospitality. This love washes the feet of others. We are to love like that. Love is the new commandment (John 13:34). It is new because it is informed by the story of Christ.
This newness carries over into the Christian household. As in the OT, the NT presents no mere duty-ethic. This love is an answering love to the divine love as experienced in Christ: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This love is not manufactured by us; it is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ living within us (Gal 5:22). This love cannot possibly claim to love God while hating other believers (1 John 4:20). Some things – like knowledge and prophecy – fade away (1 Cor 13:8). But love remains (1 Cor 13:13). It never fades.
What does grace look like? Divine grace is undeserved favor of a superior bestowed on an inferior. The Israelites experienced God’s grace when he delivered them from Egyptian oppression. God proclaims to Moses on Mount Sinai, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God” (Exod 34:6). The exodus event also shows that when God acts graciously, it means salvation for some (Israel) but often judgement for others (Egypt and its gods as in Exod 12:12-13). In Jesus the divine grace comes into view in the most personal of ways, as John points out in his prologue (John 1:17). By coming among humankind and dying on the cross, Jesus Christ did what he was not obliged to do, and he did so not for his own sake but for ours, undeserving though we are. The nature of this undeserved favor removes any grounds for our boasting before God about our meritorious works. As Paul tells the Ephesians, “It is be grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
Even though the accent on grace in Scripture focuses repeatedly on God or Christ as the gracious one, those who have received such grace must be gracious themselves. This graciousness must show itself especially in Christian generosity (2 Cor 8:9) and speech: “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Col 4:6). Unsurprisingly such gracious speech characterized Jesus Himself (Luke 4:22).
Grace and love occur together in the Bible, and both express his goodness. We deserve neither God’s love nor his grace. Church leader Irenaeus rightly said in the second century, “[Jesus] became what we are that we might become what he is.” Such is grace. Such is love.
How does the grace and love you receive from Jesus Christ affect the way you treat others?