When you hear the word “grace,” what comes to mind?
We may think of a person who moves “gracefully,” or even “saying grace” — the act of thanking God before a meal.
However, when it comes to the Bible, the word “grace” takes on a specific meaning. The Biblical meaning for grace is unmerited favor; an unearned, undeserved free gift of extravagant proportions.
To best understand grace, it helps to distinguish it from justice and mercy. When we see someone who is wronged, we naturally want that person to be restored or compensated in some way. In short, we want justice. Justice is getting what you do deserve.
Mercy is different. When you are shown mercy you deserve punishment, but someone is saving you from the judgment.
Grace, however, is God blessing us when we do not deserve such a blessing.
For instance, if you drive carelessly and run into the back of another vehicle, it would be “just” for the other driver to file a claim against your insurance company and seek compensation for damages. If the other driver, seeing that you are distraught about the accident, decides not to file a claim, that is “mercy.”
But, if the other driver writes you a check for $500, that is grace.
In the eighth chapter of the gospel of John, we have the account of the woman caught in adultery. Each of us will feel like this woman at some point in our lives — all too aware of our guilt and shame. And we may certainly feel that we deserve punishment.
Yet, then we have the words of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you.”
That statement, “Neither do I condemn you,” has enormous power. It goes beyond mercy (simply not punishing) and can set one free. It has the power to lift eyes and change lives. And that is what Jesus does best.
Unlike all other religions, Christians worship a God who loves bestowing not only mercy, but the free gift of new beginnings, new lives. And that is grace.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.