Biblical grace always projects a mental picture of a benevolent head of house interacting with a servant. The head is God who, by nature, actively exercises his grace towards us, his servants.
God’s grace comes upon us (Acts 4:33). We are under God’s grace (Rom 6:14,15). We may fall from God’s grace (Gal 5:2). And we abound in God’s grace or are surrounded by it (2 Cor 8:7). But Scripture never speaks of humans being filled with God’s grace.
God’s grace is linked to his righteousness. Both are qualities of God’s nature, not humanity’s nature. Neither righteousness nor grace is like free bottles of water thrown to refugees from the back of a truck. Grace cannot be poured into us or injected or infused or implanted. We do not own it. It remains God’s. When his grace acts on our behalf, that action is not spiritual magnetism, the householder’s grace drawn to a lesser force in the servant or vice versa. It is not a response to some payment or sacrifices we have made or hours given to charity Instead, God’s action on our behalf is his gift to us (Eph 3:7).
The first Scripture reference to God’s grace is when “Noah found grace (Heb. chen) in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8). The writer doesn’t make a point of saying Noah was undeserving. On the contrary, the writer arguably builds Noah’s credentials: he is righteous, blameless and he walks with God. Why wouldn’t God’s grace be manifest towards him?
A different picture is offered in post-Crucifixion writings. Let the words reverberate in our ears —- “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom.5:8). The Cross revolutionised religion. The realisation that God stooped to the grave out of love for humanity was a cosmic “Wow!!” event. It was the paramount act of divine grace. While humanity was not righteous, was not blameless, was not walking with God, he died for our salvation.
In the wake of the Cross, Paul could write to the Christian householder, Philemon, and counsel him about his runaway servant, Onesimus. “Don’t punish him as your natural instinct would compel you,” Paul urged. “Don’t invoke the Mosaic Law and have him killed. Instead, show him how God is willing to forgive him. Show him that God’s grace reaches out to him and respects his dignity and surrounds him with love. Restore him.”
– Milton Hook