Grace is the Apostle Paul’s chosen word to explain to others how his life changed on the road to Damascus. He spent many years in Tarsus, his hometown, before being invited to join the public ministries of the Apostles. Imagine him as he was out and about in those earlier years testing words to find out which communicated best his new relationship with God. Luke used grace in his Gospel and Acts, but when you are reading Luke you are getting Paul’s theology since Luke was his protégé. In the other three Gospels, Jesus used the word for mercy.
Grace in Greek is charis, from which we get charity. This is God’s favor offered, his mercy. Call that Grace1. A second form is charisma, meaning receiving the gifts or benefits conferred by the Spirit to individuals. Call this Grace2. These words for grace were used only by Paul, with one exception later by Peter.
Grace1 is well known. We are saved by God’s grace, his mercy, not by our works. Grace2 received little attention in Reformation theology because it implies a revolutionary concept of ministry done by others than clergy.
There are two kinds of Grace2. The more familiar is the variety of ministries provided by all participants so that each has a manifestation of the Spirit contributed for the common good. Easily overlooked is the last verse of 1 Corinthians 12: “But eagerly desire the greater gifts (charismata).” Then comes Paul’s famous chapter on love and also faith and hope. These are human qualities produced by the Spirit, who influences the human spirit.
In his earlier letter to the Galatians, Paul described other qualities that the Spirit influences: the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Over the centuries when the Spirit was neglected, these attributes were regarded as virtues we are to pursue on our own, with guilt for not doing better. Rather they are human qualities that the Spirit influences. We are not on our own. Jesus did not leave us as orphans. Today he sends his Spirit to touch and empower his followers so they experience a higher quality of life in this world, not just in the future one.
Grace1 all by itself is wonderful Good News that the loving God comes to us; we don’t have to earn his favor. Grace2 adds to that Good News that we are not on our own to live a more virtuous life; Christ’s Spirit empowers us to experience a higher quality of life. By Grace1we are saved for eternity. By Grace2 we are empowered to have a higher quality of life in this world.
What does this double Gospel mean for doing effective ministry today? Those today who don’t know Christ are not walking around feeling guilty and thus seeking forgiveness. Few are worried about a better life in heaven. But most are seeking a better quality of life in this world. They are looking for more meaning and closer relationships. They are looking to be changed into someone better with higher purposes.
Grace1 is the starting point for a new relationship with God. But in our post-Christian times, Grace2 delivers the most impact. Christ’s redemption brings us new life with God. In Christ’s Spirit, we have the power to live that new life. Christ’s resurrected power became available in his time. Now he is with his Father beyond this present world. But he is also with us now through his life-changing Spirit. He did not leave us as orphans on our own.
The biblical world for salvation has two meanings. One is to rescue, as Jesus did with his disciples when their boat was sinking in a storm and they cried, Save us. The other meaning is to heal, as Jesus did with so many in his earthly ministry. Same word. We are saved for the next world. We are healed for this world.
The message about being justified and redeemed in Christ, Grace1, lends itself to words and symbols. But words alone do not deliver well the message about being healed and changed in this life, Grace2. That is better conveyed by evidence of lives changed. Stories do that the best, stories told by people today in circumstances we recognize.
Historically, Christian churches defined themselves by their beliefs. In the future, effective churches will have to define by evidence of what they add to this present world.
Does the distinction between Grace1 and Grace2 make sense to you? How is Grace2 (charisma) different from Grace1 (charis)?