The Greek word for grace is charis, and there’s no question of its importance in biblical theology. Charis appears 116 times in the New Testament. There’s a lot about grace in Scripture because it’s the message of Jesus.
Grace means favor. It means acceptance. It means giving. Grace is free in the sense that something done or given in grace is done so without expecting to receive anything in return. Grace isn’t dependent on the way it’s received, the moral goodness of the one receiving it, or even that person’s ability to rightly say, “Thank you.” The only thing grace is dependent on is the generosity of the giver.
Every other religion in the world boils down to a sort of cosmic barter system. People bring their good stuff to their god, whether it’s good actions, good money, or good sacrifices, and in exchange their god gives them some of its good stuff.
Not so in Christianity. As a grace-based belief system, Christianity is built solely on the extravagant goodness of God. Nothing in us motivates God’s grace, and nothing we do can pay Him back. The only part we play in grace is receiving it: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Jesus lived out this truth in His ministry. When He healed the sick, He didn’t do so on the basis of their righteousness. When He fed the hungry, He didn’t do so with the intent to have them repay Him. And when He offers salvation to the world, He doesn’t make a qualification about who can receive it. Salvation is framed in terms of “whosoever.” Jesus invites the “weary and burdened” to lay their yokes on Him (Matthew 11:28). His life, ministry, death, and resurrection display the grace of God to a hopelessly lost world.
Adapted from Holy Vocabulary: Rescuing the Language of Faith by Michael Kelley (LifeWay Press, 2010).