And it got me thinking, because in our family we don't really try to "limit" Christmas with our kids. We aren't in debt and don't go into debt for gifts, we don't think that would be the best of decisions, but within our means we do pretty much all we can for our children. Some years have been better than others for sure. And to be candid, since the economy began to turn in 2008 all kinds of gift giving has been noticeably lower than before. But especially for Christmas we try to make it big, and there is a core Biblical reason for this, and that is God's grace.
As parents our number one job is teaching our children about God and His gift in Jesus Christ as forgiveness for their sins, because one day they will have to make the decision as to whether or not they will give their lives to Him. So far we're two out of three on that score, but number three is just five years old.
But no matter which forms this teaching takes, at the end of the day it's all about this thing called "grace". But I'm not sure we always have a true understanding of what "grace" really means, what God's purpose in grace is, and how He extends it to His creation.
So first, what is "grace"? Well, often I think we forget that words actually have real meanings and in most cases those meanings have been in place for a very, very long time. We shouldn't attempt to redefine what is already defined, especially when God uses the original!
You may have heard a definition of "grace" that sounds like this: "grace is God's unmerited favor to sinners". That's true actually. The problem with it is that it isn't all of the truth, and because it falls short it leaves room for wrong ideas to coalesce around the concept of grace. Grace most definitely is unmerited but it is not unconditional. And it does contain the idea of favor, but when God exercises grace it goes way, way beyond the mere idea of a 'benevolent disposition' that we call favor.
The New Testament in the Bible is mostly written in a language called Koine Greek... so what is this word that has been translated into English as "grace"?
Well, the original word in Greek is "charis". The "ch" at the beginning of the word has a 'k' sound. It's a very, very old word with a very old and well defined meaning. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a large volume entitled "Rhetoric". It's a survey of the Greek language designed to teach students how to communicate their ideas effectively, and how to know when someone was spouting manure. It really mixes some of the functions of a dictionary with the functions of an encyclopedia. In this great work on Greek language and thought, Aristotle gives the true definition of the word "charis". After you see it, if you know God's nature and character, you'll understand why the Holy Spirit directed the human writers of the New Testament to use this word to describe God's dealings with men and women.
Aristotle gives the definition of "grace" - "charis" like this:
"Now, let gratuitous benevolence (charis - NT word for "grace") be :
'that conformably to which, he who has the power is said to confer a benefit on one who needs it, not in return for any thing, nor in order that any thing may accrue to him who so confers it, but that some benefit may arise to the object.'
But it becomes great should it be conferred on one who is in extreme want, or if the boon be great and difficult of attainment, or at a crisis of a certain description, or if the giver has bestowed it alone, or first, or in a greater degree than any other."-- Aristotle's "Rhetoric" - Book II, Chapter VII
Is this not God's very nature and character? Just look at what "charis - grace" means and when it is employed:
- It is exercised by one who has power to one who does not.
- It is exercised for the sole purpose of conferring a benefit to its target: the one who needs it.
- This bestowal isn't designed to bring anything back to the giver - it is pure 'grace'. Its sole purpose is to benefit the one in need.
- The greatness of the 'grace' is magnified if the target is in extreme want (as we are in our sin - facing certain eternal death), or if the help is great and difficult of attainment (such as God the Father sending His one and only Son to suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins - certainly a crisis of a particular description), or if the giver has done this without any help, or first, or in a greater degree than any other.
That my friends is God. The Holy Spirit knew exactly what He was doing when He directed the human authors of the Bible to write what they did.
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In this part of Romans 5 Paul is describing what happened to us in Adam, the first man (because of our inclusion in Adam) - which was death through Adam's sin. And then he describes what happens to those that accept Christ's sacrifice on our behalf for that sin, which is life through the Son. Paul explains that the actual law that calls out sin was given to increase the 'trespass', the error, of sin - so that it would be seen for what it truly is and that it's work of death would be magnified to the utmost.
That may sound evil of God but it isn't. He wasn't rubbing salt in the wound, because the other part of God's plan was this - the bolded part of the verse above: "but where sin increased (because of God giving the law), grace (God's favor to sinners who would turn to Him) increased all the more..."
What does this mean? It's really a longer description of what the Holy Spirit says in Romans 11:32:
32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
See that word "mercy" there (Greek "eleeo")? It means to help one who is in distress. Do you see the picture? We are in distress because of Adam's sin for we are his children. God took that distress and through the law ramped it up to its ultimate level. Through our inclusion in Adam and this giving of the law, God 'bound' all of us over to our own disobedience in the most ultimate way possible. Why? Isn't God for us? Doesn't He love us? You bet! But He did this so that the gates of His mercy could be flung open wide and He would be able to truly offer us "grace". The condition for grace is need. It is distress. So God ramped up the distress to its ultimate levels so that the trigger of God's mercy could be activated and grace could flow. He bound all of us over to disobedience SO THAT He may have mercy on us all.
But where the condition for grace is need, the condition for God's forgiveness in Christ is the sinner turning from living for their sin (repentance) and asking God for His offered salvation (faith in Christ). A sinner will not do this unless they truly experience the need that sin places on them. No one looks for a savior when they believe they have no need of saving. Thus God's plan described above is perfectly suited to humanity that is blinded by their own sin.
God has taken these actions, and then He sends His spirit to convince and convict the targets of His love (the entire world system) of their need (John 16:8) because in our sin we are blind.
There is no one like God my friends, and you owe Him everything you are. If you aren't living for Him you have missed the boat completely. No matter what other success in life you may have, you are an eternal failure. But it's not too late to change the situation. God's grace in His Son awaits you.
Well, I did what I always do: I took a long time to get to where I wanted to go. Believe it or not it's this verse of Romans 5:20 that I really wanted to talk about when I started this post (I come around to the point eventually I guess). And it's what God says about Himself here that I think we should be teaching our children through how we interact with them. Especially at Christmas where we celebrate the ultimate expression of God's grace.
Here it is again. Romans 5:20:
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more
Check this out: the phrase in our English translation speaking of grace saying that it "increased all the more" is actually one word in the Greek. And it's a really, really cool word - especially for sinners.
The root of the word is "perisseuo". It means to 'super abound', to have way more than enough, to be in excess to a large degree. These definitions can be in regard to quantity or quality, it doesn't matter.
This type of word is what we call a "superlative": a word that expresses the highest degree or quality about something. By definition "perisseuo" is a superlative.
If this is all that the Holy Spirit said, it would have been enough. But He didn't stop there, because the word in the Greek here isn't "perisseuo", it's merely based on it. The actual word used here is "huperperisseuo". It's our word with the prefix of "huper" stuck on the front. So what does that mean?
Well, "huper" has a few meanings of its own but when it is used as a prefix on another word it takes on the meaning of a superlative. In other words, it is used to add the superlative quality of "highest degree, highest quality, the most, etc." to another word.
So do you see what God is doing here in describing His grace (which is really just a tangible outpouring of His nature and character)?
He is taking a word describing His actions that is already a superlative, and He is increasing the meaning by sticking "huper" on the front of it. He is heaping superlative upon superlative. That's how God exercises His grace. Having "more than enough", "a super abundance" isn't enough to represent God's gracious character. No. It must be more to even approach the true description of God.
If I were to translate this phrase in my own words I would say this:
"But where sin was made to super abound ("pleonazo"), grace super, super abounded ("huperperisseuo") all the more".
Where God's grace is accepted, sin cannot win.
God is saying that no matter how bad your sin is, no matter how much it has infiltrated into your life, His grace is always light years ahead of your sin. How much more, very much more grace (superlative heaped upon superlative) is available to you for good than your sin is for evil. And in fact, the more evil you are the more grace God extends to you. Please take advantage of it through His Son before it's too late.
This is how we celebrate the gift of God's Son in my home at Christmas time. We don't pull back, we don't ration where we don't have to - we pour out on our children a tsunami of love and giving as much as we are able to do, because we want them to know and truly understand that this is what God has done for us in His Son.