What is ‘Grace Upon Grace?’

Daily Devotional for Wednesday, 29, 2020 from Rev. Dr. Eric Douglass

John 1:16: From his fulness we have all received grace upon grace.

One of the central words in Christianity is ‘grace.’ When the father of the prodigal son runs out to meet his son, it is a manifestation of grace. When God provides his children with water and sun, it is a manifestation of grace. When God buys us out of slavery—redeems us—it is a manifestation of grace. But what is ‘grace’? And what is “grace upon grace”?

The Greek word for grace (charis) originally indicated ‘beauty.’ In the common language of the first century, it was used to describe a beautiful garden or stunning jewels. But it could also be applied to people. Josephus, a first-century writer, applies it to the appearance of Moses as a child: “For the beauty of the child was so remarkable that it detained the spectators and made them stay longer to look at him.”

But how is ‘beauty’ related to our notion of grace? Across time, ‘grace’ came to include the joy that one felt during a walk in a ‘beautiful garden.’ This joy is not something owed to anyone. It is not something deserved. It is bestowed on anyone who simply strolls down the path. It is without cost. It is like watching the gracefulness of a ballet dancer or a beautiful child. It brings joy to the soul.

This gets to the core of the New Testament’s use of the word. Grace is like beauty: it is freely bestowed upon us…not deserved…not earned by our actions. It is the gift of God to the soul. Indeed, across time, ‘grace’ even came to mean ‘gift.’ We see an example of this in I Cor. 16:3, where the church has taken up a collection for those in need, and Paul states: “I will…take your gift (charis) to Jerusalem.” In the same way, God’s grace is a freely given gift to all his sons and daughters. It’s like taking a walk in God’s garden…and at every turn and bend in the path, being surprised by grace.

Now, we tend to think of grace as God’s gift as embodied by the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and our salvation. It is this, but it is also more. God’s grace reaches down into every aspect of our lives…our work life, our community life, our political life, our economic life, and our entertainment life. Nothing is kept safe from the finger of God! However, when we are touched by God, we do not experience loss or disappointment, but instead encounter…beauty. Provided that we have the eyes to see it.

So, welcome to God’s garden. Walk the paths. Smell the flowers. Examine the petals and stems and leaves. Feel the rich soil in your hands. Accept the offering of grace upon grace—gift upon gift—in the very image of abundance. And in that moment, experience the fullness of God’s salvation.

Our Lord;

 All too often, we feel like we must work

in order to gain your acceptance,

or your approval, or your love.

But this is not your way.

This is not family.

You come to those with dirt on their hands,

and you gently wipe the hands clean,

wash the faces, bathe the souls,

not because it is owed,

but out of love.

 And so we now walk in the garden of God,

standing among the rarest of plants,

the smells of orchids and mints,

freely given, freely accepted.


 Grace upon grace.


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