I often hear people talk about grace. They say that now is “the dispensation of grace” and because of that we are not “under the law.” Although what is being said is true, I cringe because I know they don’t understand it the way I do based on other things they say. In fact, I’ve heard this mentioned several times recently by different groups of people so I thought I’d give my understanding of the subject.
The phrase “dispensation of grace” comes from Ephesians 3:2. Most use this phrase as if it were referring to an era of grace that formerly never existed. The word “dispensation” means “the act of dispensing.” Some versions use the words administration or stewardship instead of dispensation.
Paul was telling the Ephesian Gentiles that God gave him grace to dispense or pass on to them. Paul explained that a mystery had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles were to also experience God’s grace and to be able to become joint-heirs with the Jews. This was God’s plan all along. We have seen snapshots of it in the Old Testament but may have missed its significance. According to Paul, it was time for God to begin bringing His mysterious plan into its fullness. Despite Paul’s past and horrible treatment of the Jewish people who were coming to faith in Christ, God showed grace to Paul so that this same grace could be passed on to the Gentiles through Paul’s preaching.
Many times when people hear the phrase “dispensation of grace,” they assume that this is only a New Testament concept and that God never showed or dispensed grace to the people of the Old Testament. This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. God extended grace to people throughout the entire Bible. Are you shocked to read this? Most would be but please give me a chance to explain further.
Most Christians are familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” [NKJV]
The Greek word for grace in this verse is “chariti” which is the dative case (used as indirect object) of “charis” (NT: 5485). “Charin” (NT: 5484) is the accusative case (used as direct object) of “charis.” Charin is found in the Greek Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) 69 times and it always refers to the grace God extended to man or the grace man extended to other men. If you read a large portion of these verses, it is clear that this particular word for grace usually meant favor.
What complicates the study and understanding of grace is that English Bible translators have translated other Greek words as grace, kindness, mercy, and goodness interchangeably. This really causes confusion for someone trying to do a word study on “grace” using only a regular Strong’s Concordance. It is easier to use an Englishman’s Concordance once you have the correct Strong’s number from Ephesians 2:8-9 or to use a Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance. It is also important to use an interlinear version of the Greek Septuagint in order to see the continuity of Scripture.
I’ll describe the process of how to do this in order to equip you to be able to do it for yourself. It’s much easier to use a Bible Software program but the task can still be accomplished with a little more effort by using the proper reference books.
- Look up Ephesians 2:8 in an interlinear Greek New Testament.
- You can see that the Greek word for grace is chariti (dative case) with Strong’s number NT: 5485. Depending on how your software works, you can continue by double-clicking on 5485, it will take you to the definition and nominative case of that word in the Strong’s concordance.
- If we scan an interlinear Greek Septuagint for NT: 5485, we discover it’s not there but charin (NT: 5454) which is the accusative case (direct object) of charis is there. I found charin by arrowing up in Strong’s concordance. [I do not have the Greek Septuagint as part of my software program and have to look in a separate pdf file.]
- By looking up verses where charin is used in the Greek Septuagint and looking for those in the Hebrew Interlinear Bible, we see that chen (OT: 2580) is the Hebrew equivalent of charis. It means favor.
- Don’t always be too quick to accept a Strong’s definition. I have learned through experience that you can’t always accept all of Strong’s definitions and that it’s sometimes important to confirm through context. Sometimes we also need to leave cute acronyms like “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense” behind to properly understand words found in Scripture. Acronyms are not always correct and often keep us from seeing the continuity in Scripture. This is very true of grace.
- We can then use an Englishman’s Concordance for chen (OT: 2580) to find that Noah, Moses, and others experienced the same favor or grace that we experienced upon salvation despite the sins and foolishness they committed.
Now let’s look at the following verses to see how chen was used:
- Genesis 6:8 – But Noah found grace [chen] in the eyes of the Lord. (KJV)
- Exodus 33:13 – Now therefore, I [Moses] pray thee, if I have found grace [chen] in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace [chen] in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. (KJV)
- Psalms 84:11 – For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace [chen] and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. (KJV)
- Proverbs 3:34 – Surely he [the Lord] scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace [chen] unto the lowly. (KJV)
- Jeremiah 31:2 – Thus saith the Lord, The people which were left of the sword found grace [chen] in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. (KJV)
These verses show us that people in the Old Testament received grace (favor) because of their faith in God and because of their obedience. Am I saying they earned God’s favor or salvation? NO. I’m saying that even though they weren’t perfect, God was pleased with their obedience and because of that He showed them His favor. We’re not perfect, yet we can even find favor in the eyes of men. Aren’t you glad that we can even find favor in the eyes of God?
What else did these people who experienced God’s grace have in common with believers today?
As I see it, they did two other things:
- From the time of Adam to the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, they trusted that their sins and trespasses were covered by the blood of sin and trespass offerings. Since Christ’s death and resurrection, Christians have trusted in the blood atonement of Christ which was foreshadowed in the original offerings.
- They also have showed love for God by obeying His commands.
God had another role in the process of dispensing grace. According to the Jewish wedding traditions, God chose the Bride of Christ before He extended His grace to her. Even if we don’t fully understand this, we must still accept it because it is a result of God’s choice and favor that we are saved today. It is obvious that God saw something in His choice that pleased Him.
Once we accept the terms of God’s marriage covenant with Jesus, we are no longer under the curse of the law which is the second death. This is in line with the pattern of the sacrifices: the wicked will burn in the lake of fire while God’s people will be plucked from the fire. All the other curses of the law still apply in order to discipline us when we go astray and to bring us back to the terms of the marriage agreement.
Remember, the law itself is not a curse. It is the marriage covenant! Even the apostle Paul said the Torah was holy and good so let’s understand it for what it is (Romans 7:12).
Does this make sense to you?