What is the meaning of the Greek word 'charis' in the Bible?
Charis is a Greek word generally meaning "grace" in the New Testament. The Strong's Concordance defines it as "graciousness, benefit, favor, gift, good-will, thanks, or grace." It is especially used for a kindness or favor bestowed on someone who is ill-deserving, such as of a master toward his servants or of holy God toward sinful mankind. Charis is used over one hundred and fifty times in the New Testament and is most often simply translated as "grace," but has also been translated as "favor," "thanks," and "pleasure," so there are a few ways the Greek word can be understood.
The first way charis can be understood is as favor. The Gospel of Luke records Gabriel telling Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:30). We also read that Jesus "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Charis is this idea of kindness or approval both from God and from other humans.
The next way charis can be understood depending on the context is as thanks, especially in the phrase "thanks be to God" as seen in Romans 6:17, 1 Corinthians 15:57, and 2 Corinthians 9:15, among others. When God has bestowed His favor or blessing upon us, we desire to return joy and goodwill toward Him. That bestowing of joy and feeling of goodwill toward God is translated as "thanks."
Charis can also refer to a specific gift. In 1 Corinthians 16:3, Paul refers to the monetary offering collected to be given to the church in Jerusalem as "your gift to Jerusalem" using the Greek word charis. In Ephesians 3:7, Paul refers to his calling as a minister "according to the gift of God's grace." He says in Romans 12:6 that believers have "gifts that differ according to the grace given us." The word "grace" in these passages that refer to specific callings or giftings is the word charis in the original Greek.
Charis is also used to contrast reward that could be rightly earned through works with the undeserved blessing God extends to believers. Romans 11:6 states, "But it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." Paul reiterates in 2 Timothy 1:9 that God "saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began." Grace, which is the word charis in the original text of these passages, is differentiated from fair compensation, highlighting its meaning as "undeserved kindness."
Probably most significantly, charis can be used as a word that encapsulates the saving work of Jesus Christ. It refers to His death on the cross, the forgiveness that death affords, His resurrection that ensures believers' future inheritance, and the presence of God's own Spirit working in our hearts currently.
Another way to think about it is that charis refers to God's work of justification, redemption, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Ephesians 2:5–6 explains, "even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." In Titus 2:11, Paul succinctly writes, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people." In 2 Thessalonians 2:16 he wrote that God "loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace." The word "grace" in these contexts actually refers to the work of Jesus and all the benefits that work affords to believers. Some have used the acronym "God's Riches At Christ's Expense" to describe this understanding of grace.
Finally, charis can be used to mean general blessing and goodwill. Hebrews 4:16 calls for believers to "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." In this context charis is the blessing of help in a time of need. In 1 Timothy 1:13–14, Paul shares, "I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Charis was the blessing of mercy and the gift of faith and extension of God's love that Paul received from the Lord.
But this grace is not just for Paul. Like the author of Hebrews, Paul believed grace is for every believer. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." This assertion that God extends grace to all believers also explains why Paul opened nearly every one of his letters wishing, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," and why he closed almost every letter, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen" (Galatians 1:3 and 6:18).
Charis, meaning grace, favor, or undeserved kindness, is available from God for all people who would humble themselves before Him to receive it. James quoted Proverbs 3:34 using the word charis in James 4:6 declaring, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" May we humble ourselves and receive God's grace.
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