“Grace” & “Faith” | Gifts Have Strings Attached

What is grace? What is faith?

It can be tempting to import our more modern notions of these words into Scripture instead of understanding how the audience of the New Testament authors would have understood these common terms.

In a recent Facebook post, I wrote the following:


How would you respond if someone did you an enormous favor?

Like if someone paid off all of one’s student loans, or paid off someone’s entire mortgage?

Gratitude? Public praise? Loyalty?

In the Greco-Roman world, there was an intricate system of patrons who would do such favors for clients who were in need. This unmerited favor was called “charis” [χάρις] (like charity).1

The clients were to respond with faith(fulness) — gratitude, public praise, and loyalty. This was called “pistis” [πίστις].2

One might recognize remnants of this patron-client system in The Godfather. The Godfather (patron) does a favor for a client in need; the client is supposed to respond in good faith.3


When the New Testament authors speak of grace (charis) and faith (pistis), they are employing this patronage language.4

In response to the grace (charis) of God (Patron) through Jesus Christ, they write that we (clients) should respond with faithfulness (pistis).5

Contrary to Mark Twain and more modern redefinitions, “faith” is not “believing what you know ain’t so.”6 Neither is such faith mere intellectual assent.

Properly understood, biblical faith(fulness) is active trust (e.g., gratitude, public praise, and loyalty) in response to Amazing Grace.

#TrueFaith #DivinePatronClientRelationship#MisreadingScriptureWithWesternEyes


God: The Ultimate Patron

In Scripture, God is “the ultimate [P]atron.”7 Every good and perfect gift comes from God (Jas 1:17), who gives both to the just and the unjust, the ungrateful and the wicked (Mt 5:45, Lk 6:35).8

God, however, is no one’s client. Paul ends the eleventh chapter of Romans with a fitting doxology:

35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.(Rom 11:35-36, NIV. Emphasis added)9

As scholars note:

The Father’s matchless gift to all humankind, regardless of race or status, was the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Gal 3:28). As mediator, Jesus becomes the broker who grants access to the Father for all who believe [πιστεύω | pisteuō] in him (John 15:14–16; Rom 5:1–2). He in turn mediates the gift of the Spirit and all of the charismatic gifts that empower the church (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4–5; Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:1–31).10

Faith: Our Grateful Response To God’s Grace

In response to God’s Amazing Grace through Jesus Christ, we are to respond in good faith — in complete and utter devotion. Such devotion is manifested not only through gratitude and public praise, but loyal obedience.

Faith in Christ — calling Jesus “Lord” (Rom 10:9) — necessarily entails obedience to Jesus as our Lord (Rom 1:5, Rom 16:26). For “faith” without deeds (of obedience) is dead (Jas 2:26). Moreover, love for God entails obedience (Jn 14:15, Jn 15:14, 1 Jn 5:3, etc.).

We know a tree is an apple tree if it bears apples. We know a tree is a pear tree if it bears pears. Similarly, one who has true faith in Christ will necessarily bear the fruit of that faith in obedience to Christ. One who has the Holy Spirit ought to bear fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

Our response to the grace of the Ultimate Patron should ultimately be our entire lives (Rom 12:1-2).11 We should no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and was raised again (2 Cor 5:15).

We would be wise to remember that “all ancient gifts came with strings attached.12

The Ungrateful

To refuse the gracious gift of a patron — and consequently their offer of “friendship” — was rude.13

Our refusal of God’s Amazing Grace can have dire ramifications.  “The ungrateful can expect to receive the ill consequences due the unfaithful (Heb 6:4–8; Rom 2:4–5).”14

In response to God’s grace, may we always be grateful and faithful.

Sources

  1. “The client was now a “friend” of the patron, but not a peer. The client was expected to reciprocate with loyalty, public praise, readiness to help the patron (as much as he could) and, most importantly, gratitude.”

    E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 83.

  2. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 83.
  3. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 83.
  4. “We see that when Paul explained our new relationship with God, he used something everyone understood: the ancient system of patronage.” E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 83.
  5. “The patron did ‘favors’ for his clients who then fell under his circle of influence and protection. In return, the client was expected to be loyal (faithful) and was sometimes asked to do things for the patron.”

    E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 164.

  6. Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd, 2000), 344.
  7. William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 289.
  8. William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 289.
  9. William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 289.
  10. William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 289.
  11. “Indeed, they are to sacrifice their entire beings in gratitude.”

    William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 289.

  12. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 164.
  13. E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 164.
  14. Emphasis added. William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 289.
About @DannyScottonJr 168 Articles
Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student