The Greek word charis is packed with meaning in the Bible. Charis can be succinctly defined as “grace,” as in “the unmerited favor of God.” The term charis and the theme of grace permeate the New Testament in a variety of ways. Of the approximate 150 occurrences of charis, the vast majority appear in the letters of the apostle Paul.
Charis sometimes refers to the quality and practical demonstration of a favorable disposition toward someone. It denotes undeserved actions of love and compassion that originate from within the heart and will of the giver. In Luke 1:30, Mary found favor (charis) with God. In Acts 7:46, David is said to have “enjoyed God’s favor [charis].”
In some instances, charis indicates heavenly grace from God or the Lord Jesus Christ that integrates believers into the family of faith and fills them with power. Charis gave the apostles success in their mission: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all” (Acts 4:33; cf. 14:26). In Acts 6:8, charis is the grace and power that flows from God and fills Stephen to perform “great wonders and signs among the people.”
Perhaps the most important use of charis in the New Testament, frequently expressed in the phrase the grace of God, refers to the merciful act of God in Jesus Christ by which human beings are saved. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament defines this specifically New Testament use of grace (charis) as the “spontaneous act of God that came from the infinite love in His heart, in which He stepped down from His judgment throne to take upon Himself the guilt and penalty of human sin, thus satisfying His justice, maintaining His government, and making possible the bestowal of salvation upon the sinner who receives it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who became a Sin-offering for him on the Cross” [Vol. 21, Eerdmans, 1997, pp. 138–139).
Charis identifies the means of salvation that only God provides: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11). God’s saving grace includes justification, sanctification, and glorification (Romans 3:24; 2 Corinthians 8:6–7; Hebrews 2:9; 4:16). Barnabas observed that the Gentiles in Syrian Antioch had received God’s saving grace (Acts 11:23). Later, Paul and Barnabas encouraged the Christians in Pisidian Antioch to continue in God’s saving grace (Acts 13:43). Paul used the term charis when he declared that his mission in life was to testify to “the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Charis also carries the idea of strengthening believers: “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15, NLT; see also James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5, 10, 12).
The New Testament also employs these related Greek words: charizomai, “to give graciously”; and charisma, “a gift that is graciously given.” For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, 28, 30, and 31, the term charisma features prominently in Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts. Paul stresses that the gifts of the Spirit are gifts of God’s grace. These spiritual “grace gifts” are not developed through natural talent, but instead bestowed upon believers by God. In The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, William McRae defines a spiritual gift as “a divine endowment of a special ability for service upon a member of the body of Christ” (Zondervan, 1976, p. 18).
Grace (charis) is the kind and generous gift of God to those who believe in Him. It is demonstrated through His acts of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice, and salvation. Charis is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 17). God’s grace manifested in Christ makes it possible for us to receive the Father’s unmerited benefits. These benefits enrich our lives and unite us in the body of Christ. Charis—God’s blessing on the undeserving—gives us a new standing as the children of God, members of His eternal family (Galatians 4:4–6).