Grace be with you — Galatians

The prayers of Paul

This is a new series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in one of the orders he is belived to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.

A black man with a cross earring has hands held together and head bowed in prayer.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Galatians 1:3-5, 6:18

John Lennon, Radiohead and Paul’s prayers for the Churches

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you,” sang John Lennon in 1970. Karma is about justice, you get what you deserve as Radiohead put it in Karma Police in 1997, using the chord sequence from Lennon’s Sexy Sadie:

This is what you’ll get*
This is what you’ll get
This is what you’ll get
When you mess with us.

Karma is something we love. We delight in seeing bad get their comeuppance, both in real life and in fiction. The call for karma, for people to get what they deserve, is the theme of many films and we get to feel good emotions when at the end of the film the bad guys who have been on top for most of the time lose shortly before the last frame.

Karma is also the idea behind taking revenge. But is it right? God does not say that revenge is wrong, but he does say we have not to take revenge: ‘Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”’ There are lots of places where to paraphrase, the Bible says:

This is what you’ll get
This is what you’ll get
This is what you’ll get
When you mess with God.

But Paul is not talking of Karma when he prays for the Galatians. Instead he talks of grace. Grace is the opposite of karma. Karma says you get what you deserve, grace says you get good things you do not deserve. “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” said John Stott.

The first and second letters to the Corinthians start and end with a prayer for grace, as do Ephesians, Philippians, the first and second letters to the Thessalonians, the first and last letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

The letter to the Romans starts with a prayer for grace, as does Colossians. All of Paul’s letters start with a prayer for grace.

Prayers for grace appear in other letters in the Bible as well:

At the beginning and end of 2 Peter.
At the beginning of 1 Peter, 2 John and Jude.
At the end of Hebrews.

So the letters to churches and church leaders say a lot about grace, but what is grace?

The online dictionary has 3 meanings:

  1. smoothness and elegance of movement.
  2. courteous good will.
  3. bring honour or credit to (someone or something) by one’s attendance or participation.

Looking up the meaning of the Greek word χάρις (cháris):

  1. properly, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness.
  2. good-will, loving-kindness, favour: in a broad sense, to have favour with one.
  3. a token or proof of grace.
  4. thanks for benefits, services, favours.

Paul wrote his letters to ordinary people, therefore he would use an ordinary meaning of the words he used. When Paul spoke of grace we have to make a decision on which of the definitions of charis he is talking about. In the letter to the Galatians that is difficult, for the only prayers here are the opening and closing verses and that is where grace is found. That context is Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:4)

That is the point about grace, it is not about us, we have done nothing to deserve it. Grace is all about Jesus who came to save people who do not deserve to be saved, people like me. And you.

Jesus came to deliver us from this evil age. We can see that we are still in this evil age by looking at the news, or just looking around us, from wars such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the difference between the richest and poorest increasing; the signs are that God’s kingdom isn’t on earth yet,

What if God is no more gracious than we are?

Some people think that God is no more gracious than they are. They don’t say that directly but you can see it in their actions. They call themselves Christians but see God as being someone who hates the same people that they hate and you can see that in the way they treat foreigners as if they are unwanted, or if they put minorities off from attending church. I have news for these people who supported ex-President Trump’s ideas of building a wall between the USA and Mexico, or the policy of the UK government to export asylum seekers to Rwanda. I have news for those who would exclude people from all of society because of skin colour or sexuality. You are not living in the kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom is for all, God’s grace is available to all no matter who they are or what they have done. Jesus is saying, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

I conclude with John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace, it’s longer than you think. Here it is in its entirity. (I have omited the last verse as it is a later addition and not by Newton.)

1: Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

2: In evil long I took delight
Un-awed by shame or fear;
‘Til a new object met my sight
And stopped my wild career.

3: I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood
Who fixed His languid eyes on me
As near His cross I stood.

4: Sure, never ‘til my latest breath
Can I forget that look.
It seemed to charge me with His death
Though not a word He spoke.

5: My conscience owned and felt the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had shed,
And helped to nail Him there.

6: Alas, I knew not what I did,
But all my tears were vain;
Where could my trembling soul be hid,
For I the Lord had slain.

7: A second look he gave which said,
“I freely all forgive!
“This blood is for thy ransom paid,
“I die that thou mayest live. ”

8: Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed

9: Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home!

10: The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

11: Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

12: The earth shall soon dissolve like show,
The sun forbear to shine,
But God who called me here below
Shall be forever mine!

*Karma Police. Writers: Greenwood Colin Charles, Greenwood Jonathan Richard Guy, O’Brien Edward John, Selway Philip James, Yorke Thomas Edward.

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