Grace is primarily a positive disposition towards someone. We can see this clearly throughout the Old Testament, where people often asked others to look on them with an attitude of goodwill. Here are a few examples (where the word ‘favour’ (Heb. chen) is a synonym with ‘grace’)1:
“‘I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'” (Gen. 32:5; Jacob’s message to Esau)
Shechem also said to her [Dinah’s] father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. (Gen. 34:11)
And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” (Ex. 34:9; Moses speaking to God)
The New Testament tells us of the importance of God’s grace — his positive attitude — towards us:
…when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:5)
Because we sin we don’t deserve to live — we are ‘dead in our trespasses’ — but because God is gracious he has forgiven us and ‘made us alive’ (cp. Rom. 6:23). Without God’s goodwill, his grace, towards us we would have no hope. We are saved because God is a kind god who looks on us positively, even though we don’t deserve it!
1. We know the Hebrew word (chen) in these passages is the equivalent to the Greek word (charis) in the NT that’s often translated as grace because the NT quotes from the OT and translates chen as charis (see James 4:6 and 1Peter 5:5, which both quote Prov. 3:34).