The Duty of Grace: Part 1, Patronage, Grace and Faith

I've been increasingly struck, the more I study about ancient notions of grace and faith, how we modern readers of the Bible just don't get what the NT writers were talking about.

Grace and faith were words that described ancient patronage. The ancients weren't capitalists. The economy was driven by patrons and clients, an economy that traded in grace and faith. Wealthy, powerful, and influential patrons would give gifts (grace) to their clients and subordinates. Upon receiving those favors and gifts, the recipients would express gratitude and fealty (faith) to the patron.

Grace and faith are relational terms describing the actions and obligations of patrons and clients.

The big Christian innovation regarding these terms, as pointed out by John Barclay, was how ancient patrons would give grace to worthy clients, people whose faith/fealty would be of some benefit to the patron. But God's grace, by contrast, was given to unworthy clients. Beyond the means of this gift (the crucifixion of Jesus), this was the shock of the gospel, how God's grace disregards the worthiness of those upon whom He bestows His gifts/grace.

This bit we get about the grace/faith dynamic. We don't deserve grace. But what we don't quite get is how faith is fealty, the obligation to respond to grace with loyalty and allegiance. Following Paul, because of grace we have a new Patron, a new Lord in a New Kingdom to whom be pledge fealty and allegiance. It's this fealty that sits behind Paul's momentous "Therefore!" in his letters. We were unworthy, but we have received a great gift. And that gift, the ancients would have understood, came with strings attached, duties, and obligations. We've been given grace, therefore we respond with gratitude and obedience.

We respond to grace with faith. Gifts are followed by fealty.

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