Grace overflows into us

In a lot of translations, Ephesians 1:7-8 reads something like this: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (NIV, emphasis added). 

When I was translating, I came up with this: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the sending-away of trespasses, according to the wealth of [God’s] grace which [God] abounded into us” (emphasis, again, added).

There are a few things I thought were interesting here.

First, “riches” vs “wealth”: it’s not a big difference, but for some reason I like the idea of God having a “wealth” of grace. Perhaps it has a different feel from “riches”―less of a pile of gold vibe, and more of a vast endless ocean vibe?

Or maybe I just liked it because I’ve heard the other translation before, and sometimes it’s nice to put things a little differently. It helps it feel fresh, and helps my brain not to fall asleep while reading.

Second, the word translated as “lavish”―περισσεύω―has to do with abounding, with overflowing. The sense is that the subject (in this case, God) is so rich―or has such an abundance of something―that it exceeds measurement. It overflows. 

Which is kind of gross if we’re talking about money―like a person hoarding lots and lots of money (going back to that piles of gold vibe)―but kind of awesome when we’re talking about grace. About goodwill, favor, joy.

What I really thought was interesting, though, is the idea that God’s grace overflows―God’s grace abounds―into us. 

I’m not quite sure why the connecting word εἰς tends to be translated in this verse as “on,” rather than its much more common use, “into.” But I like the thought that perhaps God abounds grace not just on us, but into us.

“Lavished on” kind of makes it sound like we’re just passive recipients in this interaction. Grace flows onto the outside of us, like a shower that washes away our sins. And then the grace keeps flowing…elsewhere. Maybe it goes back to God, or something.

I like the translation “overflowed into” because I like to think that, even though there is perhaps an aspect of God’s grace that washes over us like a cleansing shower, there is also an aspect of God’s grace that goes into us. Grace doesn’t just wash our sins away from the outside but enters in to actually change us, to make us (more) full of the kind of grace that God is full of.

The language “into” helps me think of God’s grace as something to internalize. Something that can become a part of who we are. Something to embrace and hold onto and make an integral part of the way we interact with other people and this world.

To make the difference between “lavished on” and “overflowed into” more concrete, let’s think about the scenario in which I, as a white person, realize that I have a racist thought or attitude, or that a co-worker said something racist and I didn’t speak up about it. 

Grace “lavished on” me, in this case, means that I can pray and be forgiven and I don’t have to feel guilty about these things anymore. And then I can go on with my life unchanged, not trying to make any of these wrongs right. I know God will keep lavishing grace on me as many times as I need it.

Grace overflowing into me, on the other hand, means that grace does not just absolve my guilty conscience but perhaps may also show me a better way of living.

Grace may enable me to begin to notice and root out these racist attitudes in myself.

Grace may help me have a more gracious and humble posture toward others so that I can drop my defensiveness and learn.

Grace may prod me to look for ways to right these wrongs where possible―maybe, for example, it’s not too late to have a conversation with the co-worker who said something racist.

Grace may empower me to speak up in the moment the next time a similar thing happens.

May God not just “lavish grace on” but also “abound grace into” our lives, churches, communities, and world. In this time of wider recognition of anti-Blackness among white and other non-Black communities, God knows we need this kind of grace: the kind of grace that doesn’t just make us feel better about ourselves, but that actually has the power to change us.

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