Amazing Grace: God’s Unmerited Favor Towards Man
“Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The above quotation is found in the opening of every one of the apostle Paul’s epistles. (It varies only in the epistles to Timothy and Titus where the word “mercy” is added.) Since Paul is writing in his letters to folks in the body of Christ who already possess the grace of God, then I take this statement to mean that he desires those of us who possess it to experience its power in our lives. I am convinced that this will never be unless we come to an understanding of “this grace wherein we stand,” (Roman 5:2), and lay hold of what it means to us now.
Early on in my Christian life I was told that the definition of the word grace was “unmerited favor.” Actually, this isn’t true. The word in the context we are using it, in every incidence in the New Testament section of the Bible, is translated from the Greek word “Charis,” which simply means, “benefit or favor.” There is no “unmerited” in Strong’s# definition. Noah Webster# defines it: “Blessing, gratuity or favor.”
In other words, grace could be either merited or unmerited. An example in the Bible of merited grace would be Noah. It says in Genesis chapter 6:
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”
The word “but” at the beginning of the verse implies that this was something exclusive to Noah, because he and his family, according to the rest of the story, were the only people to escape destruction from the flood God brought upon the earth. Why did Noah get grace, while everyone else didn’t? Because he merited it, and they didn’t. Verse 9 of that chapter says:
“These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”
While Noah was obviously in obedience to God, the people in verses 5,6 & 7, who were destroyed in the flood, weren’t. Verse 5 says that they were “wicked,” and that the “thoughts of his (man’s) heart was only evil continually”
Another example of “merited” grace is Abraham. In Hebrews 11 it says that Abraham obtained God’s “blessing” (which was the inheritance of the land), because he “obeyed.”
‘By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.”
As we read the rest of Hebrews 11, or what is commonly referred to as the “faith hall of fame”, we see that it is “by faith,” through obedience, that these saints obtained the blessing of God. This would therefore not be unmerited. Indeed, all of those people who were in the covenants of (Abraham’s) promise—which would include everyone in the chapter— would be the merited recipients of God’s grace and blessing.
To utilize a worldly example of this kind of “merited favor” consider the use of the word grace in the lending of money. Let’s say you take out a loan at the bank in which the amount borrowed is due in full one year from the date the note is signed. You put up some land as collateral to secure the loan. The note comes due, but you don’t have enough money to pay it. Would the banker not be within his lawful right to call the loan and seize your land? Yes, he would. But, because your father happened to be his friend, he has mercy on you, and extends the note for another year. In other words, he “gives you some grace.” Was this merited? Yes, because he owed a favor to your father. Please make note that all those folks in Hebrews 11 were in the Abrahamic covenant of promise. They got the grace and blessing of God because of their father, Abraham, who James referred to as God’s “friend.” (James 2:23).
Grace as Unmerited Favor
Is this the way God’s grace came to you and I? No. Because, according to Eph. 2:11,12, we aren’t in the covenants of promise. We are the Gentiles Paul referred to in this verse who were without hope:
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world”
God was under no obligation to extend us his grace. Not only were we not his friends, or connected to anyone that was—even worse—we were his enemies! (Romans 5:10) We deserved the exact same fate those folks back in Genesis 6 got. But God, in his infinite mercy and wisdom, extended a type of grace to us that was unheard of by those saints in Hebrews 11, a “mystery” it says, “hid in God… not made known unto the sons of men” (Eph. 3:3-9); absolute, total, unequivocal, unmerited grace.
In our bank loan analogy, under this kind of grace, the banker would have handed us the note with “debt fully paid” written on it, with the exclamation: “someone else came in and paid your debt for you.” Who was this person, and why would he do such a thing? In the Biblical construct this is Jesus Christ, who, it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Those in the promise got God’s grace and blessing because of Abraham’s obedience. You and I got it because of Christ’s obedience. Moreover, our grace is a permanent pardon; their’s a temporary reprieve.
We are, truly, the only recipients throughout the ages who have ever been offered this kind of “unmerited” favor. To have merited it would be to have worked for it. Titus 3:5 says that what we have is according to God’s mercy, rather than any “works of righteousness which we have done.” In fact it says in Romans 4:4 that those who insist on working for it, to them “is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt….For by grace are ye saved, through faith (Christ’s)…it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)
“This grace,” referred to by the apostle Paul in Eph. 3:8, has been offered to the world now for going on 2000 years within a “mystery” he called “the dispensation of the grace of God,” where anyone, under any circumstances, can be saved eternally and bound for heaven by simply receiving this gift; believing that “Christ died for your sins…was buried…and was raised again the third day….for your justification” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4; Romans 4:25). For those of you who have done this (accepted Christ’s payment for your sins, and trusted him for your salvation), rejoice in it, walk in it, and above all, proclaim it. For those who haven’t, what are you waiting for?
Feel free to re-print or distribute this article via the internet. All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Bible.
|1.||Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible|
|2.||Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary of the English Language|