Posted on: July 24th, 2011

A Christian’s journey eventually leads to heaven, but there may be dangers and bumps along the way. The Bible warns about these obstacles and even the possibility of falling from God’s grace if we are not faithful. Of course the idea of faithfulness suggests we have some responsibility in our soul’s destiny. Many don’t accept this last point about our salvation.

One danger facing God’s people is the influence error and false religion can have on their faith. God cautioned the Jews about the influence of idolatry and paganism as they made their way to Canaan. This danger was so great that God told them to destroy the inhabitants of the Promised Land. (Deut. 7:1-6) He knew what would happen if they lived among the unrighteous.

If only Israel had listened to God they could have avoided many of the difficulties and pitfalls they suffered through. Instead, they made treaties with some of the people and overtime gave in to their influence. The Israelites turned their back on Jehovah and placed their trust in vain idols. (2 Kings. 17:13-16)

Much in the same way, the denominational world is a threat to truth and our faithfulness. “Christian” faith has evolved with time and its current beliefs only vaguely resemble New Testament teaching. They use many of the same words and phrases, but the meanings have changed to fit their doctrinal positions. If we are not careful we can fall victim to their influence.

How would you define “grace” as used in the Bible? I’ve heard many describe it as “unmerited favor”. According to most Protestant and independent churches we are inherently evil, and no one can please God without a direct work from the Holy Spirit in one’s life. God does everything while we wait ignorantly for an awakening. Every step, from birth to eternity, is in His hands. If we accept Christ, it is because God has chosen us and enlightened us to saving faith.

I have also heard members of the Lord’s church define grace the same way. While we don’t accept Calvinism, I am afraid its influence may be trickling into our thinking. Does grace mean unmerited favor and kindness, or is the description something we have heard so often that we have come to accept this meaning?

The Hebrew chên and the Greek charis, translated grace, mean “favor, kindness and good will”.As you can see the definition has nothing to do with unmerited. It’s a qualification men have placed on grace because of their religious position.

What does the word unmerited mean? To answer this question we must first understand the meaning of merit. To merit something means that we deserve or are worthy of the kindness given. So in unmerited favor one receives goodness from another without doing anything worthy of the gift. Clearly some acts of Divine favor fall into this category. Would anyone deny the Creation was an act of grace, and it had nothing to do with man’s conduct? (Gen. 1 & 2) God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”. (Matt. 5:45) In the first example man did not exist and in the second everyone benefits.

At the Creation, did Adam and Eve do anything to deserve the blessings of the Garden? More importantly, since they were sinless they also had a spiritual union with God. They didn’t merit their good condition because God had created them that way. However, to remain in the garden and to keep their fellowship with God they had to stay faithful. (Gen. 2:16-17) Adam and Eve sinned and lost Divine favor. (Gen. 3)

Every child begins life with the same pure and innocent life as Adam and Eve enjoyed at Creation. Just as Adam and Eve became sinners when they violated God’s Will, so it is

with their posterity. (Ezek. 18:20) There is, however, one big difference between the two cases. A full-grown Adam and Eve understood right from wrong from the beginning, while babies grow to know God’s Will.

When sin enters the picture the guilty person loses his original favor with God, and he can do nothing alone to recover Divine grace. (Isaiah 59:2) But once again God steps in with an offer. He sent Christ to die for our sins that we might be saved. (Rom. 3:23-27) Without Jesus there is no hope, and no one merits this second chance. So at times grace is in every sense unmerited, but the context qualifies and restricts the meaning, not the word itself.

We must not be guilty of limiting a words meaning to a few passages when other verses teach something different. Consider the example of Noah and the flood. (Gen. 6) God decided to destroy the human race because of their wickedness and evil hearts, but “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD”.  Were Noah and his family the only ones to receive an offer of grace? The answer is no. Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” inferring his work to warn people of the coming flood. They had a chance to join Noah and save themselves, but they didn’t. Why did Noah find or gain God’s grace when others did not? We don’t have to guess because God tells us – “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.”

We see in this story two parts to Divine grace. The first was the offer mentioned in the previous paragraph and the second involved Noah’s salvation. The offer was not enough to save him, and so Noah built the ark “according to all that God commanded him”. Noah was worthy of God’s grace because he obeyed.

People sometimes confuse the difference between inherent goodness, which none of us has, and goodness which comes from obeying God. If we love God we will keep His commandments. (John 14:21) By doing what God wants us to do and by living the way He wants us to live we walk worthy of His grace. (Eph. 4:1 & Phil. 1:27) In this sense we merit His grace. However, we have no right to glory in self because God makes all things possible. (1 Thess. 2:10-13)