Let’s look again at where grace in the Scriptures is not “unmerited” in the Calvinist sense, something forced on randomly chosen individuals for no apparent reason. First in our consideration are verses that build the sense of merit directly into the use of “charis”:
- “For this is thankworthy (“charis”, grace), if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable (“charis”, grace) with God.” (1 Peter 2:19-20)
Another way to read this is, “This is favor-producing with God” to take unjust harm graciously, patiently. Same verses in another translation:
- “For this finds favor (grace), if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor(grace) with God.” (NASB)
Another Scripture to bear this out:
- “[The disciples were] Praising God, and having favour (charis) with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47).
Here the disciples found grace, favor in the eyes of the people because of the honor of the way they conducted themselves.
So, if the thought of merit is often clearly implied with grace, how do we understand the following scriptures?
- “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:7-9)
- “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“Wages” would be the fullest expression of “merit”, where an investment of so much time, completion of predetermined tasks, results – by law – in a defined benefit. So we learn that God’s favor and gifts cannot be earned by following the rules of law – we lost that battle a long time ago. God is uninterested in our sacrifices and good living, anything that allows us to brag to others.
Yet freely given gifts may also have conditions for being granted, things that carry no bragging rights but separate between the serious and the careless, believers and unbelievers, grateful from proud, those that obtain and those that do not. Take the analogy of “amnesty” for “illegal aliens”. No amnesty law instantly makes citizens out of non-citizens, even if graciously offered to all. There are steps that must be followed, paperwork to be completed, deadlines which must be met. Those that come forward to claim the blessing cannot boast, for the just reward of their deeds is deportation or worse. They would go to their family and friends and urge them to accept the free gift. Some hearing will accept, some will not.
Why would someone refuse such a great benefit? One reason is guilt – those that have secrets to hide will not come out of the shadows to register themselves. Some will feel that the responsibilities of citizenship are more onerous than the risks and hardships of continuing to live illegally. And then there is pride – the outlaw may find self sufficiency much more exciting.
The labor of the “alien” to be good did not earn his freedom, but he still must exert himself to claim it. And God’s grace is all of that. Boasting is excluded, but only those who have the sense and courage to do business with God on His terms will get it.