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Grace is not Unmerited Favor

If asked what is Grace most in Christianity today some would define it as the unmerited favor of God. Seems legitimate since popular Ministers like Joseph Prince and Joyce Meyer talk about God’s unmerited favor or Grace often. This definition may seems harmless, yet it does not convey the true power of what Grace is and what it means to be under Grace. Believing that Grace is nothing more than an attitude of God towards us, leads many to feel that there is nothing for them to do in their faith aside believe and sadly it is not true. These Ministers, who some term Hyper Gracers,  are way off from how Grace is described in the Bible as well as how it was defined in the early Church and by many of the reformation era Ministers.

Below we will look at Ministers of our past we see that the Grace of God was something more than simply God’s personal opinion of or feelings toward us. Instead it was, and still is despite the incorrect definition today, an actual power from God that frees one to follow Christ and turn from sins. You see, Grace is the helper that Jesus promised to send. Grace IS the Holy Spirit!

For example Protestant James Ryle:

Grace is the empowering Presence of God enabling you to be who He created you to be, and to do what He has called you to do.

Eastern Christianity also views Grace as the Holy Spirit:

GRACE: The gift of God’s own presence and action in His creation. Through grace, God forgives sins and transforms the believer into His image and likeness. Grace is not merely unmerited favor — an attitude of God toward the believer. Grace is God’s uncreated energy bestowed in the sacraments and is therefore truly experienced. A Christian is saved through grace, which is a gift of God and not a reward for good works. However, because grace changes a person, he or she will manifest the effects of grace through righteous living. – Pages 799-800, Orthodox Study Bible

Calvinists tend to be the majority who see Grace as unmerited favor. But keep in mind our Protestant ancestors were not all Calvinist and even those who were, many, if not most even, defined it in this same way; as the Holy Spirit, a power or energy from God, that works within us helping us to turn from sin.

Below are quotes from reformation era Ministers, including some who authored commentaries and dictionaries which shows how our ideas of Grace today are off being unsupported in the Bible thus based on misinterpretation of Scripture, and laziness in our own desire to work with God and turn from sin:

Be strong in the grace – Though the genuine import of the word grace is favor, yet it often implies an active principle communicated from God; light directing how to act, and power enabling to act according to the light.- Adam Clarke (b. 1760-1762, d. August 28, 1832), Commentary 2 Timothy 2:1

Adam Clarke was a great Anglican/Methodist Scholar and Minister of the 19th century. He admits here that in some ways Grace by definition of the word is favor but in the Biblical sense, unmerited favor could not really be communicated from God. That is it is not something which proceeds from Him. Favor in the general sense implies simply the feeling of God towards us and that His opinion of us has changed. Grace however is communicated from God because it is the Holy Spirit that proceeds from God as stated in the original Nicene creed. Unmerited favor could not strengthen one in temptations and is not something that is active or actively changing us, as described by another great Minister, Andrew Murray:

“And we find grace for timely help.” This refers to that strengthening of the inner life by which He, who was tempted in all things like as we, meets us and enables us to conquer temptation. Grace is the divine strength working in us. . .The believing supplicant at the throne of grace not only receives mercy, the consciousness of acceptance and favor, but finds grace, in that Spirit whose operations the Father always delights to bestow. And that grace is for timely help, lit. “well-timed help,” just the special help we need at each moment. The infinite mercy of God’s love resting on us, and the almighty grace of His Spirit working in us, will ever be found at a throne of grace, if we but come boldly, trusting in Jesus alone”.- Andrew Murray (b. 9 May 1828 – d. 18 January 1917) , Draw Near With Boldness

It is interesting to note here that Murray separated favor from Grace above. He states that, The believing supplicant at the throne of grace not only receives mercy, the consciousness of acceptance and favor, but finds grace. Here he described favor as mercy, not Grace. Grace is something we receive when we find favor or God’s mercy. Murray was not alone in his idea that Grace was separate and distinct from favor, although the two are connected they are not the same:

Throne of grace expresses grace as the gift of divine power. Mercy – grace (ἔλεος – χάριν) Mercy for past sins; grace for future work, trial, and resistance to temptation. -Marvin Vincent (b. 11 September 1834 – d. 8 August 1922,Vincent’s Word Studies

By “the grace of God” is sometimes to be understood that free love, that unmerited mercy, by which I a sinner, through the merits of Christ, am now reconciled to God. But in this place it rather means that power of God the Holy Ghost,which “worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” – On 2 Corinthians 1:12, The Witness of Our Own Spirit, John Wesley

Seems that the unmerited mercy of God has been confused with His grace in modern Ministry and by many Christians today. Or were all of these early Protestants Ministers uneducated men who unanimously got it wrong?

Mercy refers to the pardon of sin, and being brought into the favor of God. Grace is that by which the soul is supported after it has received this mercy, and by which it is purified from all unrighteousness, and upheld in all trials and difficulties, and enabled to prove faithful unto death. – Adam Clarke, Commentary, Hebrews 4:16

Thus mercy is favor at the point when we are justified. However, Grace is the power of God that leads us on to sanctification and thus salvation, enabling us to do what we can not do on our own and to become what God created us to be before the fall:

True godliness, you note, is not taught by human nature or mortal reason, but by the manifest grace of God. By grace are we enabled to deny worldly lusts, even to feel aversion to them, to desire liberation from them, to be dissatisfied with our manner of life in general. More than that, it creates in us a disposition essential to godliness, a disposition to entreat God with perfect confidence. -Martin Luther, (b. 10 November 1483 – d. 18 February 1546) , Titus 2:11-14

…the divine influence upon the heart and it’s reflection in the life. -James Strong (b. August 14, 1822 – d. August 7, 1894), Strong’s Concordance

Favorable influence of God; divine influence or the influence of the spirit, in renewing the heart and restraining from sin. -Noah Webster (b. October 16, 1758 – d. May 28, 1843), Webster’s 1828 Dictionary on Grace be committed or commended to the protecting and helping favor of God… -Joseph Henry Thayer (b. November 7, 1828— d.November 26, 1901), Thayer’s Greek

Today Grace is often described not only as the unmerited favor of God but as an object as well. Thus Grace becomes something we are under, such as the New Covenant or something that does not change our sins but only covers them. It is thus perceived as a pardoning from God with no requirements when contrasted to the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant with no expectations of change. However, the giving of the Holy Spirit is the New Covenant, thus we are under not something, but someone through the mediation of Christ. It is something that Abraham had as well as only a few other Old testament people. In Jeremiah 31:33, God promises to write his Laws on our hearts. Thus, Grace is the New Covenant and it is alive! It is God living within us and writing His laws upon our hearts and our conscience which effects a change in how we live and think. If we truly have Grace we are empowered to turn from sin. God’s has forgiven us in His mercy towards us. We have been justified by our faith and are made right with God through Jesus’ atonement. Thus the giving of God’s Grace would be through some form of favor or mercy, but this does not make Grace favor. God seeks to restore us to His image by His Grace through the process of synergy. Thus, our will must cooperate and work with His Grace in putting off sin:

“…those whom Christ saves he saves from their sins; from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, from the dominion of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins; to purchase for them, not a liberty to sin, but a liberty from sins, to redeem them from all iniquity (Titus 2:14); and so to redeem them from among men (Rev. 14:4) to himself, who is separate from sinners. So that those who leave their sins, and give up themselves to Christ as his people, are interested in the Saviour, and the great salvation which he has wrought out, Rom. 11:26.” – Matthew Henry (b. 18 October 1662 – d. 22 June 1714), Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Matthew 1:21

“Corrupt as we are, through almighty Grace we may avoid all sin. So that no man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath. Therefore inasmuch as God works in you, you are now able to work out your own salvation. Since he worketh in you of his own good pleasure, without any merit of yours, both to will and to do, it is possible for you to fulfill all righteousness. It is possible for you to “love God, because he hath first loved us;” and to “walk in love,” after the pattern of our great Master. We know, indeed, that word of his to be absolutely true: “Without me ye can do nothing.” But on the other hand, we know, every believer can say “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.”

We must beware of that mock humility which teacheth us to say, in excuse for our wilful disobedience, “O, I can do nothing!” and stops there, without once naming the grace of God. Pray, think twice. Consider what you say. I hope you wrong yourself; for if it be really true that you can do nothing, then you have no faith. And if you have not faith, you are in a wretched condition: You are not in a state of salvation. Surely it is not so. You can do something, through Christ strengthening you. Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and he will give you more grace.” – Sermon: Working Out Our Own Salvation, Rev. John Wesley, (b. 28 June 1703 – d. 2 March 1791)

…that which is the grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration… It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the actions, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co-operates lest we will in vain. It averts temptations, assists and grants succour in the midst of temptations, sustains man against the flesh, the world and Satan, and in this great contest grants to man the enjoyment of the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and have fallen, establishes and supplies them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. This grace commences salvation, promotes it, and perfects and consummates it. I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. -Jacob Arminius (b. October 10, 1560 – d.October 19, 1609), The Works of James Arminus Vol 2:

John 1:16–“And of his FULNESS have all we received, and grace for grace.” By this I understand that the graces in Christians, are answerable to the graces in Jesus Christ, i.e. that the Christian graces are the same in kind, that existed in the Son of God..”- Rev. Charles Finney (b. August 29, 1792 – d. August 16, 1875) , LECTURE XII. THE PROMISES–NO. 2.

Keep in mind that Christ called the Holy Spirit the helper:

John 14:16-17: 16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may abide with you forever, 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, because He abides with you and shall be in you.

John 14:16: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and will remind you [of] all things which I said to you.

John 15:26: “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.

Acts 1:4-5: 4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to withdraw from Jerusalem, but to await for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

God’s Grace would not truly be a “helper” unless it assisted us in something. We are not to lie in our sins, unchanged and lazy. The idea of unmerited favor was created in opposition to the Roman Catholic idea of works based salvation which included indulgences, acts of penance, etc. However, good works from a changed heart working in love through communion with God’s Grace should not be confused with works to merit God’s acceptance. Over the last 50 years, this opposition to Roman Catholicism and the idea of works, has cheapened what one is to do when they receive God’s Grace. This has been properly termed Cheap Grace. There is nothing one must do if Grace is completely unmerited. But Grace is not cheap. It is and was meant to be life altering. And it is powerful for Grace is the Power of God the Christ had while on Earth:

John 1:14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

2 Timothy 2:1: You therefore, my child, be empowered by the grace which is in Christ Jesus.

It would not make sense if Christ was full of God’s unmerited favor or to read 2 Timothy above as, the unmerited favor which is IN Christ Jesus. Jesus was empowered with and full of the Holy Spirit. Other verses from the Bible likewise would not make sense if Grace simply meant unmerited favor:

James 4:6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

If we are already in good standing with God and have recieved His unmerited favor why would he give us more based on our actions or why would we need more?

1 Peter 5:5: 5 Likewise, younger people, subject yourselves to the elders. And all of you be subject to one another, and be clothed with humility, because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Furthermore, it would seem that the prideful would need God’s unmerited favor as well, so why does God withhold it from them if His Grace is nothing more than His opinion of us which changed, despite our sins, based on Jesus’ merit. The proud would be far more undeserving and having not merited God’s favor would be in need of receiving it simply by belief.

Galatians 5:4: You have become estranged from Christ, you who are justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

How can one fall away from something they did not merit in the first place. If undeserving believers recieved God’s favor by faith it seems rational that keeping the Law would not cause one to fall from Grace, while sinners who do not turn from their sins remain in God’s favor. Turning to the Law again would show a weakness in ones walk. Paul stated that God’s Grace is perfected in weakness:

2 Corinthians 12:9: And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 1:12: For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience, that we have conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and especially toward you.

God’s Grace should completely alter our dealings with others, our view of sins and our love for God:

It may admit this description: grace is the infusion of a new and holy principle into the heart, whereby it is changed from what it was—and is made after God’s own heart. Grace does not make a moral change only—but a sacred one; it biases the soul heavenward—and stamps upon it the image and superscription of God. …the Spirit of God, who is therefore called “the Spirit of grace” in Zechariah 12:10. The Spirit is the fountain from whence the crystal streams of grace flow. Man, as Clemens Alexandrinus observes…. In the understanding, grace works light; in the conscience, grace works tenderness; in the will, grace works consent; in the affections, grace works harmony. Therefore grace is compared to leaven in Matthew 13:33, because it swells itself in the whole soul and makes the life to swell and rise as high as heaven. ….. By reason we live the life of men; by grace we live the life of God.” -Purtian, Thomas Watson

“As grace is a fire to burn up and consume the dross and filth of the soul, so it is an ornament to beautify and adorn the soul. True grace makes all new, the inside new and the outside new: ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’ (2 Cor. 5:17),….True grace changes the very nature of a man…..A lion in a cage is a lion still; he is restrained—but not changed, for he retains his lion-like nature still. …..But now true grace, that turns a lion into a lamb….The objects of true grace are supernatural. True grace is conversant about the choicest and the highest objects, about the most soul-ennobling and soul-greatening objects—as God, Christ, precious promises which are worth more than a world,…..True grace will work a man’s heart to love and cleave to the strictest and holiest ways and things of God, for their purity and sanctity, in the face of all dangers and hardships…Grace is a panoply against all trouble, and a paradise of all pleasures…True grace will enable a man to step over the world’s crown, to take up Christ’s cross; . -Puritan, Thomas Brooks

“Sin shall not have dominion over you – God delivers you from it; and if you again become subject to it, it will be the effect of your own choice or negligence. ….. Ye are under the merciful and beneficent dispensation of the Gospel, that, although it requires the strictest conformity to the will of God, affords sufficient power to be thus conformed; and, in the death of Christ, has provided pardon for all that is past, and grace to help in every time of need. “-Adam Clarke, Commentary, Romans 6:14

It is clearly evident that our modern notions of Grace are not in line with the reformers, including those who came after them and wrote commentaries and dictionaries such as James Strong, Adam Clarke and Matthew Henry. But what about the early Church? Did they write of Grace as the unmerited favor of God?

Grace; which confers understanding, which reveals mysteries, which announces seasons, which rejoices over the faithful, which is bestowed upon those who seek her, even those by whom the pledges of faith are not broken, nor the boundaries of the fathers overstepped. Letter to Diognetus (A.D. 125-200) ch.11

If you grieve not this grace, you shall understand the discourses which the Word holds by the mouth of those whom He desires when He wishes. Letter to Diognetus (A.D. 125-200) ch. 11

Unless, therefore, a man by God’s great grace receives the power to understand what has been said and done by the prophets, the appearance of being able to repeat the words or the deeds will not profit him, if he cannot explain the argument of them. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.245

…truly that grace is such that, if it finds discouragement, it dispels it; if it finds evil desire, it consumes it; if it finds fear, it casts it out; in fire; it does not permit the man who shares in it to be merely human, but causes him, as if transported to heaven itself, to contemplate all things under there” – John Chrysostom

Clearly the early Church saw Grace as something that works in us, moves in nature and works the seasons, is powerful and changes, rather than simply the opinion of God towards us.


The Grace of God is the power of God Himself residing in our hearts enabling us to turn from sin and grow more Christ-Like! How great is that? It is living, powerful, and life changing. But when Grace is defined as unmerited favor, it is cheapened. Grace becomes similar to the false doctrine of Penal Substitution. We are not changed. True metanioa does not happen. Instead God’s view of us and our sins has changed. God changes, therefore, God forgives us because He has lowered His expectations of us.

But the Bible tells us that God does not change. Biblically and historically the definition of Grace as unmerited favor ignores the power of the Holy Spirit in restoring us to God’s own image. In our generation of easy faith and cheap grace, we need more than ever to acknowledge the power of Grace and allow it to work in our lives. Imagine how different the world would be if Christians actually allowed God to help them turn from their sins.

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