Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Almost everyone in the Christian circle knows that or at least should have known that. It is hard to capture the entirety of the grace of God in a statement of definition. But unmerited favor stands the test as a good overview of the grace of God.
A Missing Piece
Doubtless grace is God’s unmerited favor. This extremely short and concise definition is the best so far using non-Biblical language to paraphrase what grace is. I love this definition, and so do many others. I have not noticed anything wrong with it as stated in those two words. Rather, I find there is something missing. A critical omission that will prove to be spiritually catastrophic if not added.
The favor in “unmerited favor” is referring to God’s favor, meaning the Father’s favor. So favor points to the Father. What about the term unmerited? It points towards man’s undeserving state. “Unmerited” captures our unworthiness in receiving the favor of God. Under the radar, the definition of grace as unmerited favor is dealing with the Father and man. This leaves out the very heart and soul of grace.
Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s grace to man. There is no grace outside of Christ. The grace we talk about, the amazing grace we love, ceases to exist once the cross is out of the picture. Can you now tell what is missing in this definition? And what is missing is actually the most critical. It must not be implied, but explicitly stated. If we add “in Christ” or “in the Beloved” to “unmerited favor” to make the definition “unmerited favor in Christ”, then we have a complete, accurate definition. It has added two words, but the most important two words. God’s unmerited favor and sinful man have been there since the fall. The advent of Jesus Christ brought the grace of our salvation.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (Jn. 1:17 KJV)
Our Unmerited State
It will be prudent to go no further in exploring divine favor without first laying the foundation that the favor of grace is indeed unmerited. We do not deserve it, we do not have what is required to pay the debt of our sins, neither the ability to live up to divine standards. However, the beauty of grace is not in the unworthiness of the sinner, but in the exceeding and superfluous kindness of the Lord. Yes, it is our unworthiness that actually revealed the amazing grace of God but that is not the glory of grace. That being said, our concept of grace will be severely truncated if we fail to know and remember our prior unworthy estate. Divine kindness was not extended to righteous men, that or those who had it together, but to the most unexpected. It was extended to those who are full of sin, unworthy, deserving of harsh judgment and heading, sometimes in a blissful and seemingly joyous ignorance, towards the eternal fires of hell.
Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of ever (Ephesians 4:17-19 CSB)
After examining the case of the human condition, the divine council concluded:
… There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10)
All of us have become like unclean piece of clothe, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind. (Isa 64:6)
Unmerited Favor for the Broken
Grace came for people who are broken, disenfranchised, beaten, lost, bound and who might even not recognize the horror or their estate. Grace takes great delight in restoring wounded souls. If you have it all together, then grace is not for you. The beauty of grace is in the extravagance of divine favor. And the beauty of that favor is in the unworthiness of the cohort of people to whom that favor was shown. This is the amazing in amazing grace. Angels are curious to see what grace is doing on the earth ( 1 Pet 1:10-12).
The grace that is in Christ has caused the most unexpected change in status of all ages, the swing of all swings. It moves man from the hard bottom of sin to the roof top of God’s glory. From the extreme of darkness to the utmost of light. Grace has given the most precious gift to the most undeserved individual. Grace came to move man out of sin to the very glory of God. That is why the purpose of grace is not the tell man he is sinful. It is no news to grace, that man is sinful. It is the most delightful thing to grace, to see man move from the bottom of darkness to the top of light. This is the joy of grace. It didn’t come to show us our unworthiness. It knows our unworthiness and came to change it.
..And because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:25)
The Law was given for this very purpose, to show man his unworthy estate and to bring us to our knees to ask for mercy. After you have failed repeatedly to obey the commandments, you cry out of frustration to God to help you, as below states:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? (Rom 7:24)
Don’t fall in this snare
We can be easily snared into bringing our unworthiness to become the focus of grace. This is portrayed in the Parable of the prodigal son. Well, of all the possible titles, we have called it the parable of the prodigal son. But did you notice that the beauty of that parable is not the prodigality of the son but the unimaginable kindness and love of his father? Our minds are clouded by the sinfulness of the younger son when we hear of this parable. This is a typical mindset of most of the Church. It shows us how we can easily become unfocused.
Focus, does not undermine or make the others which are not the direct object of focus less important. As noted above, God’s extravagant kindness in Christ is really the focus of grace, but in no wise undermines the unworthiness of the sinner. In this parable, we cannot pretend or disregard the prodigality of the younger son. In fact the story will cease to exist without it. The issue is that it has become our focus for the most part. And many there be in the Church who are more aware of the prodigality of this son than the extravagant kindness and unconditional love of the father. It easily conditions us, to be quick in believing in the sinfulness of the son, but have a hard time believing in the love and grace of the father. Have you noticed this trend personally? That is somewhat easier to believer in God’s judgment against an error or sin than for His goodness? Our mindsets are in serious trouble, except they be transformed by the Word of God.. That is why they need to be washed and thoroughly scrubbed with the soap and the water of the word. We need to think differently, and see things the way God sees them(Eph 5:26, Rom 12:2)
The Prodigal Son’s Focus
The prodigal son himself, a picture of us all in our prior lost state, when he returned, was struggling to narrate all the woes he had committed. In fact he had mused within himself what he was going to say to his father. And guess what he planned to say.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’ (Luke 15:17-19)
All he saw was his unworthiness. He had completely lost sight of his father’s love and kindness. His plan was centered on his unworthiness and how to navigate his way through with it. When he arrived and began to execute the plan, his father interrupted him and set in motion a plan the son could have never conceived in his wildest imagination. Grace was executed and commands were given to have him adorned with beautiful garments. Beauty for ashes. It was almost as though the father gave a deaf ear to what he said. But was it so? Was the father saying what the son did was ok, or didn’t matter? No! It is because what he had done had no bearing on the things that were going to happen to him. The beauty was not in his undeserved state, but in the love and kindness of his father. His treasure which he had not realize all the while in that foreign land was his father.
We did not make God gracious!
Let us realize, that our unworthy state did not make God gracious. It only shows us the depth of His grace, that irrespective of that horrible state, His kindness is unaffected, and His love unchanged. The only reason we should not forget how terrible we were, is so that we keep remembering how great His grace is. God forbid we even begin to make a big deal for ourselves out of our unmerited state, as if the reason He is loving and kind is because we are unworthy.
While growing up, there was a song we cherished so much, which went thus “ I don’t know why Jesus loves me, I don’t know why”. And the song continues, as the reason never seems to pop up. We still keep looking for why He loves us because we are looking in the wrong place, in ourselves. We are trying hard to find what in us really made God loves us. The answer is simple. The reason is not in us, but in Him. Our hope is in His loving and gracious nature, not in our worthy or even unworthy state.
Forget Our Unworthiness?
Should we forget our unworthy prior estate? No! We are admonished.
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh– called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. (Ephesians 2:11)
Why remember? To mourn and growl? To feel perpetual remorse? To walk around with tons of guilt? No! But rather to recognize the depth of His love and grace. Remember grace was not given to show our sinfulness. Grace already knows man is lost, what is in man and therefore does not need something else to say that to Him. Grace does not even want you to tell Him that, because He knows it better than you do. Grace came to save the lost. Saying man is sinful is no breaking-news to grace. We need not tell it we are lost.
And Jesus Himself said:
Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:47 KJV)
Knowing where we came from keeps our minds and hearts always in the right perspective towards Him. Our fallen prior state and depravity helps us appreciate His love and grace and makes us love Him even the more. We should therefore not forget where we came from, at least while we are in the earthly body. It will keep our shoulders from being lifted up. We will never lift up ourselves in His sight or above another man.
Are We Really Unworthy?
We would agree we have only a clue how dead we were in our sins. We have to quality the unworthiness. We are not simply unworthy, but had to be qualified with the unworthiness of God’s favor. Because we were actually worthy, of God’s wrath and judgment. Grace gives sinful man what he does not deserve and saves him from the greatest threat to his existence, which is God’s wrath against sin. We are therefore both worthy and unworthy. Grace frees us from what we are worthy of, and gives us what we are unworthy of.
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