The Unmerited Favor of God

By James L. Morrisson
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God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." (Ephesians 3:20).

 

A. Introduction

     My wife and I have been married for over 61 years. We are more deeply in love with each other, and have more joy, than ever before in our lives.

     When a friend (whose marriage is troubled at this time) asked what our secret was we both thought, and then both realized that there is no secret. It is simply the unmerited favor of God.

     We have done some good things in our marriage. We have worked on it, and, I hope, shown some wisdom. We have had a sense of commitment. We can perhaps encourage other married couples to do likewise. We have also done some very bad things, and we can warn others to avoid them. But basically, nothing that we have done or not done can explain the blessings we now have. They are simply God's unmerited favor.

     We are also in surprisingly good health for two octogenarians. We both look younger than our age. People are astonished that my wife, Frances, is in her 80s. She looks much younger, and is a beautiful woman. We have all our faculties, our minds are still functioning, we keep pretty active and, I hope and believe, are growing spiritually. Again, we have done some good things, but basically we see this also as the unmerited favor of God.

     Psalm 103:2 says, "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." I think it is very important for all of us to recognize the blessings God has given us, and to be constantly thankful for them. God does not treat us as we deserve (Psalm 103:10). He blesses us "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). All we can do is be thankful and praise such a loving and generous God. (Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the New International Version, and any emphasis has been added.)

     In this paper I want to explore some of the Scriptural basis for God's bounty to us.

 

B. The Grace of God

     Grace, charis (Strong's #5485), is a basic Christian concept.

"In the New Testament, 'grace' is a word of central importance - the keyword, in fact, of Christianity. Grace is what the New Testament is all about. Its God is 'the God of all grace' (1 Pet. 5:10); its Holy Spirit is 'the Spirit of grace' (Heb 10:29); and all the hopes that it sets forth rest upon 'the grace of the Lord Jesus' (Acts 15:11).....

"The New Testament message is just the announcement that grace has come to men in and through Jesus Christ, plus a summons from God to receive this grace..., and to know it..., and not to frustrate it..., but to continue in it.... The thought of grace, then, is the key that unlocks the New Testament; and it is the only key that does so." (J. I. Packer, "God's Words", Intervarsity Press, 1981 (paperback) , pp. 94-95).

     Packer is speaking in the broad context of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross as an astonishing act of God's grace. (Compare Romans 5:15-21). But there are many other aspects of grace that God has bestowed on us as well.

     The word "grace" has a variety of meanings. Its primary sense is that of unmerited favor. "Grace is God's undeserved favor, his unmerited love" (Packer, p. 96). It is something that God gives us or does for us or enables us to do that we did not in any way earn, or deserve, or merit.

     Strong defines "grace" as "the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life." In this sense grace can be seen as the power of God working in us to enable us to do and be what he wants us to be. It is God's grace that makes it possible for us to live in obedience to his will.

     "Grace" can also mean thankfulness, and that should always be our response to the grace that God has poured out on us.

     As Packer says, grace underlies every aspect of our Christian life. Our eternal life is "the gift of God" (Romans 6:23). Our hope is through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16; see 1 Peter 1:3). We believe through grace (Acts 18:27). We are called by God's grace (Galatians 1:15; see Romans 11:5). We are saved by grace (Ephesians 1:7, 2:8). We "are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). We continue to work out our salvation through the power of God who works in us (Philippians 2:12-13). We receive the Holy Spirit as a gift from our heavenly Father (Luke 11:13; see Romans 5:5). We are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). We stand against the enemy in God's mighty power (Ephesians 6:10; see 2 Corinthians 10:4). We can do everything through him who gives us the strength (Philippians 4:13). Apart from God we can do nothing (John 15:5).

     Everything we do in our Christian walk is done by God's grace. We live "under grace" (Romans 6:14; see 2 Corinthians 1:12). Paul wrote, "by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10; see 2 Corinthians 1:12). God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is God's grace that takes our weakness and converts it into God's power. It is only by God's influence on our hearts, by his Holy Spirit power working within us, that we are able to do anything that is of value in God's kingdom. Hence Peter tells us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). God "graciously give(s) us all things" (Romans 8:32). He "gives all men life and breath and everything else" (Acts 17:25). God's "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).

     It is God's grace that enables and empowers us to serve in ministry (Romans 1:5, 12:3,15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; see Ephesians 3:8, 4:7). Paul writes, "I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power" (Ephesians 3:7). "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us" (Romans 12:6). Our spiritual gifts are "gifts"; they are manifestations of God's Holy Spirit working within us (1 Corinthians 12:7). "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:1). When Paul and Barnabus were at Iconium, God "confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders" (Acts 14:3; see Acts 20:32). The purpose of our ministry is to "faithfully administer... God's grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10).

     God's grace is astonishing. It is truly an "amazing grace". It is an "indescribable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15). His love for us "surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). His peace "transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). He gives us "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:30). "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Paul speaks of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8).

     God's grace is "surpassing" (2 Corinthians 9:14). It overflows (Romans 5:15). It is "poured out... abundantly" (1 Timothy 1:14). It has "exceeding riches" (Ephesians 2:7 KJV). Paul speaks of "the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us" (Ephesians 1:7).

 

C. Sowing and Reaping

     "A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). The principle of sowing and reaping is basic in God's kingdom. If we sow love, joy, encouragement and edification into others' lives we will receive many blessings. But we need to understand one thing about this principle. We do not sow in order to get blessings. We do not "earn" blessings by what we have sown. And we do not always get blessed in the way that we expect. Sometimes we fail to perceive a blessing because it did not come in the way we expected it to come.

     When we deposit funds in a bank, the bank legally owes us those funds, plus whatever interest may have been agreed on. God's economy does not work that way. God does not owe us anything. He has already given us far more than anything we could give him. "'Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:35-36). God says, "Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me" (Job 41:11). Whatever blessings we may receive are not something we have earned; they are God's unmerited favor. Perhaps what we have sown can be said to make it possible for God to bless us, but it does not entitle us to anything.

     "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17). It is God's grace that enables us to show love, encouragement, etc. to others. It is God's grace that gives us whatever abilities and talents we may have. "From him and to him and through him are all things" (Romans 11:36). "God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8) "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28 KJV).

     "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). It is because God loved us when we were unlovable, when we were his enemies, that we can now love others. Whatever love and encouragement we are able to give others is given, not as an investment from which we expect a return, but as a response of joy and gratitude for the love and the blessings God has already poured out on us.

     Perhaps we can see the "law" of sowing and reaping as one of the ways in which God administers his grace. If we sow certain things, then God is free to bless us out of his abundant grace. If we sow certain other things, then we cut ourselves off from his grace. "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). In much the same way, the wrong things that we sow separate us from God, and from his grace. Several passages in Scripture illustrate this.

     "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). If we come to God in humility, recognizing our total dependence on him, then he will pour out his grace on us. If we come to him in pride, thinking that we do not need him, our heart attitude blocks us from receiving anything from him. Sow humility and you will reap blessings; sow pride and you will reap nothing.

     "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8). This is talking about salvation and eternal life, which, Scripture says, are by grace. I believe it is saying that if we sow to please the sinful nature we will not receive God's grace. "Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). If we sow to please the Holy Spirit, God will give us the grace of his salvation.

     "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Hebrews 12:15). Is not this saying that if we allow a bitter root to grow up, if we sow bitterness, we will miss the grace of God?

     "Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind" (Romans 1:28). In effect God is saying, "Since you neither seek nor desire me, I will not help you or bless you. You are outside of my grace and protection. You are on your own."

     "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your field will not cast their fruit' says the Lord Almighty" (Malachi 3:10-11). If we give liberally to God, we free him to bless us abundantly, and also to protect our finances from the devourer. If we do not give to him we may lose both his blessing and his protection. "Return to me and I will return to you" (Malachi 3:7).

     "In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:5). If we come to God with thanksgiving, both for his past benefits and for those we expect to receive, then he will hear our prayers and will give us the "peace of God which transcends all understanding." If we are not thankful for what he has already done for us, we cannot expect that he will give us more. Moreover, if we have an attitude of ingratitude, we are apt to be unable to perceive blessings even when he gives them to us.

 

D. Conclusion

     My wife and I happen to be in very pleasant circumstances. Despite many mistakes in raising our children, and indeed having failed often to be there when they needed us, we now have children and grandchildren who love us and are close to us. We have a wonderful church, in which we have experienced a kind of Christian love we never knew existed. We are constantly challenged by teaching that calls us to new things for God.

     God's grace is sufficient for his children in all circumstances. God's grace will see us through difficulties and dangers, and even turn them to good (see Romans 8:28). God's grace will give us the strength to deal with whatever we have to deal with (see 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18). God's grace is always sufficient.

     No matter what our circumstances, we can always, if we look for it, find evidence of God's grace to us - his unmerited favor, his strengthening and empowering. Once we have found it we can, in truth, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

 

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Copyrightę 2002 by James L. Morrisson
  

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     08/19/2007