But Noach found favor in the eye of YHVH. (Genesis 6:8)
This is the first appearance of the all-important Hebrew word chen (or alternatively, the Greek charis, common to the Septuagint and New Testament). This is an important word to properly interpret, because for better or worse, it is key to understanding salvation doctrines extant in the world today.
It appears as “favor” or “grace” in Genesis 6:8, and the reality of it is that it will be inconsistently translated throughout the rest of the Scriptures. In Christian circles “grace” seems to be the de facto translation; the hymn does not ring “Amazing favor, how sweet the sound” after all. There exists many songs, poems, books, soliloquies, odes and clichés about the “grace” of God, but credence to His “favor” is surprisingly lacking.
One such saying, “saved by grace” – which appears in translations of the New Testament such as Ephesians 2:8 – has almost become a Christian cliché of sorts. Ministries and even movies are named after it. Every Christian pastor I’ve ever met has preached it, but being honest with myself I have questions, and this is my way of challenging what I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time.
If “grace” is looked up in any and every concordance, it’s defined in some way by the word “favor” or even “unmerited favor.” One such example can be found in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996):
“An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man.”
However, when we look up Baker’s definition for favor, it reads this way:
“Finding favor means gaining approval, acceptance, or special benefits or blessings… The favor that human beings receive from God depends on his good pleasure and is often extended in response to prayer or righteous living.”
May I even ask, but if “grace” and “favor” come from the same word (chen or charis), how can one be unmerited, but the other be merit-based, “dependent on righteous living”?
I’m concerned that there is confusion as to what grace – and being saved by grace – actually means. For clarity’s sake, we must take an honest look at the context of Scripture.
In the context of Ephesians 2:8 for example being “saved by grace” means we attain God’s charis through trusting Him (vs. 8). No one disputes this. However, we sometimes neglect the context of what Paul means here, as we have also ceased walking as dead men in our transgressions (vs. 5), with a commitment to walk the rest of our destiny in good works (vs. 10). Therefore, this context suggests salvation is NOT unmerited if the saved lifestyle must in contrast to the “sons of disobedience” (vs. 2). In other words, I’m saved by God’s “favor” meritoriously: through trusting Him first, and continuing in righteousness forever and ever. Paul is not just talking about the beginning of my salvation, he talks what my salvation should always look like.
Noah’s life is actually a prophetic glimpse of the Judgment to come (cf. Matt. 24:37-39), so we should investigate if the first appearance of chen meshes with our current understanding of “saved by grace”. If it doesn’t, we might have a serious problem, because our hope of salvation is linked to the “days of Noah”, including how Noah was “saved by grace”. There is absolutely zero difference in being “saved by grace” and “finding chen in the eye of YHVH.”
It’s occurred to me lately that the twenty-first century understanding of “grace” focuses on the bargain for the recipient, but rarely do we ask ‘what’s in it for God?’ Swapping the atonement of Yeshua’s life for otherwise unpardonable transgressions is indeed a great bargain for sinners – and that’s proclaimed far and wide. However, this is not to be confused with “grace”. That forgiveness is “mercy” or “atonement.” But God gains nothing by granting mercy; He offers mercy liberally. However, when God grants favor, He’s getting a return on His mercy He invested – and that’s the major difference. Indeed, asking for God’s mercy – by which He forgives sins – is the beginning of salvation, but it’s not the end of salvation. After hearing of God’s mercy, one may “look back after putting his hand to the plow” (Luke 9:62), be blot out of the Book of Life (Rev. 3:5), might return to his vomit (2 Pet. 2:22), or any kind of relapse occur to a man who once attained mercy.
Yeshua often said, “many are called, but few chosen.” Everyone finds His mercy to be a sweet sound, but few actually respond with a life of righteousness that God can use. If you are of the few to keep going, you walk in the realm of favor. And this endurance, this life of righteous living is the completion of salvation, exemplified in the life of Noah.
I once proposed that there was a message of God and Noah’s relationship hidden within a very deep, intimate look into the heart of God, but now, His favor is openly declared in black and white.
Noah’s “attainment” (the Heb. matsa means “attained” or “reached”) means that God saw something that made Noah worthy of favor while everyone else could only reach the point of destruction. And what God actually saw comes a bit later: “Come into the Ark, you and all your house, for you alone have I seen as righteous before Me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1, emphasis mine).
So what was in it for God? God had found righteousness that lasted an entire generation. The Scripture also says:
This is the history of the generations of Noah. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)
God saw Noah was still righteous after walking with Him those many years… he had “endured to the end, and was saved…”
I challenge you, dear reader, when you read or hear about “grace” or “favor” – and you will, because it’s everywhere – try to find the implied response of righteousness that is embedded in its context. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading about Noah, Yeshua’s teachings about righteousness, or Paul’s – they all agree on this point. We are offered mercy in exchange for a life of righteousness, and if we walk righteously, we shall forever be favored.
May we all escape as Noah escaped.