I must admit, my Sunday school class continues to stimulate and challenge my beliefs in the doctrines of Grace. This past Sunday our lesson ‘Aspire to Walk with God’ centered on the story of Noah and the Flood. I studied the passages in Genesis chapter 6 and had decided to focus in on the righteousness of Noah, anticipating that this would be a hot topic during discussion. Turns out I was correct. The teacher asked a question I think everyone has when first reading this passage. Here’s the text. Read through it and I bet the question that first pops into your mind is the same as mine.
Gen 6:5-22 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (6) And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (7) So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (8) But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (9) These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (10) And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (11) Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. (12) And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. (13) And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. …. (17) For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. (18) But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. (19) And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. (20) Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. (21) Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” (22) Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
I came away asking this: How could Noah possibly be righteous and blameless in a world corrupted by sin?
While you chew on that, here’s another question to ponder: Who is responsible for mankind’s redemption in this story? Did God redeem man or did Noah? Well, it looks like God desired to wipe out the whole human race because they were evil. Noah, because of his righteousness, was spared. If Noah had not been blameless in God’s sight we would not be here discussing this story. The world would be barren and lifeless. So, we are in fact indebted to Noah and some kind of inherent righteousness he somehow possessed that no other human had. Noah is our hero! All hail to the savior of us all! In spite of God’s will to destroy all flesh, man prevailed.
This is the logical conclusion of believing Noah’s righteousness is due to his own virtue. The Sunday school class teacher and director both acknowledged Noah’s sinfulness and believed he lived a blameless life relative to the society around him. I would concur, but how could he do so? The teacher asked that very question. How did Noah live a righteous and blameless life before God?
I piped up with what I thought was a direct and simple response. I said, “I think the answer can be found in verse 8. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. This speaks of God’s grace. His grace to Noah preceded any righteousness he exercised. Noah was God’s chosen vessel to redeem mankind.”
I at least expected a smattering of ‘Amens’ and ‘that’s true, brother’ – but instead I got silence. A dead of night, graveyard kind of silence. I looked around, wondering what I had said wrong. The director then disputed my assertion by saying God offered his grace equally to all. What he meant, in a roundabout manner, is that God’s grace did not make Noah to differ from his contemporaries. No, it was some inherent goodness within Noah that made application of His grace. One man in all the world exercised faith to receive God’s grace. What an extraordinary gentlemen, that Noah. He overcame the flesh, the world and the devil to apprehend offered grace. Please, pardon my sarcasm. Now, I’m not saying Noah didn’t exercise a redemptive faith in God. He did.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Heb 11:7)
The lesson brought this scripture up and the teacher did as well. He taught that Noah’s righteousness came by faith, but I think there is a disconnect with many Christians between faith and grace. Faith made Noah to differ from the wicked of his day. It only begs the question, though. Why did only Noah exercise faith in God. What virtue, or circumstance, or mindset, or thought process made him respond to God’s call as he did? My response is that only God’s favor did. The director implied that some inner virtue spawned Noah’s faith, which in turn, caught God’s attention.
Grace is often defined as the the unmerited favor of God. What exactly is merit? Dictionary.com tells us it is;
something that deserves or justifies a reward or commendation; a commendable quality, act, etc.
By that definition would faith be considered a merit? If by a self-generated faith we receive the reward of eternal life and intimate fellowship with God, then yes, faith is a merit. If faith is something man produces apart from a work of God then it must be considered a commendable quality.
Let’s put two and two together here. God’s grace is his unmerited favor. Faith is by definition a merit. Therefore grace cannot be given in response to faith.
Grace is a divinely bestowed gift resulting in a human response of faith. Grace always precedes faith.
It is no coincidence that v.8 precedes verse 9. God’s unmerited favor heralds Noah’s righteous and blameless walk with God. Nothing in Noah caused God to respond favorably to him. If so, then the Pharisees were correct. Our works of righteousness can make us right in the eyes of God. This is antithetical to the panoramic picture of redemption the bible paints from Genesis all the way through Revelation. Salvation is of the Lord (Jon 2:9). Christ is both author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).
A more complete definition of God’s grace can be found in 2 Cor 12:9. Paul here has been praying for God to remove an affliction, a thorn in the flesh that has brought him much suffering during his ministry. He pleaded three times for the Lord to remove it. The Lord’s response is profound:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul then responded with:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
God himself defines grace. It is His power manifested through our weaknesses. Where we are powerless to help ourselves, God intervenes by his mighty hand and delivers us. Many times he chooses to do so by taking us through great afflictions so we might continually learn to abide in Him. That is why we aren’t immediately raptured when we believe the gospel. God takes us through the afflictions, sufferings and persecutions of this life not only to give us grace but to teach us to always rely on it.
God’s grace isn’t merely an offer of forgiveness, it is the power of God to forgive, cleanse and remove our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west. Grace is God’s power to preserve us as we walk through this wicked world, keeping us holy and pure. Where we are too weak to persevere in the faith by our own strength, God delivers us to the gates of the Heavenly City safe and secure.
God chose Noah to save mankind from utterly perishing before the foundation of the world. He bestowed redemptive grace and Noah responded with faith and obedience. Noah and his family’s salvation serves as a type and shadow of the work of Christ on the cross to deliver God’s children from the wrath to come.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Eph 2:8)