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Noah and the Two Sides of Grace

My in-box recently displayed e-mails touching on one of Christianity's most important controversies. One e-mail asserted that grace frees us from a regulated lifestyle. The writer’s view of grace emphasizes that we cannot earn our way with God, that grace is God's goodness to the undeserving. The other electronic letter proclaimed that grace is God’s empowerment to become what He wants us to be. That writer seemed to suggest that God's grace helps us live so as to be deserving. The underlying theology is huge; and since we depend upon God's grace for salvation, we do well to come down on the right side of this dispute.

Interestingly, my adult Sunday school lesson that week covered the very first use of the word “grace” in the English Bible. That use is found in Genesis 6:8, which says: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”

Genesis 6:9 goes on to say: “. . . Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”

Noah found grace, and Noah was good. Elsewhere, the Bible emphatically teaches that grace earned is not grace. Here, Noah the righteous man is clearly the one God saves. So which is it? Did Noah survive the flood because God arbitrarily gave an evil man a blueprint, or did Noah’s upright life win him a place on the boat? That question expresses the struggle of those two e-mails in its most basic form, but the correct answer is more complicated than the question.

First Noah really did get a boat ride he didn’t deserve. The Bible says all people have sinned. It also indicates that sinners deserve death. Any escape must forever depend on the undeserved grace of God. Noah was a sinner who escaped punishment. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”

At the same time, Noah was an unusually moral man. This is true in spite of Noah's natural direction. Noah was born with the same spiritual deadness as the rest of the world. He lived in the same incredibly evil environment as those who perished in the flood. Noah became a shining light in a dark world, but he didn’t do it on his own. As Scripture says: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”

So do law and grace collide in Noah's life? No! Noah displays two aspects of grace. The first aspect is all about mercy to one who hasn’t earned and can't earn salvation. Such is grace that puts Noah on the boat and takes forgiven sinners to Heaven. Second comes grace empowering us to be like God. Such is grace that makes Noah a good man in a bad environment and changes sinners to saints while still on earth.

Both aspects of grace are operational whenever God gives grace. Neither replaces the other. The first aspect of grace is not dependent upon the second, but it can never reach its full potential without it. Both sides of grace are needful for salvation by grace to be a complete salvation.

Noah without the first side of grace must drown in the flood, a sinner getting what he deserves. Noah without the second aspect survives the flood to re-institute the evil he’s escaped. With both aspects of grace—undeserved salvation and God’s life-changing power—Noah becomes the God-made hero that he is. With both aspects of grace, you and I can be sure of a heavenly home and also live like we belong there while still on this earth.

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