How Exactly Does One Grow in Grace?


An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man.  ~Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

I have to say, I question this ‘accurate’, common definition.

It is true that, in a very general sense, all favor from God toward man is unmerited. The fact that we exist at all is unmerited favor. We did nothing to motivate God to create us, and any subsequent favor directed toward us is only possible because he gave us life in the first place. It is also true, as I previously mentioned, that grace / favor in the form of our ability to be reconciled to God through Christ’s atoning death is absolutely unmerited—and freely offered to all. And, finally, there are many times that God’s favor is manifest in a person or circumstance that is wholly undeserving.

So why am I splitting hairs over a definition that sounds like it’s mostly right?

Ask Peter.

…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:18

How does one grow in unmerited favor?

They don’t. If we understand grace to mean unmerited favor, is impossible to carry this out. This command becomes nonsense. We cannot grow in something if our initiative has no bearing on it’s measure.

But Peter seems to think it is quite possible. And that’s because grace (charis)  just means…favor. 

So how do we grow in favor with God, and what does that mean?

Well, how would we grow in favor with anyone else?

We catch their eye in one way or another. We do the things that please them. We invest in their cause. We show ourselves to be faithful, loyal, courageous, honest.

And the favor shown to us can take many forms. Our benefactor DSC_3227_5236might begin to confide in us, revealing more of his or her heart, plans, desires. He or she may offer us more responsibility, more opportunities—or maybe just invest in us in some special way. And as we continue to be faithful in this level of favor, more is given. And so it grows…

Unless someone shows me otherwise, I have to assume that Peter (or for that matter, God), who chose to use the word charis, intended it’s usual meaning. We grow in the grace / favor of God, through the faithful exercise of the measure we’ve been given. When we do this, we are tried and trustworthy to be given more.

Now all of a sudden, the injunction to grow in grace is exciting and motivating. It means something. I can act. I can catch God’s eye as someone who’s about his business. Someone he can share his heart with. Someone he will be able to use for his glory to a greater and greater degree.

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’       Matt 25:21


2 thoughts on “How Exactly Does One Grow in Grace?”

  1. with all due respect, I fear you’ve re-defined grace in a way that undoes it. Growing in grace is like growing in the Word or Growing in the Spirit. Grace is the environment in which Growth occurs. And it says in scripture, “God gives more grace….”. Surely that’s involved.

  2. Hi David. Sorry it took me so long to respond to you. I guess the first question is, redefined from what? Is this a redefinition from your average theological dictionary? Absolutely! Is this a redefinition from the meaning of the original Greek word. Definitely not. The definition(s) I use here (one literal, and one practical) come from the language itself and the way the word is used in the Bible. While “unmerited favor” fits just fine in some passages, in others it makes no sense whatever. And since the word “charis” all by itself, without theologians redefining it, simply means “favor”, I think that’s how it should be read. Favor can be unmerited, so if the context implies unmerited–fine! But defining “charis” (grace) as “unmerited favor” every time it is theologically convenient is just not honest. Translators don’t even think it means that. They will sometimes translate it simply as “favor” when grace (as in “unmerited favor”) does not fit. They know it doesn’t really mean that. And saying that grace is an “environment” is a nice thought, but it is simply linguistically unfounded. “Charis” is not understood to be an environment, but an attitude or act of goodwill, kindness, or favor. We all live under unmerited favor because none of us did anything to earn life, existence, and all that makes those things possible. Those of us who have received eternal life did nothing to earn Christ’s going to the cross to make that possible for us either. Those are both graces and those are both unmerited. That does not mean grace (favor) is always unmerited.

    “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men”. Luke 2:52

    Jesus grew in unmerited favor with God and men? I have a problem with that.

    If you’re interested, here’s an article by someone who has a similar critique. I think his concept of grace is too narrow in the other direction, but he sees the same problem I have discussed here.

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