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?
…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 might 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