Grace / Favor in the Bible
The Greek word CHARIS simply means favor. It is routinely translated as grace in the New Testament. By dint of repetition in numerous sermons on its use in Ephesians 2:8-9, this word "grace" has come to be understood as implying "unmerited" favor. However, Jesus' used CHARIS or FAVOR with an opposite meaning. Jesus typically means "merited favor." Certainly, by contrast Paul used CHARIS as "unmerited favor" but our Lord's meaning must be the one that prevails. Once you grasp this, it will no doubt help clear out the misinformation that circulates almost everywhere today about what "GRACE" truly means.
Grace Means Favor
The equality between "grace" and the meaning of "favor" is obvious when you look at the King James versus other bibles. The King James renders Genesis 6:8 that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord," but most other translations say "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." See Gene 6:8 at Bible Hub.
Incidentally, the Hebrew word for grace / favor is HEN. See Hebrew tab at Gen 6:8 of Bible Hub.
How Jesus Used The Word Charis / Grace / Favor
Jesus uses this Greek version of the word for FAVOR -- Charis -- in the Gospel of Luke four times, but you would never know this by reading any standard translation in English:
Luke 6:32-34 in verse 32 uses "charis" (Greek tab at this link); then again "charis" appears in verse 33 (Greek tab at this link); and finally again in verse 34 (Greek tab at this link). Now let's read this passage in the ESV translation of CHARIS highlighted in red:
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. (Luke 6:32-34 ESV.)
Luke 17:8-9 also uses CHARIS, and is rendered to obscure this fact by the red highlighted translation that follows: ""Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink.’Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?" Other translations say 'is the master "thankful" - (give grace) - because the servant did what was commanded?'
Now let's redo this using the "grace" translation, and see what it sounds like:
Luke 6:32-34 reads -- with CHARIS' translation rendered in Red but this time as GRACE:
32 “If you love those who love you, what grace is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what grace is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what grace is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. (Luke 6:32-34 ESV.)
Luke 17:8-9 reads: "Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he give grace to the servant because he did what was commanded?"
Jesus means God does not give you any favor (grace) for simply loving others who love you, for sinners do the same. (Luke 6:32.) God does not give you grace (favor) for doing good to those who do good for you. (Luke 6:33.) For sinners do the same. God does not give you grace / favor for loaning to receive back what you loaned. (Luke 6:34.) For sinners lend to sinners.
Nor does a servant receive grace / favor for merely bringing food and drink to his master, as he is commanded to do. (Luke 17:9.) However, Jesus elsewhere promises God's favor if you do the very same thing for the poor. Jesus promises you will enter the kingdom of heaven. In contrast, Jesus says He will reject entry into heaven for those who called Him Lord but did not provide food and drink to the poor. This is in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats at Matthew 25:31-45.
Jesus therefore means that obedience that is unexceptional and is ordinarily done by sinners earns no favor / grace to make you acceptable for heaven. This is because a sinner would do the very same thing. It involves no unusual strain or effort.
This is similarly reflected in Jesus' remark about loving enemies, and not merely those who love you. This takes more effort, doesn't it? Jesus means this will merit favor / grace from God. Jesus spoke likewise about making an exceptional offer to obey a request when Jesus said if a soldier asks you to "carry his gear 1 mile, carry it two." (Matt 5:21 NLT.)
Hence, Jesus uses GRACE aka FAVOR as something you merit. But only if it is obedience that goes the extra mile or beyond what sinners find easy to do as well.
Favor Is Not For Acts That Sinners Easily Will Obey; Favor is For Exceptional Acts of Devotion
Where previously in the Bible do we find this true doctrine of grace taught by Jesus?
Clearly, it is in the story of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis. This involved a minimal act of obedience by Cain who withheld his best offering -- which caused it to be rejected by God while God had favor for an extra-effort offering by Abel who had "done right."
Cain and Abel both brought similar but qualitatively different offerings in Genesis 4 to Yahweh. Abel received "favor" because he selected the "best parts" of his animals for his offering, but Cain did not do the same as to the produce he brought. God explained that had Cain acted appropriately he would be "accepted," but the lack of special effort in the bringing his 'offering' meant "sin was crouching at his door." Here is the passage:
4 Later, Adam had sexual relations with his wife Eve. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have given birth to a male child—[with] the Lord [Yahweh].” 2 And she did it again, giving birth to his brother Abel. Abel shepherded flocks and Cain became a farmer.
3 Later, after a while, Cain brought an offering to the Lord [Yahweh] from the fruit that he had harvested, 4 while Abel brought the best parts of some of the firstborn from his flock. The Lord [Yahweh] looked favorably upon Abel and his offering, 5 but he did not look favorably upon Cain and his offering.
When Cain became very upset and depressed, 6 the Lord [Yahweh] asked Cain, “Why are you so upset? Why are you depressed? 7 If you do what is appropriate, you’ll be accepted, won’t you? But if you don’t do what is appropriate, sin is crouching near your doorway, turning toward you. Now as for you, will you take dominion over it?”
8 Instead, Cain told his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the wilderness.” When they were outside in the fields, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Later, the Lord [Yahweh] asked Cain, “Where’s your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Gen 4:1-9 ISV.)
Here, "look favorably" is the Hebrew verb way-yisa. To not be looked upon favorably means that "Cain knew his sacrifice [i.e., his offering] was not received with favor." (James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible at the Start of the Common Era (Harvard University Press, 2009) at page 159.)
So Yahweh looked with FAVOR (Charis in Greek, Grace in English) upon Abel's offering. His offering came from the best part of his animals. However, while Cain brought an offering of produce, he did not make any special effort to bring the best produce. God did not look with FAVOR (Charis in Greek, Grace in English) upon Cain's offering. God then tells Cain why. Had Cain done what was "appropriate," he would have been "accepted," but as it is, obviously he did not and "sin is crouching near your doorway...." Thus, Cain was tempted by sin as he prepared the offering to cheapen it to ordinary produce. Now God was asking him whether he would "take dominion over it" -- over his sinful temptations -- that is REPENT / TURN AWAY from the sin tempting Cain even now to next kill Abel.
Does Jesus likewise speak about believers who do similar works as Cain did? For Cain's heart was clearly lukewarm toward obeying and pleasing God. He tried to do just enough to pass a test of pleasing the Lord by an offering. As a result, Cain failed to receive ANY Grace ...any favor. Jesus directly addresses this issue in the Book of Revelation, as we next disuss.
Jesus' Jolt To the Lukewarm
The contrast in Genesis 4 is clear: Cain and Abel each brought an offering but one was of the 'best part" of animals (Abel's) and one was of the average crops (Cain). Jesus spoke of similar lukewarm works. This is what Cain's mediocre offering represents. Jesus says He will "spew out of his mouth" those Christians whose works are "lukewarm." (Rev 3:16.)
This is where going the extra mile, i.e., doing works that are beyond what sinners do anyway, shows you are zealous to please God. For this Jesus promises CHARIS -- GRACE -- FAVOR from God. Like Yahweh promised Cain, if you do what is "appropriate" -- you will be "accepted" by God. (Gen. 4:7.)
If you reject this requirement for GRACE, as did Cain, and you insist upon mediocre or no obedience as adequate in reliance upon Paul, you will find the judge on Judgment Day is Jesus, not Paul. Jesus will not quote Ephesians 2:8-9 to you on grace. Jesus will quote you Luke 6:32-34 and 17:9 on grace.
Without earning God's favor / grace by doing what is "appropriate," i.e., zealous works, you, like Cain, will not be "accepted." Instead, Jesus already told you the result -- you have lukewarm works, and Jesus promises to "spew out of his mouth" the believers with such works. (Rev. 3:16.)
So, to repeat, what then earns favor / grace as Jesus taught it? Obedience that exceeds minimal deeds of obedience. It goes further and gives more than necessary in the direction of being loving to the unloveable, to help the poor who cannot help you, and to loan to those who cannot repay, and most importantly, to give your best effort when worshipping or honoring God, etc.
Obviously, the one who does not attempt to do anything at all has succumbed entirely to no zeal and no honor of Yahweh, and cannot be the recipient of FAVOR aka GRACE. With the lack of favor you show God, God will show you lack of favor. But with the FAVOR you show God, God will show you FAVOR. This is Jesus' view in Luke 6 and 17.
Paul's Different View
Paul views grace differently. Paul says God's favor is not influenced at all by the quality of one's obedience. In fact, no action supposedly can influence God's favor at all! Instead Paul says God gives His favor / His grace by the mere fact of one's "belief" that you called on God's name and that Jesus rose from the dead. (Romans 10:8.) It is all about what you get (receive), and not about any thing you do (achieve). Paulinists relish in this depraved version of Jesus' grace - using the mantra that "those in grace are not the achievers but the receivers."
However, let's translate Paul's most famous words on grace using the word FAVOR next to the word Grace to help clear the confusion out of our brain.
8 For by such grace / FAVOR you have been saved through faith. This does not come from you; it is the gift of God 9 and not the result of actions, to put a stop to all boasting.[a] (Eph 2:8-9 ISV, replacing "grace" with FAVOR.)
Hence, if this were true, then the fact Abel gave from the excellent portion of his animals should have resulted in no favor different due to the differences in the offerings, otherwise similar to what Cain made. But this is Biblically untrue.
The principle of Ephesians 2:8-9 is also untrue because of Jesus' message about lukewarm works not sufficing. Jesus means it would be less insulting to God to profess no love for God and do nothing than to espouse your love and your faith, and then let God down on how you fail to zealously obey and honor him by your works.
Thus, give God your best thoughtful worship and obedience! Do not give Yahweh-God a mediocre basket of fruit.
Otherwise, you are bringing God an offering much like Cain did, but what you hold back is materially important. You should know better, but you were fooled by a passage like Ephesians 2:8-9 that God supposedly does not care.
This is why Jesus says THIS to the ones with lukewarm works: Jesus prefers they were either hot or cold, but it is far worse to do works of an inconsiderate nature, as did Cain. In either case, the believer with lukewarm works will end up in the same place as the non-believer with no works, but Jesus implied the one with lukewarm works would be punished even more because he or she knew better. "To the one who more is given, more is expected." (Luke 12:48.)
Yahweh's Words to Cain Rebut Paul's Boasting Rationale
Is Paul correct God would never imagine using merited grace for salvation because this leads to the sin of boasting?
Let's read Paul's words again in Ephesians 2:8-9 where he says this. You will see below how wrong-headed is the notion that the principle contained therein must necessarily be true because otherwise the sin of boasting would be unleashed:
8 For by such grace / FAVOR you have been saved through faith. This does not come from you; it is the gift of God 9 and not the result of actions, to put a stop to all boasting.[a] (Eph 2:8-9 ISV, adding to "grace" the word FAVOR.)
In Paul's way of thinking, Cain's jealousy for God's favor on his brother who did a better "work" -- an offering from the best of his flock -- was brought on by the mere fact Abel did more. Abel has done more works worthy of "boasting" -- although Abel did not in fact boast. What God requires to show favor may indeed have one doing more and better works than another, but this requirement of God need not be erased to satisfy Paul's concern that such a principle promotes boasting. This can be proven from Genesis 4:7, as now explained.
First, Abel won God's favor by better works than Cain offered. What did God-Yahweh tell Cain about how to react to that different treatment? that difference in GRACE? that difference in FAVOR?
Yahweh said it was up to Cain to "dominate" his jealousy and anger at the favor God showed Abel's better works. (Gen. 4:7.) It was not for Abel to decide to give a lower-quality offering so as not to provoke his brother to jealousy, or himself to boast.
Nor could Cain have justified himself to God by borrowing Paul's argument about the risk of boasting. For Cain could not excuse himself by telling God that he tempered his works for the Lord Yahweh for a good reason: to avoid his own risk of boasting. That would be a pathetic excuse for not zealously honoring and obeying God. Instead, God advised Cain the solution to such risks is within Cain's grasp: God tells Cain to use self-control -- "take dominion over it" (Gen. 4:7) -- to avoid the feeling of jealousy forming even then because God had shown favor / grace upon Abel, and not upon Cain.
The same principle applies to Abel if he were tempted to boast to his brother Cain. Abel too would have to "take dominion over it" rather than succumb to the temptation to give God an equally lousy offering as his brother Cain did. God does not want such silly excuses why zealous works are being avoided. It is up to us to do zealous works, and then use self-control about the aftermath.
Thus, Paul's notion that God cannot show favor or grace based upon merit for otherwise this risks boasting is nonsensical. God's command to Cain to "take dominion over it" - over jealously forming -- is the antidote both to Cain -- from jealousy - and for Abel -- from boasting. Yahweh-God wants to be honored by zealous works that will merit His favor / grace. God does not have to give grace / favor without requiring merit, contrary to Paul's view, as the only supposed means to avoid the risk of improper sinful reactions. Rather, God's principle of grace upon merit stands. It is up to us to use self-control to neither boast nor be jealous thereafter. This is the lesson of Genesis 4:7.
Paul was wrong about grace. Jesus was right about grace. Yahweh was right about grace. Moses was right about grace. What is the consequence of the modern church following the way of a Pharisee who has grace all mixed up? The modern church has often become twice the sons of hell by following wrong doctrines of the Pharisees (which includes Paul). Jesus warned us that the leaven of the Pharisees would make us twice the sons of hell which the Pharisees represented. (Matt 23:15.)
From now on, re-examine all your actions with this principle above in mind. As an example, let's take worship. This is where Cain's mistake specifically took place. Praise songs are a type of offering we make to God.
Do you have a choice between a worship song praising Yahweh by name versus one that uses the word "God" instead? Which one do you think is more pleasing to Yahweh? The answer is obvious if you read Exodus 3:15:
God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations. (NLT).
And this passage from Jeremiah:
26How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, even the prophets of the deceit of their own heart? 27who think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers forgot my name for Baal. (Jer 23:26-27.)
So in keeping with the principle that you do not offer a mediocre bowl of fruit to Yawheh any more, then try to find the best praise songs to sing. It is more thoughtful to think about what pleases God-Yahweh. Here are links to good quality praise songs to Yawheh by name as well as for Yahshua.
Credits: Thanks to Nancy for pointing out that Jesus used "charis" (grace) in her article we posted in 2014.