"Grace is Unmerited Favor" - This Common Definition is Wrong

There are a few key words in the Bible that are given wrong definitions even though the definitions are widely accepted. Such wrong definitions created much confusion and a weak church. Grace is commonly defined as "God's unmerited favor to man". We even go into greater length to differentiate grace from mercy. Grace is defined as the getting the blessings/favors that we do not deserve and Mercy as NOT getting the punishments that we deserved.

With such fine definitions, we deceived ourselves that we have good and deep understanding of the terms of Grace and Mercy.

However, the definition of Grace as unmerited favor is wrong. I used to define grace as making up of two parts - unmerited and power. But after hearing James Ryle (Truthworks.org) preaching in Grace Chapel (gracechapel.net) on 23 Jul 2006 "Living a Legacy Part 4", I have to drop the unmerited part and just keep the power part. The unmerited part comes from God's mercy and need not be repeated in grace. In Tit 1:4, the benediction from Paul is "Grace, Mercy and Peace". (which matches well with 2Tim1:7 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control).

How to Judge the Correctness of a Definition?
1, Substitute the definition for term in the sentence/verse where the term is found.
2. Do it for all occurrences of the term in all the verses.
Let's try it for Jam 4:6... God resists the proud, but gives [grace] to the humble.
Unmerited favor does not make sense here. If it is unmerited favor, then the proud should have it too. In fact, the proud is more unmerited to receive it.
This is exactly like what Paul says in Rom 6:1b Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  

Defining Grace as "unmerited favor" causes grace to be misunderstood as a license to sin!
Other verses cited by James:
  • Gal 5:4b ye are fallen from [grace]. How can one falls from unmerited favor ? 
  • John 1:14b Jesus was full of [grace]. Is Jesus unmerited to have full of grace? Or is Jesus so bad that he need to be full of grace?

The Right Definition
Ps John of Petra Church defines grace as: "Grace is not a license to sin but an empowerment of God to enable us to be what we should".

James Ryle defines it as, "Grace is the empowering Presence of God enabling you to be who He created you to be, and to do what He has called you to do."

In shortest possible form, Grace is "God's presence" or God's power", for victorious, abundant, Christ-like, God glorifying living. Wherever that is the presence of God, there is power. God's power comes from His presence in us.

If we take grace as God's power, then it fits well in the above 3 verses cited. James 4:6, proud people don't see they need God's power. The humble people know the truth of their weakness and ask God for power. In Gal 5:4, if we rely on our own ability (our flesh) to be righteous, we do not need God's power and has indeed fallen, or depart from God's power (Grace). In John 1:14, Jesus is full of God's power and presence.

The Weak/Carnal Paul to Victorious Paul
What is the difference between the weak Paul, the Christian, of Rom 7:14-24 and the victorious Paul of 2 Cor 12:9-10 and Phi 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The answer is the Grace of God as defined as God's presence and power. 

Salvation for all is God's mercy of unmerited favor. Christian growth (becoming like Christ) is depending on us to be full of grace (God's presence and power) through crucifying our flesh (self-will, self-confidence, self-capability, self-pride) and follow after the Spirit. It is about abiding in Christ, living from the Vine of God's presence and power and then be fruitful.

The Verses Coming Alive
Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace(God's presence), that we may obtain mercy(unmerited favor), and find grace(God's power) to help in time of need.  

2Pe 3:18 But grow in grace(God's presence & power), and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let's compare, which definition gives better emphasis
  • Rom 11:6 And if by grace[unmerited favor of God], then is it no more of works: otherwise grace[favor] is no more grace[favor]. But if it be of works, then is it no more [God’s favor]: otherwise work is no more work.
  • Rom 11:6 And if by grace[Power of God], then is it no more of [men’s] works: otherwise grace[God’s Power] is no more [of God]. But if it be of [men’s] works, then is it no more [God’s power]: otherwise work is no more work. 
  • Eph 2:8 For by grace[unmerited favor] are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
  • Eph 2:8 For by grace[God's power] are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
    • Grace is the God's power that comes from God and not of ourselves. The grace power is a gift, the unmerited, for us from God. Paul had already doubly emphasized that Grace was not from us (1st) and it was a gift (2nd) from God. There is no need to triple emphasis by saying grace is unmerited favor. Grace is the favor, the Power of God. Please note that grace,as presented above, while it was made available for all, it is only given if we asked for it (James 4:8).
Incorrect popular definition of key Christian words give rise to much confusion and a weak church. Defining grace as unmerited favor is wrong and creates the confusion that grace is a license to sin. To live a victorious Christian life, we need to understand God's Word correctly and we must define grace as the power of God's presence and power in us to enable us to Christ-like lives.

See part 2 Grace - God's Loving Power for You to become Your Very Best

See also the impact of the right or wrong defintions:  

Update 21 March 2013
Recently, I found a definition of Grace from John Bevere that is very similar to my definition of grace as God's presence and power to enable us to live out Christ-likeness.
John Bevere’s definition for Grace: “God’s empowerment that gives us the ability to go beyond our natural ability.” John's message on grace can be found in YouTube as well.
Note: John Bevere's definition was also pointed out in one of the comment. Sorry that I missed that.

The Right Meaning of Grace used by the famous Actor Andy Griffith
"I firmly believe that in every situation, no matter how difficult, God extends grace greater than the hardship, and strength and peace of mind that can lead us to a place higher than where we were before."

Grace is God's power given to those who ask for it especially those called by God to accomplish His will.


Desmond said...

I think that there is a mistake at the end of the 3rd paragraph, it should be 1Ti 1:2 or 2Ti 1:2 but not Tit 1:4 (NIV)

Lim Liat said...

Sorry, there is no mistake. I was taking from KJV Tit 1:4 To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

mrswhalen said...

Thanks for the wisdom and knowledge of God...the truth shall surely make us free!!

Mrs. N. Beal said...

Thank you for the spiritual insight on Grace. I was truly freed from the deception of the word Grace & the phrase unmerited favor. It has been misinterpreted far too long. I Thank God for you.

Anonymous said...

The only Greek word that should have been translated into the English word Grace is Charis. The first time we see the word Charis in the NT is in Lk 2:40. The Father's "unmerited favor" was never upon His Perfect, Holy and Righteous Son! The Father's favor was alway merited! So, yes, all who think Grace is unmerited favor are false Christians because all true Christians, who have our anointing from the Holy One that teaches us, will know the Truth that sets us free, not stumble on the letter that kills, Jn 8; 2Co 3; 1Jn 2. In Eph 2, Scripture that false Christians love to quote, you will never find the Greek word Charis because it isn't there. Instead, we have the Greek words Chariti and Charitos, words that should never have been translated into Grace. So, what are the multitudes going to do who have falsely interpreted this Scripture along with many others? And, in plain sight, we have God's definition of Grace in 2Co 12:9, why haven't they seen it? Here is why:

Multitudes, who call themselves Christians, have never obeyed the real Lord Jesus Christ's command in Mt 6:33a and, therefore, multitudes of so-called Christians have never gone through the narrow Gate to travel on the narrow Road to eternal Life in God's Glory. Multitudes of so-called Christians think they worship the real Lord Jesus Christ but they will hear Him say, to their horror when it is too late, that He never knew them, Mt 7:21-23. The false Christians, heretics, anti-Christs will most certainly hear these Words from the real Lord Jesus Christ. Who are the false Christians, heretics, anti-Christs? The following reveals who they are.

Well, due to space limitations, i cannot add what i wanted to. So, just request it from me at canawedding at aol dot com, anne robare.

Anonymous said...

Until you experience the POWER OF GOD you will never know that it is HIS GRACE

Anonymous said...

This is awesome! John Bevere also had an entire series on this if you want to learn more on how to apply this in your daily life!

Anonymous said...

It is not to say that we are false christian in believeing the definition of unmerited favour. Some interpretation can be given wrong or said wrong, but until God has someone to reveil it the conrrect way, some may not know. That why we must continue to study God's word and let the spirit give us his true meaning.

richey said...

Gods grace is unmerited favor! if a person believes and loves the lord then he should know that, it is totally unmerited. We all fall short and if a person sees unmerited favor as a licsense to sin then he misses the mark. God bless

Kit said...

My father has always defined grace as "God's power in me to overcome." So nice to find that others have also reached that same wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but I don't accept your definition it is distorted. Grace is defined in Christianity as God's Riches At Christ Expense. The only thing we are entitled to is eternal hell and damnation as a result of our sins. Christ paid that price with Grace on the cross to save a believer from that fate. So yes unmerited favor is defined as being given something anyway that you were undeserving of in the first place. The two terms are totally in line with God's word. His Grace is sufficient for everyone.

Restful increase said...

There is no doubt that Grace is power. The nature of Grace always unmerited which means that it is something that happens that is not caused by human effort. Salvation is by Grace. Overcoming sin is by Grace. Living a victorious life is by Grace. Anointing is by Grace. Healing is by Grace. This is a gift of God. Jesus is Grace.

Alex Matthews, Esq. said...

Thanks for a better understanding of GRACE.. Alex Matthews, Esq.

Anonymous said...

Grace has meant "Divine influence upon the heart" for me; basically what you and others have said. thank you for sharing!

Doug Webber said...

Excellent article. I just wrote a blog on the same subject: The False Theological Definition of the word "Grace" http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-false-theological-definition-of.html

It originates from a false theology: see The Fundamental Error of the Protestant Faith http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-fundamental-error-of-protestant.html

Anonymous said...


MaBear said...

Grace grace and more grace is what i pray when i want to act out my carnal desires....it saves me everytime and lines my mind back to God centered desires n wants , when it goes astray. Thanks for addressing a very important element in ones journey with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit!

Anonymous said...

This is a case of over-analyzing things that are supposed to be simple: If you can earn grace, then it simply means you can 'work' your way to heaven.

Stephanie Lynn said...

Thank you