There is much talk today about the grace of God that is altogether different from any language found in the New Testament. We hear about grace “coming down and overwhelming” and people who are “covered with grace.”This language is really not new at all and finds its roots in the Augustinian concept of grace as some sort of mystical, nebulous force that is imposed on men from heaven in two ways: actual grace, being the supernaturally endowed ability to do good things, and sanctifying grace, being the supernatural power of salvation working in one’s life. The Catholic and early reformation churches, influenced by this thinking, believed that they could contact and receive the “divine power of grace” by certain rituals called “sacraments.” Although this is the widely accepted idea in the religious world, and its jargon has entered the vocabulary of nearly every religious person, with such clichés as, “an outward sign of an inward grace,” the Bible seems to present a very different view of the subject.
Noah Found Grace…
The first mention of grace in the Bible is in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” That simple little verse, when considered in its context teaches us volumes about the subject of the grace of God. The world, relatively young, but mature in malice and evil imagination—had become so depraved as a majority that it caused God to regret having ever created man. In His righteousness He resolved to no longer strive with him, but to send down judgment and wipe him off the face of the earth. However, rather than destroying it in an instant, which would have been both possible and just, God chose to be longsuffering for 120 years and give the world a chance at repentance. (Gen. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:19)
The Bible says Noah “…was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9b) Noah responded to God’s gracious offer and was able to escape from the deluge. There is nothing in this story that would define the grace of God as mystical divine power, but rather it is clear that the proper definition would be divine favor, and loving kindness. Because of his great love for man, God gave him a chance that he did not deserve to be given.
Now the question we must answer is this: How did Noah go about finding this grace? Well, the first thing we are told about Noah is that he was a just and good hearted man who “walked with God.” As a family leader in the Patriarchal age, we can expect that this carried some very profound meaning. It seems that Noah actually had moments of conversation with God on a rather frequent basis, as many other Patriarchs did, and in these conversations Noah received instruction on how he and his household might be saved, and trusting in what God told him, the Bible says: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” (Gen. 6:22)
Hebrews 11:7 says: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
No person could read the story and conclude that Noah saved himself. His salvation, in providence, patience, plan and in power was by the grace of God. God had provided him with the opportunity, bore with him in patience, instructed him in the plan and purged the world of sin by the outpouring of his power. 1 Peter 3:19-20 shows that God showed this same grace to the whole world of Noah’s day, as Noah preached the message of salvation to the world around him, even while building the ark. The others however, did not have the faith and obedience to lay hold on it.
The Grace of Christ
This old story prepares us very well to approach the subject of the grace of God through Christ that is taught in the New Testament. The Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) This is exactly how Noah was saved. By faithful obedience, not by plans of his own design or of his own strength, he claimed the gracious gift of salvation from God, and according to Paul that is basically the same way we find salvation today.
1 Peter 3:19-21
The Apostle Peter taught that not only was the salvation of Noah like the salvation of men today, but it was in fact divinely orchestrated, as an action prophecy, or a type, pointing forward to the work of Christ and His gospel:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:18-21)
In this passage the Apostle Peter shows us how the grace of Christ (His sacrificial death on the cross) is able to save men’s souls.
Let’s notice as the providence, the patience, the plan and the power are unfolded. First, he shows that in the days of Noah grace was shown to the wicked antediluvians, now spirits in prison (Hades), by the preaching of righteousness that Noah gave through the inspiration of the Spirit. This is the providence. It would have been righteous for God to punish the ancient world for their sin without providing any way of redemption, and the same is true today. The foundation of any hope of salvation is the graciousness of God. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) By the sacrifice of Christ, and the gospel message preached, man is given a way of escape from the penalty of his guilt.
But the grace of God does not stop at the provision, it continues into the patience of God in giving men an opportunity to respond. Peter says of the ancient world, “the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared…” This too is an essential feature of the Grace of Christ as God is “longsuffering toward us… not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Next Peter carries us to the plan, now watch this – the plan is a part of the grace of God! “…while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” Examine the passage. The antecedent of “in which” is the ark. The ark was where the eight souls survived and were saved by following in faith the plan of God. (Hebrews 11:7) In like manner there is a plan given to men today. Those who hear the message of Christ’s Gospel, and in faith accept it unto obedience, repent of their sins, confess the divine sonship of Christ and are baptized in water for the remission of sins (Rom. 10:17; Luke 13:3; Matthew 10:32; Acts 2:38) are saved by Christ.
That is the plan for man to follow, but the plan is efficacious because of and by the power of God. Notice, “in which a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water.” Here the salvation of Noah and his family is not attributed only to the ark but also to the flood! Pay close attention. If Noah and his family had built the ark correctly and trusted in God and entered into it, that alone would not have saved them from the wrath of God toward the evil and sin of the world. The wickedness had to be taken away in order for the family of Noah to be truly saved. That is precisely what the flood did! It washed the world clean of all unrighteousness and gave a new life to those who had obeyed God.
Peter writes that this same thing occurs in our obedience to the Gospel when we are baptized. While a mere dipping in water would normally profit us nothing, baptism as obedience to the gospel is given power by the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that it is not merely an outward cleansing, but an inward cleansing. (Acts 22:16; Col. 2:12) As the flood waters did to the ancient world, in baptism our souls are washed from all sin by the blood of Christ. This is what it means to be saved by the grace of God. For someone to suggest that salvation by grace would exclude baptism or any other act of obedience shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what grace is. Not some ethereal force, but the goodness and favor of a loving God for his creation, man.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-15)