(This blog will be offline for a couple of weeks while I travel. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. Feel free to comment or ask questions. I will be able to respond when I return.)
This was probably the central question of the Reformation. The Catholic tradition taught that grace was earned by obedience to the expectations of prior grace. In other words, one received grace and then, in order to receive more grace, was expected to live a certain way. If you look at this system logically, you see that in it all grace is ultimately earned. Even the grace given to a newborn baby is based on the obedience of the parents. Those who had never lived a life of faith could still find grace after death based on the obedience of their loved ones (often shown in the form of money given to the priests).
When Luther and the reformers began to teach that “the just shall live by faith” they challenged the status quo. To live by faith, as stated in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, means that the Christian life is a gift that is received by trusting the Giver. In other words, grace is a gift and not something to be earned.
Grace cannot be earned. Since the Reformation, grace has been defined as “unmerited favor”. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, according to the Scripture. Some say that it was because Noah was faithful. Yet, if we understand that Noah’s faithfulness was itself a gift from the Lord, we are open to read that he was recognized as a deliverer at the time of his birth. (Genesis 5:29) The lineage of Noah was the faithful line maintained by God in preparation for Noah’s day.