About six years ago (at the end of 2016), I wrote a blog post called “Grace to Build An Ark.” As I’ve studied grace more over the years, I keep coming back to this idea. When Noah found grace in the Lord’s eyes, God didn’t drop a ready-made ark from the sky. He gave Noah the plans to build an ark for himself.
We rightly think of grace as an “unmerited favor” or a “free gift” from God. But we often wrongly think that because the gift is given freely there are no accompanying expectations. I write about this error in posts like “Learning More About Covenant Grace” and you can learn even more about it by reading the book that inspired that post, Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis (2015). Here’s one quote from the author, Brent Schmidt:
Jews knew about covenantal relationships from the Bible. Every commandment was a covenant with God. Several stories, including Joseph, Moses, and David, associate the concepts of grace and mercy with covenants. Greek-speaking Jews lived in a culture that depended heavily on reciprocal relationships and understood what charis meant. When Paul taught them using the word charis, they would have understood that by accepting God’s grace they were making covenantal obligations.BRENT SCHMIDT, RELATIONAL GRACE, P. 64
Noah’s story is the very first time we see the word “grace” in the Bible (Hebrew chen, also “kindness” or “favor”). God looked down on earth and “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” Grieving, God decided to destroy His creation, except “Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes” (Gen. 6:5-8, WEB). Once God chose to extend grace to Noah, He warned Him about the world-destroying flood, saying, “Make a ship of gopher wood,” gave him building instructions, and promised, “I will establish my covenant with you” (Gen. 6:13-21, WEB).
Noah and his family didn’t earn the right to be in the ark or to have a covenant-relationship with God. Their salvation was a gracious choice God made. But Noah still had to obey the command to build. Likewise, salvation is offered freely to us by God’s grace as He welcomes us into a covenant with Him. And we also have an obligation to obey God and to build something.
Building By Grace
Giving Noah the time and ability to build an ark so he and his family would live and the world would continue was a free gift of God’s grace. But Noah wouldn’t have been saved if he’d refused to build the ark. Peter and the author of Hebrews both talk about how important this building step was, and what it means for us today.
By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.Hebrews 11:7, NET
God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him.1 Pet. 3:20-22, NET
Hebrews talks about the righteousness by faith that Noah inherited. Peter says Noah’s salvation prefigured baptism and our salvation. We live in times very similar to those Noah faced, and we’re also fast approaching the end of this world (1 John 2:18; Matt. 24:37-39; 2 Pet. 3:1-10). Like Noah, God has extended a lifeline to us–salvation by His grace. Also like Noah, we need to respond by taking action based on faith. Twice in Genesis, we’re told “Noah did everything that Yahweh commanded him” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). If someone wrote the stories of our lives, could they say that about you and me?
Faith is an active thing. As we studied earlier this month, God seems to like building things, particularly when it involves building people up. He talks about building us into His temple, a dwelling place for Him here on earth as He lives inside the people of His church. He also talks about us participating in the building process.
We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.1 Corinthians 3:9-17, NET
Just like Noah so long ago, God expects us to act on the gift of grace that He gives us. God’s grace brings us into salvation and then we start building and working. We step out in obedience with faith, trusting the guides God gives us for how to build. We “work out our own salvation” while God “works in us both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13, WEB).
Continuing to Walk With God
Our walk with God doesn’t end when we receive His grace. That’s when it starts. Once we’ve covenanted with Him–in other words, entered a relationship with Him–we’re expected to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10). The gift should change us. How could it not? What human being could encounter God in a meaningful, ongoing way and stay the same?
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his creative work, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them.Ephesians 2:8-10, NET
Before we’re told that Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh, we’re given a description of his character. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9, WEB). That’s what we’re supposed to do as well. Noah stood out from the wicked world around him because he followed God, and God noticed. When He spoke to Noah, Yahweh said, “Come with all of your household into the ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation” (Gen 7:1, WEB).
God loves and longs to save the whole world (John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4). But He won’t force people to follow Him and He won’t bring people into His kingdom who refuse the gift of salvation in word or action. That’s a choice we’re given to make. As He has always done, God sets before us life or death, blessings or cursing. We can either live in His grace or refuse to walk with Him. There’s no third option.
Behold, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and evil. For I command you today to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it. … I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants, to love Yahweh your God, to obey his voice, and to cling to him; for he is your life, and the length of your days.Deuteronomy 30:15-6, 19-20, WEB
Salvation isn’t about going on with your old life after you’ve received grace. It’s about a life-changing relationship with the One who continually gives grace (John 1:17; 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 4:7; 2 Thes. 2:16-17; 2 Tim. 1:9). And we have help in our quest to keep living by obedience as we build up ourselves and others in the church. God’s not going to call us into something without equipping us to finish it.
Building our arks has nothing to do with what we can accomplish on our own. Rather, it’s about believing Jesus when He said, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9, NET). By God’s grace we are saved, we’re equipped to walk by faith, and we’re told to build, just like Noah. Our building project isn’t a giant boat, but the very church of God. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18, NET), but He graciously invites us to have a role in that. We get to build each other up and we get to build up our own faith.
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, maintain yourselves in the love of God, while anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life.Jude 1:20-21, NET
Featured image by Greg Reese from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Build a Boat” by Colton Dixon