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Earning, Deserving, and the Catechism's Understanding of Grace

James Gould

“Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved.” So says the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer’s Catechism (and a long theological tradition). This statement has two possible interpretations. On the one hand, if the Catechism means to equate the terms “unearned” and “undeserved,” then it blurs an important distinction. “Earned” and “deserved” are not univocal concepts. On the other hand, if the Catechism means to distinguish the terms, then it is mistaken in affirming both as features of saving grace. While creating grace (the action of God that brings us into existence as spiritual beings meant for union with God) is both unearned and undeserved, saving grace (the action of God that restores human beings from sin to actual friendship with God) is unearned but not undeserved.

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