For my son’s birthday recently he received a 200-piece puzzle. It is a nice break from the video games. You know how puzzles work: lots of smaller pieces fit together to make a larger picture. All of the smaller pieces are given meaning when they fit together. One of the strategies of putting together larger puzzles is to work on smaller sections first and then connect those sections together.
We’ve been trying to put together the pieces of Bible doctrine this year. So far this year we have worked on the doctrines of God, the Bible, mankind, and Christ. Today we begin working on salvation. The individual pieces of salvation, which we are going to look at the next 3 months are GRACE, ELECTION, ATONEMENT, CALLING, CONVERSION, REGENERATION, UNION WITH CHRIST, JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, PRESERVATION & PERSEVERANCE, and, GLORIFICATION.
One of the subjects which weighs on my heart is the subject of salvation. I believe most well-meaning Christians have a very narrow understanding of salvation. “You need to go to heaven. The way to heaven is trusting Christ. Trust Christ today.” The Bible, however, opens up for us a much broader view of the work of salvation, and usually it is only after we have trusted Christ that an investigation into this is made, if it is made at all.
Grace is a huge topic and I want to pain a picture for you in broad strokes. A good way to approach this might be to ask questions. What is God’s grace? Why do I need God’s grace? What does God’s grace look like in real life? How do I respond to God’s grace?
[*Note: I am indebted to Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, for the following outline.]
I. Grace is favor and lovingkindness granted to those who do not deserve it. [What is grace?] – Romans 5:8
A. Liberals hold it to be the natural capacity for doing good; being endowed with a rational mind, freewill to resist the power of evil, and choose to live sinlessly. All people are children of God but flawed by evolution. It champions natural growth, human education, natural morality, the human heroism of the cross.
B. Roman Catholics: the divine enablement that supplements human initiative. We did not inherit depravity from Adam, just moral and spiritual weakness. “You supply the faith, God supplies the grace.” Grace moves one to trust Christ and receive baptism. Baptismal grace assists the person in keeping the commands of God which advances their justification.
C. Arminian: prevenient grace erases the debilitating effects of sin on minds, restores moral free agency, convicts of sin, exerts a Godward influence on hearts. Thus, every human has the potential for salvation (universal). If people were unable to believe, then it would be unfair of God to condemn those who did not. Mankind’s free will can resist God’s grace. [John Wesley] Prevenient grace (the universal and unconditional benefit of the Atonement) enables the mind, emotion, and will to respond to God’s call through the modality of the conscience. One who responds to initial grace is granted more grace.
D. Reformed: Two forms of grace: common and special.
1. Common grace is God’s undeserved goodness to every person in the form of his general care (focus is universal, see p. 64 bottom).
Luke 6:35 (NIV)
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
What does common grace do? Upholds the laws and processes of nature; all forms of life sustained in existence (Acts 17:28a); supplies food, water, shelter; restrains the power of sin through the Spirit; delays or withholds judgment; facilitates the good and true in the arts, sciences, technology; social and political order maintained; good gifts given to sinners as incentive to repent (Rom 2:4) and show that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. This accounts for "splendid pagans".
Abraham Kuyper said, “By His common grace God bridles the evil of fallen human nature, restrains the ruin which sin has produced and spread, and enables even the unregenerated men to do good in the broad, non-redemptive sense. It is the source of the good, the true, and the beautiful which remains, in spite of sin, in human life, even in human life which has not been regenerated.”
This grace is resistible.
Isaiah 26:10 (NIV)10 Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord.
Charles Ryrie gives this illustration of common grace. “If you offered to give one dollar to a man whom you knew needed one hundred dollars and if he rejected your one dollar gift, you would doubtless consider his refusal sufficient grounds for declining to give him further assistance. If, on the other hand, the needy man accepted the one dollar gift gratefully, you might try to give him more. The dollar would be insufficient to meet his need, but if he refused it would be sufficient to condemn him. That dollar is like common grace which is not able to save but which is able to condemn, if rejected. [Holy Spirit, p. 63]
2. Special grace is the exercise of God’s saving power toward sinners which enlightens the minds of alienated rebels, quickens the will and energizes their affections toward God (focus is individual). Once a person is renewed by the Spirit he believes the Gospel, repents of sin, and trusts Christ. Saving grace is both prevenient and effectual; that is, it effectively changes the heart of those the Father has given to the Son. God does not violate the will. He simply changes it to be willing. General and special grace are mediated by Christ’s person and work.
II. Grace is needed because sin has corrupted us completely. [Why is grace needed?]
A. Sin’s corruption is called DEPRAVITY [Jer 13:23, Rom 1:26-32] Sin has brought corruption to the human race to the extent that we are spiritually hopeless.
Jeremiah 13:23 (NIV) 23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
Romans 1:28-32 (NIV)
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
B. Intellectually, sinners are unable to discern spiritual truth; that is, they are unable to grasp the full significance of truth from a spiritual perspective [Eph 4:18; 2 Cor 4:4; Rom 8:7-8; 1 Cor 2:14].
Ephesians 4:18 (NIV)
18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)
4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)
14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
C. Volitionally, the unregenerate can only exercise their wills against the purposes of God [2 Pet 2:19]. The unregenerate have lost true “free will” [the ability to do as we please and the ability to choose between moral alternatives] because rebellion against God has plunged them into sin-slavery. Their will is bound to sin.
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)
19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.
D. Emotionally, our affections take delight in evil rather than in God [Titus 3:3; Gal 5:16].
Titus 3:3 (NIV)
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
E. Relationally, sin makes us alienated from God and our fellow human beings [Col 1:21].
Colossians 1:21 (NIV)
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
III. The Bible teaches that there are many dimensions to grace. [What other dimensions of grace does the Bible teach?]
A. Grace is an attitude of God [Eph 2:4-8],
Ephesians 2:4-8 (NIV)
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
B. Grace is an action of God [Jn 1:14; 1 Tim 1:14; Rom 3:24],
1 Timothy 1:14 (NIV)
14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:24 (NIV)
24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
C. Grace is the gift of God.
1. in the person of Christ
2. in righteousness and salvation
3. gift of God’s power
4. spiritual endowments [spiritual gifts]
D. Grace is the power of God at work [Acts 18:27; Rom 5:20-21; 2 Cor 12:9; Rom 16:20; Titus 2:11-12],
Romans 5:20-21 (NIV)
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Titus 2:11-12 (NIV)
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
E. Grace is the method of God’s saving us [Eph 2:8-9],
F. Grace is a state or realm entered by faith [Rom 5:2]
Romans 5:2 (NIV)
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
IV. How should I respond to God’s grace?
A. Gratitude – this is why we “say grace” before meals!
B. Graciousness toward others
C. Tell the unbeliever that it is God who has been gracious to them by providing health, provisions for life, food, family, meaningful work, etc.
D. Recognize that it is God’s grace that works in you to choose to obey God. (Ph 2:13, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
E. Let it be the driving factor in your pursuit of holy living. [Titus 2:11-12]