Grace Alone

One of the five pillars of the 16th century reformation was sola gratia.  It is a Latin term meaning, “grace alone.” 

When the Reformers spoke about ‘grace alone’ (sola gratia), they were saying that sinners have no claim upon God, none at all; that God owes them nothing but punishment for their sins; and that, if he saves them in spite of their sins, which he does in the case of those who are being saved, it is only because it pleases him to do it and for no other” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, 107).

The pillars of the reformation, including sola gratia, were all rediscovered NT truths that had been lost in Catholic soteriology.  When we encounter the Johannine declaration about Jesus, “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16), we cannot help but magnify grace.  Paul called the Ephesian believers to rejoice in this stunning grace: “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).  It is no wonder then that the reformers returned to sola gratia.  All the NT authors highlight grace.  For instance, the author of Hebrews, Peter, and John open or close their writings with grace: 

Hebrews 13:25, “Grace be with all of you”

1 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you”

2 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

2 John 3, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”

Revelation 22:21, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Yet the Apostle Paul seems to take grace to the next level.  How?  The apostle who experienced the saving grace of God (1 Corinthians 3:10; 15:10) and suffered to proclaim the grace of God (Acts 20:24) begins and ends every one of his epistles with grace!

Romans

1:7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

1 Corinthians

1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

16:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”

2 Corinthians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Galatians

1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

6:18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”

Ephesians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

6:24, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

Philippians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

4:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Colossians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

4:18, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains.  Grace be with you.”

1 Thessalonians

1:1, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”

5:28, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

2 Thessalonians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

3:18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

1 Timothy

1:2, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6:21, “for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.  Grace be with you.”

2 Timothy

1:2, “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

4:22, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

Titus

1:4, ‘To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

3:15, “All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.”

Philemon

3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

25, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

It seems that “amazing grace” all too quickly becomes “boring grace,” as Boice put it.  In other words, grace is pedestrian for the believer amidst the daily grind.  But it need not remain that way.  For a moment, do this.  Remember who you were before the grace of God appeared in your life.  Recall the thoughts, words, and deeds that were a part of your daily routine.  Now think of the sinful bents in your life, unfettered by the grace of God and left to the passions of your flesh and the desires of your body and mind.  What thoughts would you allow to nest in your mind?  What words and volume would characterize your responses?  What fleshly desires would you indulge in?  If we forget what a totally depraved sinner looks like apart from the grace of God, grace ceases to be amazing.  When we remember who were before grace and who we are in Christ after grace, grace will become amazing once again!  It will lead to spontaneous praise like when the blind man who received his sight exclaimed in front of the Pharisees, “though I was blind, now I see!” (John 9:25).  It will also yield the good fruit of humility.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  As John Bradford (1510-1555), the English reformer and martyr, famously uttered while imprisoned when he saw a criminal on his way to execution, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford” we too humbly say, as God’s grace keeps us from sin, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

So, be strengthened, Christian, by the life-giving, stunning grace of God!  2 Timothy 2:1, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Be holy, Christian, motivated by the redeeming, saving grace of God!  Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, [12] training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”  The grace of God is nothing short of amazing—it saves, strengthens, and sanctifies!   

O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This Godlike miracle of love,
Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,
and all th’ angelic choirs above,
And all th’ angelic choirs above.

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
(Samuel Davies, “Great God of Wonders”)

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