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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Mining Biblical Truth: Two Gems

I came across two gems from Scripture in my reading this morning . . .

Gem 1: 2 Samuel 13:3

But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother:.  And Jonadab was a very crafty man.

2 Samuel 13 contains a heinous sin: Amnon raped his sister.  It is one (of many) moments in Scripture that very candidly reveals that Biblical characters were depraved men and women.  Amnon desired to have his sister but there was something in Amnon that said “no, this is not right” which is why he was so despondent (13:2).  However, I’m not so sure that it was his values restraining him, but rather an opportunity.  Nevertheless his friend persuaded him to pursue this sin against his sister.  He even gave him a plan to make it happen.  Amnon heeded his friend’s plan and violated his sister.  The gem in the midst of this dreadful account is friends are life-shapers.  Make no mistake, those with whom we spend time says much about us.  We should not underestimate the degree to which they influence us in virtue or vice.  Young people in particular need to remember this.

Gem 2: 2 Corinthians 6:7b

with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left

The Apostle Paul is about half way through a list of evidences concerning his apostolic ministry.  He employs a military metaphor to get his point across.  It is generally understood that offensive weapons were in the right hand and defensive weapons in the left (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament; Plummer, 2 Corinthians, 198).  Calvin says “By righteousness you must understand – rectitude of conscience and holiness of life.” So what Paul is arguing is that his life and ministry were characterized by righteousness.  His defense was not in his words but in his life.  What a powerful lesson for every Christian.  The gem in this phrase is that the Christian’s best defense concerning the validity of the gospel will not come merely by words but perhaps more powerfully by one’s life.  This is likely what is in view when Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Who Is A Child Of God?

See what kind of love the Father has given unto us, that we shall be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him (1 John 3:1).

After a cursory reading of this verse, one might come away with the mistaken idea that every person on planet earth is a child of God.  John has a specific audience in mind when he uses the word “we.”  It references those who have placed their faith in Christ, i.e. Christians and who have a corresponding change in life (1 John 2:1-2).  In our Kumbaya culture, we are quick to embrace the idea that we are all God’s children.  John, as well as the other writers in the New Testament, show evidence to the contrary.  Here are fives lines of evidence in the New Testament that show that “to be ‘born of God’ was something quite distinct from natural human procreation” (Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 114).

  1. Proponents of the view that we are all the children of God by birth may point to Acts 17:28 where Paul cites “Phainomena” a poem by the Greek poet Aratus: “For we are indeed his offspring.”  One might argue that since we are all God’s offspring that would allow us to conclude that we are all God’s children.  However, because we are God’s offspring, i.e. His creation, He is our Creator but not by necessity our Father.
  2. Jesus tells the Jews in John 8:44 “you are of your father the devil.”  Notice the correlation between action and relationship.  They do what their father does, the same truth that John is teaching in his letter.  1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”  Our actions reveal our parentage.
  3. Paul says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3).  Notice the past tense verb of being ‘were’. It reveals that a change took place at a point in time, following one’s physical birth.  How does this status change take place?  Legally.  It is called justification.  Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified [counted righteous] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 5:9 “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”  Galatians 2:16 “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  Who’s righteousness?  Not ours (Romans 3:10) but God’s (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).  (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 5-6, 9).  So, by birth we are all children of wrath.  Something had to occur to change this, namely justification.
  4. Paul reminds about the vital role of the Holy Spirit in sonship in Romans 8:14-16.  In the same passage, he uses the significant word “adoption” (uioqesia).  The word “indicates a total break w. the old family and a new family relation with all its rights, privileges, and responsibilities” (Rogers and Rogers, Exegetical Key, 330).  We all understand the concept of adoption.  An adopted child was not naturally born into one’s family.  It is actually a precious picture of being chosen.  So we’re reminded that we are adopted children into God’s family; thus we are not naturally children of God.
  5. The distinction between “being” and “becoming” in John 1 is significant, especially in John 1:12-13.  “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus]” (John 1:1).  The verb “was” in 1:1 is the verb of being eimi in Greek.  God the Son always was, is, and will be; without beginning or end.  John the Baptist on the other hand “was” (ginomai).  This verb of being suggests a point in time when he came into being.  It is the same verb of being used for creation in v. 3: “All things were made (ginomai) through him.”  It is even used of the incarnation of Jesus, when the Word became (ginomai) flesh and dwelt among us!  Jesus didn’t always possess a body, he received one just like you and me at His conception (though His conception was one-of-a-kind).  In this way, Jesus became flesh.  So noting the distinction between always being (eimi, e.g., God the Son) and becoming (ginomai, e.g., creation, John the Baptist, and the Incarnated Christ).  John says this in 1:12-13: “But to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become (ginomai) children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Thus showing that one is not a child of God by birth, but rather one must become a child of God by being born again which comes through receiving and believing in Christ.

So, who is a child of God?  Anyone who is born of God, or regenerated, is a child of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9).  Let’s not be carried about by the sentimental theology of our culture.  Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3 that he must be “born again,” referring to a spiritual birth, not a physical one (Nicodemus thought Jesus meant this [John 3:4] and Jesus rebuked him for it [John 3:10]).  Faith in Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6).  It is by trusting Christ and Christ alone that we become a child of God and are adopted into God’s family.  Until then, we are children of wrath.  God is not our Father.  He is our Judge.  God has made it possible for you to become His child.  If you have not, would you place your faith in Christ alone?  Just as Ananias welcomed Saul, who just days before was persecuting the church, with the words “Brother Saul” (Acts 9:17), so I hope I can call you my brother or sister in the Lord and thus we can magnify the grace of God together.