God Raised You From the Dead

Dr. John Piper: You came into this world dead. Not sort of “hard of hearing” towards the gospel, not simply crippled in good works, not struggling to keep your head above the waters of sin. You were dead: spiritually lifeless and unmoving. Everything that a dead corpse can contribute to becoming alive, you could do, spiritually, to believe in Christ. Nothing. Dead means dead (Ephesians 2:1–3).

But God, because of the wealth of mercy in his being, loving dead corpses such as we are, said to us, “Live.” And as surely as the voice of God raised the Son of God from the tomb outside Jerusalem, he raised us up from death, and set us about the works of Christ, by the same power that breathed in our souls from the beginning of our first cries of faith (Ephesians 2:4–7).

This is the good news of Jesus. No boasting, no claim of contribution to our own resurrection — we boast, but say nothing but “useless” of ourselves. Our boasting is in the Lord who raises the dead, for his glory (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Scripture: Ephesians 2:1–10

LAB_PDX_10 from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Grace: What Does God Give Us?

grace02Grace: What Does God Give Us?

This extract is from Why The Reformation Still Matters, by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Crossway, 2016. (available here)

Michael Reeves is President of Union and Professor of Theology. He is the author of The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Paternoster, 2012).

Tim Chester is a pastor with Grace Church, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, and a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. He is the author or co-author of numerous books.

Years before the Reformation, in his days as a monk, Martin Luther had begun lecturing on the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. There he taught his students that salvation is by grace. ‘Not because of our merits,’ he explained; salvation is ‘given out of the pure mercy of the promising God’.[1] No alarms went off; not a single eyebrow was raised among all the inquisitors in Rome. And why not? Because Martin Luther the monk was still then upholding Rome’s own theology. He was loyally teaching standard medieval Roman Catholicism, that salvation is by grace.

Eyebrows might not have arched in Rome, but perhaps yours did just then. For was not the whole point of the Reformation that medieval Roman Catholicism falsely taught salvation by works? That, certainly, is how many see it. Yet that idea actually fails to grasp quite how things really were. More importantly, it fails to grasp the true wonder and acuteness of the Reformers’ message.

Grace in medieval Roman Catholicism

What, then, did Luther the monk (before the Reformation) mean when he taught salvation by grace? He could state that salvation ‘is not on the basis of our merits but on the pure promise of a merciful God’. Which sounds all very Reformational – until he goes on to explain:

Hence the teachers correctly say that to a man who does what is in him God gives grace without fail . . . [God] bestows everything gratis and only on the basis of the promise of his mercy, although he wants us to be prepared for this as much as lies in us. [2]

So, according to this, God does save by grace, but that grace is given to those who are ‘prepared’ for it, who do ‘what is in them’ to be fit for grace. Or as others (‘the teachers’) of the day liked to put it, ‘God will not deny grace to those who do their best.’

Romans 5:5 is perhaps the single most helpful verse for under- standing this view of salvation by grace. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,’ writes the apostle Paul. Instead of being read as a verse about the transformative work of the Spirit in those who ‘have been justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1), as the context proves, Romans 5:5 was taken as an account of salvation, meaning that God pours his love and grace into our hearts, transforming us and making us holy – holy enough, ultimately, for heaven.

Our problem, according to this theology, is that, while God is holy, we are spiritually lazy. Only holy people belong with a holy God in heaven, but, while we may recognize the problem, we really cannot be bothered. We do not seem able to summon up the energy needed to be truly holy. And so God in his kindness gives us grace. ‘Grace’ is thus a bit like a can of spiritual Red Bull. I find myself unable to pull myself together and get holy. Then God gives me Grace, and suddenly I find myself much more eager and able.

This, then, was a theology of salvation by grace: without this grace, we could never become the sort of holy people it claimed belong in heaven. But it was absolutely not a theology of salvation by grace alone. Here grace provided the necessary boost it imagined we all need to earn eternal life; but it did not actually give or guarantee eternal life itself. The Red Bull of grace would be given to those who wanted and pursued it, and it saved only in so far as it enabled people to become holy and so win their salvation.

This might all have been the theology of sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism, but it does not feel too unfamiliar to twenty-first century Protestants and evangelicals. ‘Grace’ is still routinely thought of today as a package of blessing doled out by God. And, small details aside, that picture captures well a common and instinctive view of salvation, that while we know God saves by grace, we still look to ourselves and our performance to know how we stand before him. Our prayer lives are often painfully revealing of this. Every day Christians should be able to approach the Almighty and boldly cry ‘Our Father’ all because of Jesus. As we read in Hebrews, ‘Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace’ (Hebrews 4:14–16). Yet in practice our sins and failings make us shrink back. Ignoring Jesus’ salvation, we feel we cannot approach the Holy One because of how we have performed. Continue reading

Grace: What Does God Give Us?

graceArticle” Grace: What Does God Give us? by Dr. Michael Reeves (original source by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Inter-Varsity Press London, England, 2016 (available here)

Years before the Reformation, in his days as a monk, Martin Luther had begun lecturing on the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. There he taught his students that salvation is by grace. ‘Not because of our merits,’ he explained; salvation is ‘given out of the pure mercy of the promising God’.[1] No alarms went off; not a single eyebrow was raised among all the inquisitors in Rome. And why not? Because Martin Luther the monk was still then upholding Rome’s own theology. He was loyally teaching standard medieval Roman Catholicism, that salvation is by grace.

Eyebrows might not have arched in Rome, but perhaps yours did just then. For was not the whole point of the Reformation that medieval Roman Catholicism falsely taught salvation by works? That, certainly, is how many see it. Yet that idea actually fails to grasp quite how things really were. More importantly, it fails to grasp the true wonder and acuteness of the Reformers’ message.

Grace in medieval Roman Catholicism

What, then, did Luther the monk (before the Reformation) mean when he taught salvation by grace? He could state that salvation ‘is not on the basis of our merits but on the pure promise of a merciful God’. Which sounds all very Reformational – until he goes on to explain:

Hence the teachers correctly say that to a man who does what is in him God gives grace without fail . . . [God] bestows everything gratis and only on the basis of the promise of his mercy, although he wants us to be prepared for this as much as lies in us. [2]

So, according to this, God does save by grace, but that grace is given to those who are ‘prepared’ for it, who do ‘what is in them’ to be fit for grace. Or as others (‘the teachers’) of the day liked to put it, ‘God will not deny grace to those who do their best.’

Romans 5:5 is perhaps the single most helpful verse for under- standing this view of salvation by grace. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,’ writes the apostle Paul. Instead of being read as a verse about the transformative work of the Spirit in those who ‘have been justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1), as the context proves, Romans 5:5 was taken as an account of salvation, meaning that God pours his love and grace into our hearts, transforming us and making us holy – holy enough, ultimately, for heaven. Continue reading

Grace is Not a Thing!

grace02Jeremy Treat is a pastor at Reality LA and an adjunct professor at Biola University. He holds a PhD in theology from Wheaton College and is the author of The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” Pacino’s statement taps into a tension that we all sense intuitively but maybe have not expressed explicitly. If God is forgiving, then why strive for a holy life? If the penalty has been paid, then why must progress be made?

I believe the tension felt here ultimately comes from a confused view of grace.

What Is Grace?

I used to think of grace as a spiritual substance that God stores in piles behind his heavenly throne and dispenses to his people below. In other words, grace is stuff that God gives apart from himself.

How wrong I was! Grace is not a thing. Grace is not stuff that God gives us apart from himself. He doesn’t run out of it. God gives us himself when we don’t deserve it; that is grace. The oft-repeated definition of grace as an undeserved gift is right but does not go far enough when referring to the grace of God. Grace is a gift, but God is not only the giver, he himself is the gift. God graces us with himself.

But if that’s what grace is, then what does grace do? How does grace work? I’ll tell you this much—grace is not a flowery bow that you wrap around your already tidy religious system. It’s not the cherry on top of your morality pie.

Grace changes everything

Grace saves and sanctifies. At least that’s the way it is supposed to be. But so often grace is something we look back to rather than move forward by. Confusion results because we don’t get grace; meaning, we receive it but we’re not transformed by it because we don’t understand it. In order to move forward in grace, we need to debunk five misconceptions of grace and defeat three enemies of grace.

Five Misconceptions about Grace

Grace is permission to sin. If God graciously forgives sin, then why struggle for a sin-free life? “I’m good at sinning, God is good at forgiving; it’s a match made in heaven, right?” This common mindset presumes that it’s God’s job to forgive our sin. He’s God—that’s just what he does. But the minute we presume upon grace, it is no longer grace. Grace is not permission to sin, it is the power to overcome sin. By grace God forgives sin and transforms sinners into saints. Holiness is not a prerequisite for grace; it is a product of grace.

Grace fills the gaps. “Do your best and God will do the rest.” According to this understanding, we do most of the heavy lifting on our own, and then God spots us on the last few reps when we’re tired. How nice of God to finish off what we start. The problem with the “grace fills the gaps” thinking is that it vastly underestimates the extent of sin. The Bible does not say we are people who need help crossing the finish line. It says we are spiritual corpses who need to be given life. When you align with the biblical teaching that sin touches every aspect of our being, then you also realize that grace isn’t just needed to polish off your moral achievements; grace is the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life. The more honest you are about sin, the more your heart will rejoice in grace.

Grace is God letting up on his standards. Most people think that in the Old Testament God was obsessed with holiness and upheld an almost unrealistic standard for his people. “Keep the rules” was the banner of heaven. But then in the New Testament, God must have woken up on the right side of the cloud and finally decided to lower his standards and just love people for who they are. Right? Wrong. Grace is not God letting up on his law but sending his Son to fulfill it. Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping the covenant and fulfilling the law where God’s people had previously failed. By the renewing effects of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit the Christian can live a life of love that begins to align with the holy standards of God’s law.

Grace opposes effort. If it’s “all about grace” then clearly it’s not about effort. Or so it seems. But, as Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Christians therefore, should work hard, strive, and toil—but we do so not for grace but from grace. Because of the gospel we are motivated not by guilt but by gratitude. And the gospel is the greatest motivating power in the world, propelling followers of Christ to love their neighbor, do justice, and share the gospel. Philippians 2:12-13 describes this type of grace-driven effort: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Grace is for godly people. As much as people may not say this explicitly, many believe it deep down. It results from the simple misconception that God loves good people rather than that God’s love makes people good. But the Bible is not a story of God looking for good people, but one of God redeeming sinful people. And that should come as good news. Grace is for ungodly people, but it transforms them into godly people. We must understand this, because a decision for Christ apart from devotion to Christ is more about fleeting emotions than lifelong commitment.

Three Enemies of Grace

Pride. Why would anyone turn down a free gift? Because if I don’t earn it, then I can’t take credit for it. This is why grace is a difficult concept for accomplishment-driven people. But the greatest enemy of grace is the idea that I don’t need it. This is apparent in the notion that religion is a “crutch” for weak people. But grace is not a crutch for the weak, it is a foundation for the honest. And if I am honest with myself, I know I need far more than a crutch, I need a new heart. Grace doesn’t prop me up, it transforms me from the inside out. We resist grace because we want the glory.

Entitlement. Entitlement is a three-step process: (1) receive a gift with gratefulness, (2) get used to a gift with routine, and (3) demand a gift as a right. This is a blind spot for many American Christians, and one with dangerous consequences. The minute you think you deserve grace you dissolve its power. Grace makes people grateful, but entitlement strangles out grace.

Self-Pity. If pride says “I don’t need grace” and entitlement claims “I deserve grace,” then this last view is the self-pitying plea that “I’m not good enough for grace.” This sentiment is often expressed by saying something like, “I know God can forgive me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” This sounds humble and self-effacing, but it’s actually quite pretentious. Either (a) you have a higher moral standard than God, or (b) you doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death. God is a greater savior than you are a sinner. Trust that his grace is sufficient.

A Kingdom Full of Prostitutes

Okay, myths debunked and enemies defeated, how does this play out in life? Let’s take the example of prostitutes. In Matthew 21:31, Jesus tells the religious leaders that “prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” How is this possible? How can a holy God have a kingdom full of unholy prostitutes? There are two ways: either God overlooks sin or God transforms sinners.

God could have a kingdom full of prostitutes by simply changing his standards and allowing prostitution. This, of course, means that God would then be okay with sexual sin, injustice, the strong oppressing the weak, and so on. But the God of the gospel remains holy, and so he doesn’t merely dismiss sin, he deals with it through sacrifice. The idea of letting everyone into the kingdom without changing them may sound appealing at first, but when you really think it through, this type of kingdom turns out not to be heaven, but hell.

God will have a kingdom full of prostitutes not because he overlooks sin but because he forgives and transforms sinners. Yes, God’s love meets us where we are, but it refuses to let us stay there. This is because when the grace of God takes root in your heart then it produces fruit in your life. God’s grace is not a matter of lowering his standards, it’s a matter of transforming his people.

Does Effectual Grace Make People Into Robots?

Robot-EthicsVisitor to monergism.com:

Sovereignty is king, but the Holy Spirit works on ya.

Response from John Hendryx:

John Wesley may have taught prevenient grace but the Bible only speaks of two states of man, regenerate and unregenerate. Wesley had to create this doctrine, apart from Scripture, entirely with human logic (which creates a third state in-between regenerate and unregenerate) in order to maintain his theological system. However, the Bible speaks of no additional in-between state. We are either “in the flesh” (which can do nothing) or “in the Spirit”. As such, Jesus declares, “the Spirit quickens, the flesh counts for nothing … that is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me grants it…[and] “all that the Father gives me will come to me”…. John 6:63, 65,37. No one can come to faith in Jesus unless God grants it and all to whom He grants it will come to faith in Him. This does away with prevenient grace altogether. Jesus left no room for it in these clear statements.

The Bible indeed calls us to declare the gospel to all people … but, left to themselves, none of them will respond to it. All have turned aside. They remain stiff-necked in their opposition to God’s loving plea to come to Christ for life. Yet, in His great mercy, God still saves a people for Himself out of all the ill-deserving people of the earth.

Does this make us robots? .. no it makes God a God of love and mercy. If your child ran into traffic would you only save him if he first met your condition? No a loving parent would run out into the street to scoop up the child at the risk of his own life to make certain his child was safe…regardless of the will of the child at the time. True love gets the job done.

Would you consider a parent who who saved a child’s life without any conditions unloving? No that is love. To save the child’s life trumps the child’s will because the parent knows better than the child what is good for him. How much more God?

God’s love for His people is not conditional as Wesley believed.. a loving parent does not first make his child meet a condition before he will love him. Rather, a loving parent is like Jesus who met all the conditions for us, giving us everything we need for salvation including a new heart to believe (Deut. 29:4, 30:6; Ezek 36:26).

He did not have to save anyone since we all rejected him. He could have left all men to their own devices and swept them away in judgment and it would have been just. Yet he is merciful to many saving them through the blood of his precious Son Jesus. To the rest he simply gives them over to what they want – their independence from God. So some receive God’s mercy, others get God’s justice but no one received injustice.

Your prevenient grace doctrine is simply sleight of hand. It does not solve the problem of grace, it only exacerbates it. Salvation is by Christ alone, not Christ plus our meeting some condition. If it were then it would no longer be grace alone, would it? It would depend on who was more wise, humble or who has the most sound judgment and not grace alone. Why did one man with preveneint grace believe and not the other?

It was not grace, since both has grace. No, what you really believe is that it was something innately good or better in one person over the other. One had a good will and the other did not. Who makes the will good?

To conclude, man indeed has a will, but he has a heart of stone, and he will use his will wrongly until God lovingly changes that heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26).

Justice and Grace

Sproul_blog2Dr. R. C. Sproul:

In 1966, I was teaching a freshman college course of 250 students and assigned three 5–8 page papers that would be due over the course of the semester on October 1, November 1, and December 1.
I told the students that unless there is a death or they were are in the infirmary, then they would get an F if not turned in on time. When the first paper was due, 225 students turned in the paper and twenty-five did not have them ready.

The twenty-five begged for leniency because they said they were unprepared for college life.

I gave it and said, “’Don’t do it again.”

On the next due date, November 1, fifty students came without their papers and begged for grace because of homecoming.

I said, “Okay,” and gave them an extension.

That made me very popular until December 1.

One hundred students did not have their papers and said, “Don’t worry Professor Sproul, we’ll have them to you in a few days.”

I began marking those students down. Suddenly, they all said, “That’s not fair.”

I pointed to one student who had a late paper in November and December and I said, “Oh Johnson, it is justice that is what you want. Your paper was late in November, I’ll go and mark it an F.”
Complaints about fairness stopped immediately.

When we first receive grace, we are overwhelmed. The second time we get grace, we take it for granted. The third time we fail, we demand grace. The first time we demand grace, a bell should go off in our heads. God never owes me grace, and He never owes you grace.

Prevenient Grace

it is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Christ. Those who cooperate with assent to this grace are “elect.” Those who refuse to cooperate with this grace are lost.

The strength of this view is that it recognizes that fallen man’s spiritual condition is severe enough that it requires God’s grace to save him. The weakness of the position may be seen in two ways. If this prevenient grace is merely external to man, then it fails in the same manner that the medicine and the life preserver analogies fail. What good is prevenient grace if offered outwardly to spiritually dead creatures?

On the other hand, if prevenient grace refers to something that God does within the heart of fallen man, then we must ask why it is not always effectual. Why is it that some fallen creatures choose to cooperate with prevenient grace and others choose not to? Doesn’t everyone get the same amount?

Think of it this way, in personal terms. If you are a Christian you are surely aware of other people who are not Christians. Why is it that you have chosen Christ and they have not? Why did you say yes to prevenient grace while they said no? Was it because you were more righteous than they were? If so, then indeed you have something in which to boast. Was that greater righteousness something you achieved on your own or was it the gift of God? If it was something you achieved, then at the bottom line your salvation depends on your own righteousness. If the righteousness was a gift, then why didn’t God give the same gift to everybody?

Perhaps it wasn’t because you were more righteous. Perhaps it was because you are more intelligent. Why are you more intelligent? Because you study more (which really means you are more righteous)? Or are you more intelligent because God gave you a gift of intelligence he withheld from others?

To be sure, most Christians who hold to the prevenient grace view would shrink from such answers. They see the implied arrogance in them. Rather they are more likely to say, “No, I chose Christ because I recognized my desperate need for him.”

That certainly sounds more humble. But I must press the question. Why did you recognize your desperate need for Christ while your neighbor didn’t? Was it because you were more righteous than your neighbor, or more intelligent?

The $64 question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others’ don’t. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believe our salvation really is.

The $64,000 question is, “Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?”

We conclude that our salvation is of the Lord. He is the One who regenerates us. Those whom he regenerates come to Christ. Without regeneration no one will ever come to Christ. With regeneration no one will ever reject him. God’s saving grace effects what he intends to effect by it.

………. p. 213 Let me close the book by mentioning that soon after I awoke to the truth of predestination I began to see the beauty of it and taste its sweetness. I have grown to love this doctrine. It is most comforting. It underlines the extent to which God has gone in our behalf. It is a theology that begins and ends with grace. It begins and ends with doxology. We praise a God who lifted us from spiritual deadness and makes us walk in high places. We find a God who may be against us. It makes our souls rejoice to know that all things are working together for our good. We delight in our Savior who truly saves us and preserves us and intercedes for us. We marvel at his craftmanship and in what he has wrought. We skip and kick our heels when we discover his promise to finish in us what he has started in us. We ponder mysteries and bow before them, but not without doxology for the riches of grace he has revealed:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! … For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33, 36)

“God Himself supplies the necessary condition to come to Jesus, that’s why it is sola gratia, by grace alone, that we are saved.” – R. C. Sproul

Grace is not a Thing

Jeremy Treat is a pastor at Reality LA and an adjunct professor at Biola University. He is the author of The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. He “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” Pacino’s statement taps into a tension that we all sense intuitively but maybe have not expressed explicitly. If God is forgiving, then why strive for a holy life? If the penalty has been paid, then why must progress be made?

I believe the tension felt here ultimately comes from a confused view of grace.

What Is Grace?

I used to think of grace as a spiritual substance that God stores in piles behind his heavenly throne and dispenses to his people below. In other words, grace is stuff that God gives apart from himself.

How wrong I was! Grace is not a thing. Grace is not stuff that God gives us apart from himself. He doesn’t run out of it. God gives us himself when we don’t deserve it; that is grace. The oft-repeated definition of grace as an undeserved gift is right but does not go far enough when referring to the grace of God. Grace is a gift, but God is not only the giver, he himself is the gift. God graces us with himself.

But if that’s what grace is, then what does grace do? How does grace work? I’ll tell you this much—grace is not a flowery bow that you wrap around your already tidy religious system. It’s not the cherry on top of your morality pie. Continue reading

The Conditionality and Unconditionality of Grace

From Sinclair Ferguson’s response to Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification, 1988), pp 34-35:

Reformed theology is as anxious as Lutheran thought to safeguard grace. It has wrestled very seriously with the whole question of conditions. The term conditions has a certain infelicity about it. But there is a difference between what we might call “conditionality” (which compromises grace by saying, “God will be gracious only if you do X or Y“) and the fact that there are conditions for salvation which arise directly out of the gospel message and do not compromise its graciousness.

These conditions do not render God gracious to us, but are the noncontributory means by which we receive his grace.

Our Lord himself says, “Unless you repent, you too will perish” (Lk 13:3).

Only if we suffer with Christ will we reign with him (Rom 8:17).

“If we confess out sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 Jn 1:9).

There is a sine qua non to forgiveness and to justification. They cannot be received apart from faith. This is a biblical condition that does not compromise grace, but arises from it. The important thing is not to deny condition, but to underscore that “It is not faith that saves, but Christ that saves through faith” (B.B. Warfield).”

HT: Jason Taylor

Kirsten Powers: A Testimony to Irresistible Grace

God is able to make His grace irresistible, even to those who beforehand were not in any way interested. I encourage you to read the testimony of Kirsten Powers here.