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

Grace Finds Us

grace02This is just brilliant! I so wish Christians could understand this.

In an article entitled, “We Don’t Find Grace, Grace Finds Us” Tullian Tchividjian writes:

I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible. A piece of it goes like this:

“Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but…most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.”

She’s right. I think that most people, when they read the Bible (and especially when they read the Old Testament), read it as a catalog of heroes (on the one hand) and cautionary tales (on the other). For instance, don’t be like Cain — he killed his brother in a fit of jealousy – but do be like Noah: God asked him to do something crazy, and he had the faith to follow through.

Running counter to this idea of Bible-as-hero-catalog, I find that some of the best news in the Bible is that God incessantly comes to the down-trodden, broken, and non-heroic characters. It’s good news because it means he comes to people like me — and like you. It’s very interesting to note that even the characters we think have spotless records (like Noah) need the direct intervention of the true “lamb without blemish.”

Noah is often presented to us as the first character in the Bible really worthy of emulation. Adam? Sinner. Eve? Sinner. Cain? Big sinner! But Noah? Finally, someone we can set our sights on, someone we can shape our lives after, right? This is why so many Sunday School lessons handle the story of Noah like this: “Remember, you can believe what God says! Just like Noah! You too can stand up to unrighteousness and wickedness in our world like Noah did. Don’t be like the bad people who mocked Noah. Be like Noah.”

I understand why many would read this account in this way. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Pretty incontrovertible, right?

Not so fast. Continue reading

Just Jump to the Moon and you will be saved

trying-to-reach-the-moonTullian Tchividjian writes:

J. Gresham Machen counterintutively noted that “A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace.” The reason this seems so counter-intuitive is because most people think that those who talk a lot about grace have a low view of God’s law (hence, the goals are reachable, the demands are doable.

I love this illustration from Max Lucado’s book, In the Grip of Grace, on how judgmental instincts are anchored in a low view of God’s law:

Judging others is the quick and easy way to feel good about ourselves. A convenience-store-ego-boost. Standing next to all the Mussolinis and Hitlers and Dahmers of the world, we boast, “Look God, compared to them I’m not that bad.”

But that’s the problem. God doesn’t compare us to them. They aren’t the standard. God is. And compared to him, Paul will argue, “There is no one who does anything good” (Rom. 3:12).

Suppose God simplified matters and reduced the Bible to one command: “Thou must jump so high in the air that you touch the moon.” No need to love your neighbor or pray or follow Jesus; just touch the moon by virtue of a jump, and you’ll be saved.

We’d never make it. There may be a few who jump three or four feet, even fewer who jump five or six; but compared to the distance we have to go, no one gets very far. Though you may jump six inches higher than I do, it’s scarcely reason to boast.

Now, God hasn’t called us to touch the moon, but he might as well have. He said, “You must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). None of us can meet God’s standard. As a result, none of us deserves to don the robe and stand behind the bench and judge others. Why? We aren’t good enough. Dahmer may jump six inches and you may jump six feet, but compared to the 230,000 miles that remain, who can boast?

The thought of it is almost comical. We who jump three feet look at the fellow who jumped one inch and say, “What a lousy jump.” Why do we engage in such accusations? It’s a ploy. As long as I am thinking of your weaknesses, then I don’t have to think about my own. As long as I am looking at your puny jump, then I don’t have to be honest about my own. I’m like the man who went to see the psychiatrist with a turtle on his head and a strip of bacon dangling from each ear and said, “I’m here to talk to you about my brother.”

At the Free Throw Line

Wake Forest v DukePhilip Yancey describes the discrepancy between our instincts and God’s instincts in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, and every day I must pray anew for the ability to hear its message.

Eugene Peterson draws a contrast between Augustine and Pelagius, two fourth-century theological opponents. Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing, and liked by everyone. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had a strange relationship with his mother, and made many enemies. Yet Augustine started from God’s grace and got it right, whereas Pelagius started from human effort and got it wrong. Augustine passionately pursued God; Pelagius methodically worked to please God. Peterson goes on to say that Christians tend to be Augustinian in theory but Pelagian in practice. They work obsessively to please other people and even God.

Each year in spring, I fall victim to what the sports announcers diagnose as “March Madness.” I cannot resist the temptation to tune in to the final basketball game, in which the sole survivors of a sixty-four-team tournament meet for the NCAA championship. That most important game always seems to come down to one eighteen-year-old kid standing on a freethrow line with one second left on the clock. He dribbles nervously. If he misses these two foul shots, he knows, he will be the goat of his campus, the goat of his state. Twenty years from now he’ll be in counseling, reliving this moment. If he makes these shots, he’ll be a hero. His picture will be on the front page. He could probably run for governor. He takes another dribble and the other team calls time, to rattle him. He stands on the sideline, weighing his entire future. Everything depends on him. His teammates pat him encouragingly, but say nothing.

One year, I remember, I left the room to answer a phone call just as the kid was setting himself to shoot. Worry lines creased his forehead. He was biting his lower lip. His left leg quivered at the knee. Twenty thousand fans were yelling, waving banners and handkerchiefs to distract him. The phone call took longer than expected, and when I returned I saw a new sight. This same kid, his hair drenched with Gatorade, was now riding atop the shoulders of his teammates, cutting the cords of a basketball net. He had not a care in the world. His grin filled the entire screen.

Those two freeze-frames—the same kid crouching at the free throw line and then celebrating on his friends’ shoulders—came to symbolize for me the difference between ungrace and grace.

The world runs by ungrace. Everything depends on what I do. I have to make the shot.

Jesus calls us to another way, one that depends not on our performance but his own. We do not have to achieve but merely follow. He has already earned for us the costly victory of God’s acceptance.

HT: Tullian Tchividjian

The Scandal of Grace

Grace, grace is exactly and entirely opposite to that! The scandal of grace is that God saw us as His sworn enemies, as children of wrath, children of the devil, and with His image marred and trampled in the dirt, and while we were still shaking our fists at Him, engaged each day in cosmic treason and total defiance of Him, He was willing to pay the ridiculous ransom price of the death of this precious Son to redeem us.

It is not boring grace that saved us, as if God, paid the ransom price because He saw we were worth it – no, a thousand times, no. We are saved by unspeakable and amazing grace – a grace that makes all the angels aghast and perplexed that God would set His love on such hostile, rebel sinners! The devil never for a moment thought that God would be willing to pay this price… that Christ would endure the pain of the cross and absorb the punishment due to us rebels as the full fury of God’s wrath was meted out on Him. Who would ever have thought such a thing – the just would pay the price for the unjust? That He who knew no sin would be made to be sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God in Him? Who could have forseen this kind of love? But oh, what a love the Father has for us, a love He had for us from all eternity. And oh, what a perfect and wonderful Savior!

The saints of old knew this so well. They sang “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me”… and “Oh what a wonder that Jesus loves even me!”

Simply Staggering!

“There are multiple volumes to write about each step in Romans 8:28-30’s outline. There is beauty within beauty within beauty. A mustard seed of faith planted in the broken heart of a desperate sinner is the culmination of God’s foreknowing this sinner from before the foundations of the earth. Even in eternity past God, in grace, predestining him in love for adoption as a cherished son. And then God sent his only begotten Son to provide the sinless atonement for him, that he could be justified by the righteousness of Christ upon the Spirit’s regenerating of his stony heart. It’s simply staggering, isn’t it? And that this seed of justifying faith would grow through the faithfulness of the Father to administer a sanctifying faith, again through the Spirit’s work, all the way to the promise of glorification, is more staggering still.” – Jared Wilson

No Kicking and Screaming Involved

“The doctrine of ‘irresistible grace’… is simply the belief that when God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from so doing… It is simply the confession that when God chooses to raise His people to spiritual life, He does so without the fulfillment of any conditions on the part of the sinner. Just as Christ had the power and authority to raise Lazarus to life without obtaining his ‘permission’ to do so, He is able to raise His elect to spiritual life with just as certain a result.

God ordains the ends and the means. The ends is the salvation of God’s elect. His decree renders their salvation a certainty… Just as God’s grace is irresistible, so the result of that grace (regeneration, the imparting of a heart of flesh after taking out the heart of stone, etc.,) is just as certain. God changes the heart so that my act of faith toward Jesus Christ is the natural result of my changed nature.

I am a new creature, not because the old rebel decided to become something other, but because of the resurrection power of God by the Spirit. The very idea of someone kicking and screaming seems a bit ironic, in light of the Reformed insistence upon the deadness of man in sin. Surely the heart of stone contains no desire to be changed, but ignoring the impartation of resurrection life as the means by which a radical change in the will of the elect is effected again presents a fundamentally distorted view of the (Reformed) position…” – Dr. James White

The doctrines of grace are intricately related one to the other. It is easy to see in this case how “irresistible grace” relates also to the “perseverance of the saints.” This is because the One who starts the work, finishes it. To quote John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace, “Twas grace that caused my heart to fear… and grace will lead me home.”

“As grace led me to faith in the first place, so grace will keep me believing to the end. Faith, both in its origin and continuance, is a gift of grace.” – J.I. Packer

Common Grace and the End of the World

Justin Taylor writes:

John Murray’s definition of “common grace” is perhaps the most concise and helpful one available:

every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God (Collected Works, II:96).

Sam Storms has written a very helpful overview of the doctrine, originally written in light of Hurricane Katrina and its damage. He summarizes the biblical evidence under four headings:

1.God exercises restraint on sin and evil.
2.God freely suspends the immediate manifestation of his divine wrath due unto sin.
3.God holds in check the destructive tendencies that are part of the curse of sin upon nature.
4.God bestows upon both nature (see esp. Ps. 65:9-13; 104:10-30; 145:1-16; 136:25) and humanity manifold blessings both physical and spiritual that fall short of redemption itself.

At the end of the essay, he looks at what this means for the end of the world. If you’ve ever been confused about the way in which the Bible seems to talk about things getting worse and worse, while also talking about things getting better, here is an introduction to what Storms thinks is the biblical perspective:

As we approach the second coming of Christ, whether that be one year or one-thousand years in the future, I believe the presence and power of common grace will progressively diminish. The restraining power of the Spirit on the sinful souls of men and women, as well as on the natural creation, will incrementally weaken. The manifestation of human sin and wickedness and unbelief will therefore expand.

Common grace is much like the emergency break on a car that is parked on a steep incline. The weight of the car, together with the force of gravity, would naturally result in its descent down the road and its eventual crash. But the emergency break resists and impedes this otherwise natural inclination. So, too, with human sin. The Holy Spirit is like an emergency break on the human heart. But one day, perhaps imperceptibly and certainly in gradual fashion, the restraint on the sinful and depraved inclination of the human soul will be removed.

But here is the good news. I also believe that together with the progressive withdrawal of common grace will be a corresponding increase of special grace! The people of God will experience fresh and ever-increasing manifestations of divine favor and power and blessing and anointing simultaneously with the withdrawal of the Spirit’s common grace work of curbing the sinful impulses of the lost. This is why there will be an increase of wickedness and persecution (and, yes, martyrdom) in the world at large at the same time there is an increase of righteousness and perseverance in the church in particular.

My “theory” (which I do believe has Scriptural support) is that the Church will experience great revival, ever-increasing impartations of supernatural power, unprecedented expressions of love and unity, all the while she is being oppressed and persecuted and increasingly hated by the unbelieving world. Special grace will intensify even as common grace will diminish.

I should also point out that this process will culminate eternally in what we know as heaven and hell. Heaven is the unabated overflow of special grace. Hell is the utter absence of even common grace. Forever.

So what should be the Christian’s response to Katrina and the devastation she wrought? We should, no pun intended, flood the people who are suffering with expressions of kindness and compassion and generosity, knowing that such devastation could as easily fall on us (cf. Luke 13:1-5). As the Spirit’s provision of common grace diminishes, may the recipients of his special grace overflow in the goodness of Jesus to the glory of God the Father.

Do you thank God?

Christian – Do you “thank” God for your conversion? You do because you know that God was entirely responsible for it. You thank God because you do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or sound judgment, or good sense. Or do you?

Why do you believe the gospel and not your neighbor? Was the soil of your heart better than his by nature? Did you have wisdom that he did not? Where did this wisdom come from? From Christ or elsewhere?

We all must have faith in order to be justified. Question is, why do you have faith and not others. Do you attribute it to your own wisdom? Why were you more humble? Was it not grace itself that made you humble?

– John Hendryx