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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « J.I. Packer Interview on Election | Main | Dispensationalism – Categorized Scripture List »

    Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)

    Ask yourself, what makes you to differ from your unbelieving neighbor? Is it the grace of Christ alone that saves or is it grace plus your good will? Where did this faith come from? Does it naturally arise in some and not others? Or is your faith itself a working of God's grace to change your heart? Is it something that came forth from our unregenerated human nature? The witness of Scripture would affirm that sinners are, not partly but wholly helpless and impotent in their sin. The Reformers vehemently opposed the synergistic doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church by confessing that God redeems His people by a free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying us in Christ when we exercise faith, but also resurrecting us from spiritual death by His quickening Spirit in order to bring us to faith.

    Grace is God's unmerited favor toward undeserving sinners like us. Being unmerited, people can do nothing to obtain it. In other words, grace is not conditioned upon anything God sees in us, like our merit or even our good will. But here is precisely where protests rise from Roman Catholics and even some modern Evangelicals. These complaints, unfortunately, are against one of the central components of the biblical doctrine of regeneration. Note that Evangelicals will, without exception, affirm that they are saved by grace, but many will actually hesitate when they are told that they are saved (regenerated) by "grace alone". It is more than many can bear and often even creates resentment. I know as I have often been the one bearing the brunt of the resentment. This anger arises, most likely, because sola gratia (or grace alone) means that God chooses to save His own prior to any movement of their own will (i.e. we contribute nothing to our salvation). It strips man of any and all hope from himself, including his faith. This is important because if God left men to their boasted will we would all perish, for no poison-filled well, like us, would freely use their polluted will to choose God, for the Scriptures affirm that the natural man hates the light and will not come into it (John 3:19, 20). Therefore, in His great mercy and, in spite of ourselves, God regenerates His people through the work of Christ's grace wrought in us. Exercising faith is our responsibility so, of course, we affirm that all men have a will and make voluntary choices, but since our will is broken and spiritually bankrupt, if we are ever to exercise faith in Jesus Christ it will mean that God must do a supernatural work of grace in our heart to disarm our natural hostility and restore our brokenness lest our hearts remain like stone, and we as a stiff necked people will refuse to come to Jesus Christ. We do not repair ourselves and then believe. Rather, we believe because God has repaired us, has illumined our mind that we might see and believe.

    In contrast to the the orthodox Protestant doctrine of salvation by grace alone, Modern Roman Catholics, Arminians and Eastern Orthodox believers while affirming that grace is offered to us, but that fallen men must raise themselves up by their own bootstraps to understand spiritual truth and then make use of that grace with their own autonomous free will, even though they are still unregenerate. Paul says that the natural man (unregenerate) cannot understand the things of God and thinks spiritual truth is foolish (1 Cor 2:14) yet these synergistic belief systems (contrary to Scripture) all affirm that the natural man DOES have the moral ability and good will to believe the gospel. But the Bible rejects the concept of free will for Jesus says that those who sin are slaves of sin, and if they are slaves it means they are in bondage and if in bondage, they are not free, UNTIL Christ makes us free (See Rom 6 & John 8:36). So why do so many believe in free will? Because they have been taken captive by human philosophy and imported it into the Scriptures. They certainly did not get it out of any Bible text.

    The natural man is dead in sin. But what does this mean to be dead in sin? It means that he is void of the work of the Spirit, i.e. he is unspiritual. Only the spiritual can understand the things freely given by God such as the gospel ( 1 Cor 2:12). And Paul affirms that "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit?." The will of man is not what determines whether someone will be saved. Rather we only have a good will because God has done a work of grace in us. A man can only receive what is given him from above, including the will to believe the gospel. Faith is the gift of God since Jesus said, "no one can come to Me (believe in Me) unless God grants it (John 6:65 also see v 37, 39). But some will protest, does not the Bible say "whosoever will may come" and I say "AMEN". God commands men to come but, of themselves, none of themselves, want to. "It is not Him who wills or runs but of Him who shows mercy (Rom 9:16).

    So why is this important?

    1) Because it gives God all the glory for our salvation. Grace cannot be separated from our election in Christ. Romans 11:5,6 says, "at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace."

    2) This is why we pray for unbelievers. It makes up pray for the lost ... to plead with God for them them because only He can save them. If we did not believe that only He could change their heart to believe then we would not pray at all. It would make no sense to plead for someones soul if we believed they could do it with their free will. Ironically, those who deny the doctrine of "grace alone" in their theology reveal they actually believe it in their actions when they pray for the lost. This is a real inconsistency exposed in their beliefs and should make them reconsider their theology.

    3) "It is the grace of God that I am what I am." When we realize this and that apart from Jesus Christ we have nothing and that we deserve nothing, except God's wrath, then it enlarges our heart for others, for we are no better than anyone. No one is too low for us to associate with. Grace is the great equalizer.

    Posted by John on August 13, 2007 11:31 AM

    Comments

    Good words are said here on what is at the heart of the gospel. We must affirm and defend "grace alone" (sola gratia) as God's act that brings us into His Kingdom forever. It is central to the gospel message remaining the gospel.

    But confusion of meaning arises in the application of biblical language when we equate "salvation" with the more specific act of "justification." (Ex. It is like the popular use of the word, "relationship," when we really mean, "covenant" which is rich and specific. The NT uses salvation is three ways: 1. We are saved; 2. we are being saved; and 3. we will be saved. This past, present and future sense is applied by the NT to the Christian life as a whole as well as being justified. Important distinctions as a part of doing good theology, lest we become theological generalists which (for example) is how hyper-calvinism arises in the Reformed faith. This happens by de-valuing faith and works because we fear they may endanger our sola gratia, or doctrine of salvation. Better to see grace alone as central to justification, which is God's saving and securing work in the start of salvation. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in awkward straits in trying to harmonize our broad doctrinal statements with the specific contours and distinctions of biblical texts on this issue. These nuances in the texts do not fit a doctrine of salvation that does not allow for such distinctions. For instance, in Acts 15:11 some apostles say, "But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." Those speaking are already saved (i.e., justified), yet they speak of salvation as something wider, as something still future. Then there is salvation language in 1 Peter 1. "Savation" is used three times, but with different time dimensions. 1 Peter 1:5 speaks of a "salvation ready to be revealed (future)"; 1 Peter 1:9 speaks of "obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (present)." Then further, 1 Peter 1:10-12. speaks of salvation as a past experience "in the things that have been announced to you through those who preached the good news." In these few examples, nothing is implied about earning more salvation, but entering into it more fully by true experience, commitment and hope which is where will and works come to bear. Living faith and obedient works become important means to express and confirm and energize our salvation to the end. Our claims to be saved are hollow and presumptuous when we think of it in ways that de-value faith and works as ways God demonstrates to others and to ourselves that His saving grace in us is for real.

    So, in response to this post, when speaking of salvation, which is all of grace from start to finish, let's speak of it with appropriate distinctions in mind as have been revealed in the Word. Afterall, God's glory in His word is such a precise thing.

    Evan

    This is why I tried to be careful to distinguish regeneration from justification in the first paragraph. The post was more about regeneration than justification. I hoped this would be clear but it could be clearer still.

    When we preach the gospel indiscriminately to all, the seed to the gospel goes out and goes into the hearts of the hearers dormant. All are called to faith in Christ. But only as the Holy Spirit germinates that seed, so to speak, will any hearer respond to the gospel. When we keep keep word and Spirit always in mind, there is, therefore, no danger of hypercalvinism here. In fact, having a biblical understanding of regeneration will hold off all possible assalts of hypercalvinism, for they do not believe in indiscriminately preaching the gospel to all. But when regeneration is properly understood, since we have no idea who God will bring to Himself, we preach to all. The Spirit will, through the word, bring the elect to Himself through the preaching of the word..

    ! Thess 1 :4, 5 says, "...he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

    So, according to the above, the word of the gospel is necessary, but we can preach till we are blue in the face, and unless the Spirit acts it will not be efficacious or move the hearts of the listeners. Similarly, a farmer cannot count on having crops unless he goes out and sows seed. But he must also rely on the blessing of God for crops to come forth. Remember God cursed the Israelites sometimes by saying, You will "sow but not reap". Likewise the preaching of the word is necessary but it will not berar fruit without God's blessing.


    I think what you're saying here (about the Evangelicals) becomes clear when the call is given, and the sinner is told, you must accept Christ. They fall into the old R.C. trap of "Christ plus...".
    I think many Christians will say they believe in "grace alone" without ever understanding it. They will say they were saved by grace alone, but they still made the choice for Christ.
    The problem is, how then do we correct this. How do we, as we proclaim salvation in Christ, avoid the trap of faith becoming a work we must perform? How do we overcome the sloppy and inconsistant language that has permeated the message for so long?

    Ethan

    That is a great point. Language is important. One thing we can do for certain as to avoid any misunderstanding is that whenever someone does come to faith in Christ, we should immediately follow up with them by making sure they understand that they did not choose Christ, be He chose them and it was grace itself that they prayed, humbled themselves and believed.

    For those we are actually proclaiming the gospel to, we herald what Christ has accomplished on the cross and through His resurrection (i.e enduring the full wrath of God that sinners justly deserve and fulfilling the Law, that is living the life we should have lived) then follow by saying "if you believe this, then based on the authority of Scripture I can assure you that your sins are forgiven."

    But you are right, Finney has had such a pervasive and damaging influence that many think their church's traditional and erroneous gospel proclamation is just as authoritative as Scripture.

    John,

    Yes, I see your point and emphasis on salvation more clearly. I took a broader meaning to it all. There is certainly a predestinating love from God that graciously draws and regenerates us through His power and word so that we come to believe it and be changed. All the examples of the apostles' preaching (and others) in Acts make it clear that they preached with a general call to their audience, Jew or Gentile, knowing that the Father draws whom he will through the Son. Again, a closer review of biblical details in the text (in this case method of preaching) helps to off-set pre-formed opinions. Because we see justification as activated through the cross and the preached gospel, the message must go out (seed) in order to bring in (harvest).

    This is why we pray for unbelievers. It makes up pray for the lost ... to plead with God for them them because only He can save them. If we did not believe that only He could change their heart to believe then we would not pray at all. It would make no sense to plead for someones soul if we believed they could do it with their free will. Ironically, those who deny the doctrine of "grace alone" in their theology reveal they actually believe it in their actions when they pray for the lost. This is a real inconsistency exposed in their beliefs and should make them reconsider their theology.

    I preached on the doctrine of predestination last night, emphasizing that God alone is responsible for our salvaton - as Eph. 1:3-14 teaches, he chose us, he predestined us, he graced us, he redeemed us, he forgave us, and he sealed us with his Spirit.
    This morning, a member of the congregation met with me, in tears. She has been praying for the last 40 years for her ex-husband. He is not saved, and shows no desire or interest in anything to do with God. Her comment to me was, "I cannot accept that God does not choose all people to be saved. I think he chose everyone, they just reject him. I continue to pray that God would save him. I will be angry if he dies and is not saved."
    Our conversation emphasized how compassionate we must be even in preaching biblical doctrine, and how hard it is to present the truth in love. I counselled my parishoner to continue to pray that God may bring savlation to her ex-husband, that God might bring him to new life in Christ. I also encouraged her to continue to share her faith with him, and with her children and grandchildren (who also show no signs of Christ in thier lives).
    My question is: How do we bring comfort and encouragement to those whose family and loved ones are not saved? How do we praise and glorify God for his sovereign love and choice and still be sensitive toward the reprobate?
    (God, grant me the grace and the courage to be the pastor you have called me to be.)

    IF faith is ALL of God and not of man, then why did Jesus rebuke His disciples in Matthew for having such "little faith"? I think we've become a very lazy nation of people. Easy jobs, easy income and easy salvation. That is so not true. Even Jesus "worked" when He performed His miracles. Are we better than Him that we don't have to? What if Jesus merely sweat like drops of blood when He prayed - but NEVER went to the cross? Would that have sufficed? A Covenant is between two parties (God and man), not one alone. Until we realize this, we are lost and deceive ourselves. God did His part by sending His Son and His Son DID die on the cross. It's about time we picked up our cross and followed Him. Now that's work!

    Gander

    you said >>>>IF faith is ALL of God and not of man, then why did Jesus rebuke His disciples in Matthew for having such "little faith"?

    Answer. For the same reason he rebukes us for not obeying the law perfectly. God commands you to love HIm with all your heart? Do you? Have you ever done this perfectly? Yet God rebukes you for it because even though you are morally impotent to do so, this does not alleviate your responsibility.

    The gospel is about what Jesus has done for us not about what we do for Him. We pick up the cross and follow Jesus only because he regenerated us? WOuld you ever have done this on your own apart from the work of the Holy Spirit? No but while we were HELPLESS in our sin Christ died for us. When you were STILL DEAD IN SIN, God made you alive in CHrist (Eph 2:5). Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

    Anyone who believes they can come to Christ apart from the Spirit changing their heart is not yet a Christian. They reject that salvation is by Christ alone and are trusting in themselves to curry favor with God. But we can neither attain nor maintain our just standing before God. We only love Him because he loved us first. We did not choose Him be he chose us (John 15)

    Shalom
    john


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