R.C. Sproul: One word that crystallizes the essence of the Christian faith is the word grace. One of the great mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase sola gratia—by grace alone. This phrase wasn’t invented by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Its roots are in the theology of Augustine of Hippo, who used it to call attention to the central concept of Christianity, that our redemption is by grace alone, that the only way a human being can ever find himself reconciled to God is by grace. That concept is so central to the teaching of Scripture that to even mention it seems like an insult to people’s intelligence; yet, if there is a dimension of Christian theology that has become obscured in the last few generations, it is grace. Two things that every human being absolutely must come to understand are the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. These topics are difficult for people to face. And they go
Sinclair Ferguson: “What is the opposite of antinomianism?” Would it be fair to assume that the instinctive response … would be “Legalism”? It might be the right answer at the level of common usage, but it would be unsatisfactory from the standpoint of theology, for antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why the scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both. The wholesale removal of the law seems to provide a refuge [for the antinomian]. But the problem is not with the law, but with the heart – and this remains unchanged. Thinking that his perspective is now the antithesis of legalism, the antinomian has written an inappropriate spiritual prescription. His sickness is not fully cured. Indeed the root cause of his disease has been masked rather than
Same Storms: (1) Let’s begin with a definition. Herman Bavinck defined the saving grace of God as “his voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favor toward guilty sinners, granting them justification and life instead of the penalty of death, which they deserved” (The Doctrine of God, 208). Louis Berkhof defined it as “the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to it” (Systematic Theology, 71). J. I. Packer put it this way: “The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity, and had no reason to expect anything but severity” (Knowing God, 120). (2) Grace is not the same as mercy. Whereas grace is God’s goodness toward sinners, mercy is God’s goodness toward sufferers. As a result, mercy does not appear to be as free as grace. “When we show mercy,” says John Piper, “it looks
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s testimony to overcomining sexual sin. You can read the whole thing here. This is a wonderful model for dealing with any aspect of indwelling sin: What is the sin of sexual transgression? The sex? The identity? How deep was repentance to go? Meeting John Owen In these newfound struggles, a friend recommended that I read an old, seventeenth-century theologian named John Owen, in a trio of his books (now brought together under the title Overcoming Sin and Temptation). At first, I was offended to realize that what I called “who I am,” John Owen called “indwelling sin.” But I hung in there with him. Owen taught me that sin in the life of a believer manifests itself in three ways: distortion by original sin, distractionof actual day-to-day sin, and discouragement by the daily residence of indwelling sin. Eventually, the concept of indwelling sin provided a window to see how God intended to replace my shame with hope.
Ray Ortlund: “A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. . . . and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.” Romans 7:2-4 We were married to Mr. Law. He was a good man, in his way, but he did not understand our weakness. He came home every evening and asked, “So, how was your day? Did you do what I told you to? Did you make the kids behave? Did you waste any time? Did you complete everything I put on your To Do list?” So many demands and expectations. And hard as we tried, we couldn’t be perfect. We could never satisfy him. We forgot things that were important to him. We let the
10 quotes from Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund: Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful. But there are no shortcuts to getting there. Without the doctrine, the culture will be weak. Without the culture, the doctrine will seem pointless (21). Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture. Some of us naturally resonate with truth and standards and definitions. Others of us resonate with feel and vibe and relationships. Whole churches, too, can emphasize one or the other. Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right. But only partly. Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly. The living Christ is full of grace
Before all time; prior to all worlds; when there was nothing ‘outside of’ God Himself; when the Father, Son, and Spirit found eternal, absolute, and unimaginable blessing, pleasure, and joy in Their holy triunity — it was Their agreed purpose to create a world. That world would fall. But in unison — and at infinitely great cost — this glorious triune God planned to bring you (if you are a believer) grace and salvation. This is deeper grace from before the dawn of time. It was pictured in the rituals, the leaders, and the experiences of the Old Testament saints, all of whom longed to see what we see. All this is now ours. Our salvation depends on God’s covenant, rooted in eternity, foreshadowed in the Mosaic liturgy, fulfilled in Christ, enduring forever. No wonder Hebrews calls it ‘so great a salvation’ (Heb. 2:3). — Sinclair B. Ferguson In Christ Alone (Orlando, Fl.: Reformation Trust, 2007), 136 (HT: Of
“A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.” John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:63. Style updated, italics added. (HT: Ray Ortlund)
Brian G. Hedges: This week marks the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on January 22, 1973. Since that time over 55 million babies have been aborted in the United States. That’s about 8 times the number of people who live in Indiana (my state) and over a sixth of the total current population in the United States. Abortion is a polarizing issue in our culture: a moral, political, and religious dividing line that separates ethicists, citizens, and even professing Christians. And while many of my readers value the sanctity of human life and believe (as I do) that abortion is the unjust murder of a human being, it’s all too easy for us to caricature people of the opposing position as monsters who lack any moral conscience whatsoever. Even calling abortion murder will sound (to many) like inflammatory rhetoric that generates more heat than light. The problem, of course, is that while
John Piper: Sometimes a whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word. Consider the word “this” in Ephesians 2:8. Does it refer to “faith” or “grace” or both? Is faith a gift of God? For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from you; it is the gift of God. What does “this” refer to? “And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” What is its antecedent? The question is not settled by the fact that in Greek “this” is singular and neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are both feminine. “This” is just as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English. Faith As a Gift But consider these four pointers to seeing faith as a gift in Ephesians 2:8. 1. When Paul says “this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” he seems to be referring to the whole process of grace-faith-salvation. That may be why “this” is neuter and not feminine. 2. But more important than that is
Kevin DeYoung: Jesus never apologized for getting on the inside with outsiders. It was his mission. What kind of doctor refuses to see patients? What kind of farmer refuses to get his hands dirty? What kind of church has no place for sinners? People reviled Jesus. They called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Have you ever been called names like this? Have I? Do we fear contamination from the world more than we have confidence in Christ’s power to cleanse? Of course, I’m not encouraging people with drinking problems to go hang out in bars. I don’t expect new Christians to keep all their same friends who lead them into the same temptations. I’m not saying that if you really want to be relevant you have to watch sleazy movies so you can talk about them with the sinners in our lives. We need to use wisdom. And we also need guts.
When I hear a sermon that is essentially law-driven, that is, asking the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, I am immediately concerned about the preacher. I immediately wonder about his view of himself, because if he had any self-consciousness about his own weakness and sin, he would find little hope and comfort for himself and his hearers in that kind of sermon. You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law givers, they had no problem laying unbearable law burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology but also in ugly human pride. They saw law keeping as possible, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought that others should get up and keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, uncompassionate, and judgmental.
Josh Harris: What is “rule-igion”? We know the word “religion” is belief in and worship of God. “Rule-igion” is the idea that a right relationship with God is earned through rule-keeping. “Rule-igion” says that we have to climb our way up to God. In other words, it’s through our performance and obedience and good deeds that we earn God’s love and favor and blessing. We follow the rules, we live a good life and that puts God in our debt. Rule-igion is the basis of almost every false religion in the world today. Sadly, it infects a lot of Christian churches. But rule-igion is completely at odds with the good news of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that salvation is a free gift. We are not saved by our works we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. This good news–what we call the gospel– is the opposite of rule-igion. The gospel tells us that we can’t climb
“In practical terms, if we as preachers lay down the marks of the spiritual Christian, or the mature church, or the godly parent, or the obedient child, or the caring pastor, or the responsible elder, or the wise church leader, and if we do this in a way that implies that conformity is simply a matter of understanding and being obedient, then we are being legalists and we risk undoing the very thing we want to build up. We may achieve the outward semblance of conformity to the biblical pattern, but we do it at the expense of the gospel of grace that alone can produce the reality of these desirable goals. To say what we should be or do and not link it with a clear exposition of what God has done about our failure to be or do perfectly as He wills is to reject the grace of God and to lead people to lust after self-help and
“When we take the history of a child of God, compressed within the short period of a single day — mark what flaws, what imperfections, what fickleness, what dereliction in principle, what flaws in practice, what errors in judgment and what wanderings of heart make up that brief history — how we are led to thank God for the stability of the covenant, that covenant which provides for the full redemption of all believers, which from eternity secures the effectual calling, the perfect keeping and certain salvation of every chosen vessel of mercy!” Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (London, 1962), page 169. (HT: Ray Ortlund)
My thanks to Justin Taylor for compiling these links: Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung have been having a good dialogue online about the role and focus of effort in the Christian life as it relates to justification and sanctification. Kevin, “Make Every Effort“ Tullian, “Work Hard! But in Which Direction?“ Kevin, “Gospel-Driven Effort“ One summary from Kevin: “Tullian’s point is that sanctification requires the hard work of fighting to believe that we are justified by faith alone apart from anything good do or could possible contribute. I agree sanctification requires the fight of faith to believe this scandalous good news of the gospel of justification. I disagree that this is the only kind of effort required in sanctification.”
“The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil. . . . Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life . . . . Salvation by grace – salvation by free grace – salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God – salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of
From Desiring God blog: In the Christian life we can easily find ourselves using jargon without knowing what we’re really saying. What exactly is “grace”? Sinclair Ferguson clarifies: It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misuing this langauge) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a signficant difference to a Christian’s life. So
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:1 “First, then, there is a call to be strong. Timothy was weak; Timothy was timid. Yet he was called to a position of leadership in the church – and in an area in which Paul’s authority was rejected. It is as if Paul said to him, ‘Listen Timothy, never mind what other people say, never mind what other people think, never mind what other people do; you are to be strong. Never mind how shy you feel, never mind how weak you feel; you are to be strong.’ That is the first thing. Second, you are to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. If the exhortation had simply been ‘be strong,’ it would have been absurd indeed. You might as well tell a snail to be quick or a horse to fly as to tell a weak man to
“When Jesus judges our imperfection, he does it with such compassion that he releases us from the fear that we must pretend to be better than we are. He assures us that if we will be honest with God, God will be gracious with us. And the moment we enter into a gracious relationship with God, we not only fall heir to the promises of the gospel, but we are also ready to accept our present duties in the kingdom of love. With pride dethroned, we are able to accept a much more modest concept of the self. We are delivered from the error of thinking that we must prove ourselves all the time. Kindness and truth become acceptable signs of status. Destructive anxiety cannot overwhelm us, for we are content to leave the work of salvation to God.” Edward John Carnell, The Kingdom of Love and the Pride of Life (Grand Rapids, 1960), pages 152-153. (HT: Ray Ortlund)