A Close Look at “Sola Gratia” (Part3)

November 13, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are looking at the five doctrinal pillars of the Reformers of the 16th century and these are expressed in five Latin phrases:  
  • sola Scriptura
  • solus Christus
  • sola gratia
  • sola fide
  • soli Deo gloria
  We are now going to continue to look at the third phrase, sola gratia—grace alone. This means that sinners are rescued from God’s wrath by His grace alone. In case you missed the first two, and you are interested to hear, it borrow the audio tape or audio CD from our office.   I mentioned the other week that James Montgomery Boice, in his book Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, suggests that the fundamental reason why God’s amazing grace has, for many people, become “boring grace” is because people fail to understand and feel in their hearts four great truths—the sinfulness of sin, God’s judgment, man’s spiritual inability and God’s sovereign freedom[1]—that God’s grace is not appreciated.   Putting that in another way, we could say that many people do not appreciate God’s grace because they do not realize the Bible’s view of the natural state of fallen man. The Bible’s view of the natural state of fallen man may be summarized under three headings: total depravity, total inability and real guilt.[2]   The first condition of fallen man is…  

Total Depravity.

    In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem refrains from using the phrase total depravity because it can easily be misunderstood. And so, without using the term he gives this explanation:   It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin—our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies. Paul says, “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh” (Ro 7:18), and, “to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15). Moreover, Jeremiah tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). In these passages Scripture is not denying that unbelievers can do good in human society in some senses. But it is denying that they can do any spiritual good or be good in terms of a relationship with God. Apart from the work of Christ in our lives, we are like all other unbelievers who are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Eph 4:18).][3]   The Scriptures clearly affirm fallen humanity’s total depravity, as the following verses will verify:[4] Gen 6:5: “The LORD saw . . . that every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time.” Gen 8:21: “The LORD … said in his heart: ‘ . . . every inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood.’ ” 1Ki 8:46: Solomon declared that “there is no one who does not sin” against God. Ps 130:3: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” Ps 143:2: “ . . . no one living is righteous before you.” Eccl 7:20: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” Eccl 9:3: “…The hearts of men . . . are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live…” Isa 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...” Isa 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” Jer 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Ro 3:9-23: “…Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written:  [then follows a fourteen-point indictment against the entire human race—all drawn from the Psalms with one exception] . . . for all sinned and are continually falling short of the glory of God.” Gal 3:22: “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin…” Eph 2:1-3: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” 1Jn 5:19: “…the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”   The second condition of fallen man is…  

Total Inability.

  Wayne Grudem writes:   This idea is related to the previous one. Not only do we as sinners lack any spiritual good in ourselves, but we also lack the ability to do anything that will in itself please God and the ability to come to God in our own strength.”[5]   The Bible specifically mentions several things fallen humanity cannot do:[6] Mt 7:18: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” Jn 3:3,5: In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” Jn 6:44,65: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’ ” Jn 14:17: “…The world cannot accept [the Spirit of truth], because it neither sees him nor knows him…” Jn 15:4,5: “…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine . . . apart from me you can do nothing.” Ro 8:7,8: “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” 1Co 2:14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1Co 12:3: “…no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.”   The third condition of fallen man is…  

Real Guilt

  This means that the sinner he deserves God’s punishment. Dr. Robert Reymond writes:   Because of man’s corruption and inability to please God, he is deserving of punishment, for his sin is not only real evil, morally wrong, the violation of God’s law, and therefore, undesirable, odious, ugly, disgusting, filthy, and ought not to be; it is also the contradiction of God’s perfection, cannot but meet with His disapproval and wrath, and damnable in the strongest sense of the word because it dishonors God. God must react with holy indignation. He cannot do otherwise.[7]   Here is how Wayne Grudem explains the sinner’s guilt:   When Adam and Eve sinned, they became worthy of eternal punishment and separation from God (Gen. 2:17). In the same way, when human beings sin today they become liable to the wrath of God and to eternal punishment: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This means that once people sin, God’s justice would require only one thing—that they be eternally separated from God, cut off from experiencing any good from Him, and that they live forever in hell, receiving only His wrath eternally. In fact, this was what happened to angels who sinned, and it could justly have happened to us as well:  “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4)[8]   So there are the first three aspects as to why amazing grace has, for many people, become “boring grace.” Grace is not appreciated because people fail to understand and feel in their heart the great truths of (1) the sinfulness of sin (or total depravity), (2) man’s spiritual inability (or total inability), and (3) God’s judgment (or real guilt).   It is this state of affairs that makes necessary the grace of God. To deny man’s total depravity, total inability and real guilt is to rob God grace of the only context in which it has any meaning. If men are not corrupt, they have no need of the saving benefits of the cross! If men are not sinners who are incapable of saving themselves, they have no need of the Savior! If men are not lost, they have no need of the Lord’s mercies! It is only when men see themselves as they truly are—sinful, incapable of saving themselves, and guilty before God—will they once more put back amazing into grace.[9]:   Now let us look at the fourth aspect as to why grace is not appreciated. It is because people are ignorant of…  

God’s Sovereign Freedom.

  In explaining this topic, James Montgomery Boice says,   In this day of multiple human “rights,” most people wrongly assume that God owes us something—salvation or at least a chance at salvation. But . . .  God does not owe us anything. He shows astonishing favor to many—that is what grace means—but He does not have to. If He were obligated to be gracious, grace would no longer be grace and salvation would be based on human merit rather than being sola gratia. When we say that God is not obligated to be gracious we are talking about sovereign grace. [10]   Here is another insight regarding God’s sovereign freedom from Terry L. Johnson:   Grace is God’s favor freely extended to the undeserving. We might note that when Satan and his hosts rebelled against God they were cast into hell and no redemptive provision was made for them. God was not required to save them and He chose not to save them. Neither is He obligated to save fallen humanity. Were He required to save, then grace would not be grace—it would not exist. Grace, after all, in order to be grace, must be freely given . . . Obligated grace is merely another term for justice. Justice is that which is morally required. Grace, by definition, is that which is not required but given freely anyway. If God must intervene to save us, then He is obligated to do so. And if obligated to do so, His intervention becomes a matter of fairness, equity and justice. This, however, is contrary to the whole doctrine of grace. Grace is unrequired, unobligated, self-determined, self-motivated, freely given mercy of God in Christ.[11]   The Bible shows that all of the three Persons in the Godhead are involved in the manifestation of sovereign grace. Today we are going to look only at the role of the Father.  
  1. The role of God the Father: election.
  Wayne Grudem defines election this way: Election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure. [12]   Several passages in the New Testament clearly show that God the Father ordained beforehand those who would be saved. Let us look at these examples: [13]   Let us turn to the gospel of John. Let’s look at the words of our Lord Jesus as He explains why many of the Jews do not believe in Him.   Jn 6:35-37,39: Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. . . . 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. Jn 17:2,6,24: For you granted him authority over all people that he might   give eternal life to all those you have given him. . . . 6 I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. . . . 24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory...   Another example from the book of Acts.   Ac 13:48: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Grudem notes that it is significant that Luke mentions the fact of election almost in passing. It is as if this were the normal occurrence when the gospel was preached. How many believed? “All who were appointed for eternal life believed.”   Examples from the epistles.   Ro 8:28-30: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.   Eph 1:4-6: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.   1Th 1:4,5: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction…”   2Th 2:13: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”   1Pe 1:1,2: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, ¦ To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (Foreknowledge is not mere foresight but an active relationship between the one who foreknows and those who are foreknown. In Gen 4:25 (KJV) we read, “Adam knew his wife again, and she gave birth to a son…” The word knew here is not just intellectual knowledge but an intimate relationship. The word foreknowledge in 1Pe 1:2 also has the same significance.)   Now let’s look at two examples from the book of revelation. Rev 13:7,8: “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 17:8: “… The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.”   James Boice says that these verses are strong   “…expressions of God the Father’s sovereign grace in Scripture, for they teach that the blessings of salvation come to some people because God has determined from before creation of the world to give these blessings to these people—and for that reason only. Many people today do not like this doctrine because they think it is not just. Some deny it outright. Some admit it but deny its effect by saying that the choice is based on god’s foreknowledge—as if there were anything good in us for God to foresee, apart from his having previously determined to put it there. Some ignore the doctrine. But it is hard to ignore election, since it is found throughout the Bible and in so many critical passages. Without God’s prior election of sinners top salvation, grace is emptied of its meaning.[14]   Next week, the Lord willing, we are going to look at the roles of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. [1] James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Lifestyle, 2002), p. 110. [2] The headings are taken from Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd edition (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pp. 450-457 [3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Leicester, Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), p. 497 [4] The list of Scriptural passages are from Dr. Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd edition, pp. 450-452 [5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 497 [6] The list of Scriptural passages are from Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd edition, pp. 453-454 [7] Ibid., p. 456 [8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 657 [9] I borrowed the words of Dr. Robert L. Reymond from his book A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd edition (p. 457) and applied it in the context of God’s grace. [10] James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, p. 110. [11] Terry Johnson, The Case for Traditional Protestantism (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2004), p. 111 [12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 670 [13] Most of the examples here were taken from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 671-672 [14] James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, p. 122