A Close Look at “Sola Gratia” (Part2)

October 30, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  Last week we began to look at the third great doctrinal pillar of the Reformation period—sola gratia—grace alone. This means that sinners are rescued from God’s wrath by His grace alone.   We learned last time the fundamental reason why God’s amazing grace has, for many people, become “boring grace.” It is when people fail to understand and feel in their heart four great truths—the sinfulness of sin, God’s judgment, man’s spiritual inability and God’s sovereign freedom—that God’s grace is not appreciated. The focus of our studies under sola gratia will be on those four truths. And our intention is to bring our amazement back to grace.

Sinfulness of Sin

Last week we looked at the first truth that grace presupposes—the sinfulness of sin. While I was preparing for today’s teaching I came across this description about the sinfulness of sin from the book, The God Who Loves, by John MacArthur. Although we have already learned about the magnitude of sin last week, allow me to read what MacArthur writes about the sinfulness of sin. Sin … is at the very core of the human soul. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man” (Matt. 15:19–20). “The evil man out of the evil treasure [of his heart] brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Lk. 6:45). Yet sin is not a weakness or flaw for which we cannot be held responsible. It is an energetic, purposeful antagonism to God. Sinners freely and gladly choose sin. It is human nature to love sin and hate God. “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7, kjv). In other words, sin is rebellion against God. … Isaiah 57:4 characterizes sinners as rebellious children who open wide their mouths and stick out their tongues against God. Sin would dethrone God, depose Him, usurp Him, and set self in His rightful place. All sin is ultimately an act of pride, which says, “Move over, God; I’m in charge.” That’s why all sin at its core is blasphemy. We initially love our sin; we delight in it; we seek opportunities to act it out. Yet because we know instinctively that we are guilty before God, we inevitably attempt to camouflage or disavow our own sinfulness. There are many ways we do this… They can be summarized in roughly three categories: covering up, justifying ourselves, and being oblivious to our own sins. First, we try to cover up. Adam and Eve did this in the Garden, after the first sin: “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (Gen. 3:7)—then they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord (v. 8). King David tried in futility to cover his guilt when he sinned against Uriah. He had committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When she became pregnant, David first plotted to try to make it seem as if Uriah was the father of the baby (2 Sam. 11:5–13). When that didn’t work, he schemed to have Uriah killed (vv. 14–17). That only compounded his sin. For all the months of Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David continued to cover his sin (2 Sam. 11:27). Later, when David was confronted with his sin and repented, he confessed, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer” (Ps. 32:3–4). Second, we attempt to justify ourselves. Sin is always someone else’s fault. Adam blamed Eve, whom he described as “the woman whom Thou gavest to be with me” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). That shows he was blaming God as well. He didn’t even know what a woman was, until he woke up married to one! God, he reasoned, was responsible for the woman who victimized him. We likewise try to excuse our wrongdoing because we think it is someone else’s fault. Or we argue that we think we have a valid reason. We convince ourselves that it is OK to return evil for evil (cf. Prov. 24:29; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). Or we reason that if our ultimate motives are good, evil can be justified—the perversion of thinking the end justifies any means (cf. Rom. 3:8). We call sin sickness, label ourselves victims, or deny that what we have done is really wrong. The human mind is endlessly creative when it comes to finding ways to justify evil. Third, we are oblivious to our own sin. We do often sin in ignorance or presumption. That’s why David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:12–13). Jesus warned against the folly of tolerating a log in our own eye while being concerned about a tiny speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7:3). Because sin is so pervasive, we naturally tend to be insensitive to our own sin, just as a skunk is impervious to its own odor. Even a highly sensitive conscience can’t know everything (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4). Sin does not necessarily express itself in overt acts. Sinful attitudes, sinful dispositions, sinful desires, and a sinful state of heart are just as reprehensible as the actions they produce. Jesus said anger is as sinful as murder, and lust is tantamount to adultery (Matt. 5:21–28). Sin is deceitful in a way that hardens the sinner against its own enormity (Heb. 3:13). We naturally want to minimize our sin, as if it were not really any big deal. After all, we tell ourselves, God is merciful and loving, is He not? He understands our sin and can’t be so hard on us, can He? But to reason that way is to be deceived by sin’s cunning. Sin, according to Scripture, “is the transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4, kjv). In other words, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (nasb). Sin, therefore, is any lack of conformity to the perfect moral standard of God. The central demand of God’s law is that we love Him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Lk. 10:27). Hence, lack of love for God is the epitome of all sin. But “the carnal mind … is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7, kjv). Our natural hatred of the law is such that even knowing what the law demands stirs up in us an urge to disobey. Paul wrote, “The sinful passions [are] aroused by the Law.… I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Rom. 7:5, 7). Such is the sinner’s penchant for sin that it controls him. He is in bondage to it. But he nevertheless pursues it with an insatiable appetite, and with all the passion in his heart. … Sin stains the soul. It degrades a person’s nobility. It darkens the mind. It makes us worse than animals, for animals cannot sin. Sin pollutes, defiles, stains. All sin is gross, disgusting, loathsome, revolting in God’s sight. Scripture calls it “filthiness” (Prov. 30:12; Ezek. 24:13; Jas. 1:21). Sin is compared to vomit, and sinners are the dogs who lick it up (Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:22). Sin is called mire, and sinners are the swine who love to wallow in it (Ps. 69:2; 2 Pet. 2:22). Sin is likened to a putrefying corpse, and sinners are the tombs that contain the stench and foulness (Matt. 23:27). Sin has turned humanity into a polluted, befouled race.   Wow! That is the picture of sin in the Bible. Sin is truly heinous! When we realize the truth that all men are sinners and we become conscious of the seriousness of sin then we will begin to attach great importance to God’s grace.  

God’s Judgment

Now let us look at the second biblical truth that grace presupposes—God’s judgment. This is another truth that will deepen our appreciation for God’s grace. Just as I said regarding the first truth, a greater understanding and feeling for God’s judgment will help bring back our amazement at grace. How? If you connect this truth of God’s judgment with man’s spiritual inability, you are going to recognize the value of God’s grace.   Sin is abominable to God. It is extremely repulsive, offensive and detestable to Him. The prophet Habakkuk says that [God’s] eyes are too pure to look on evil; [He] cannot tolerate wrong (1:13). Sin is contrary to God’s very nature so that even the smallest transgression is worthy of the same severe penalty. (Jas 2:10 …whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.)[1]   Because God hates sin, the Bible teaches that sin has terrifying consequences. (Ro 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”) We can infer from the second half of this passage that the kind of death Paul is referring to is not just physical death but eternal death, the opposite of eternal life.   The last book of the Bible calls this death the “second death.” (Rev 2:11, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.)   We have more details about the second death in the book of Revelation:
  • Rev 20:14-15 The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
  • Rev 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
  • I believe that although Rev 14:9-11 does not mention second death, this is the same place where worshippers of the beast and had the 666 mark on the hand or forehead will be tormented: A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."
  Here are other passages that tell us about the consequences of sin:  
  • Ro 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
  • Ro 2:8,9 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile;
  • 2Th 1:8,9 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power
  • Heb 10:26-27 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
  • Second Peter chapter 2 talks about false teachers and their destruction. 2Pe 2:17 tells us that Blackest darkness is reserved for them.”
  • It is [truly] a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! (Heb 10:31)
  Christ also had much to say about hell and eternal punishment. In fact, in the entire Bible, He is the one who had the most to say about hell. Listen to His words.  
  • Mt 7:13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
  • Mt 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Mt 23:33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
  • Mt 25:30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
  • Mt 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
  • Mt 25:46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
  • Mk 9:43-48 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
  • Lk 16:24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
  • Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • Jn 5:29 and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (cf. Dan 12:2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.)
  Many people today, when talking about God, refer to Him only as the God of love. They have an unbalanced view of God. They limit His attributes only to being loving while neglecting other attributes. The favorite verse of those who want only a loving God minus His other attributes is 1 John 4:8. This contains the simple statement, “God is love.” I like what MacArthur says about this verse in his book, The God Who Loves: The simple statement “God is love” obviously does not convey everything that can be known about God. We know from Scripture that He is also holy and righteous and true to His Word. God’s love does not contradict His holiness; instead, it complements and magnifies it and gives it its deepest meaning. So we cannot isolate this one phrase from the rest of Scripture and attempt to make love represent the sum of what we know about God. In another place MacArthur writes: This is not meant to be a definition of God or a summary of His attributes. Divine love in no way minimizes or nullifies God’s other attributes—His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His immutability, His lordship, His righteousness, His wrath against sin, or any of His glorious perfections. Deny any one of them and you have denied the God of Scripture. There is certainly more to God than love.  
  • Ro 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God....
  • The author of the book of Hebrews writes in Heb 12:29 that God is a consuming fire. He is quoting Dt 4:24.
  • Ps 7:11 God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.
  • Nah 1:2,3 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes   and maintains his wrath against his enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;   the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished….

Man’s Spiritual Inability

And so there we have what the Bible teaches about the sinfulness of sin and God’s judgment. Now let me tie them in with another truth, man’s spiritual inability, and see how these truths can deepen our appreciation for God’s grace. How? Let’s put it together.   All men are sinners. In Eph 2:1-3 Paul said that all of us, uninfluenced by God’s Spirit are spiritually dead, follow the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.   Paul adds, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” What Paul is trying to say is that we are justly exposed to God’s righteous anger. God’s wrath is something we deserve because of our sinful nature. There is no excuse or legitimate objection that we can give to give for Him not to punish us. We have sinned and the consequence is the second death—eternal separation from God and eternal punishment in hell.   What makes matters worst is that no sinner can sinners do anything to change this condition. No sinner can set himself free from this bondage to sin and the devil. In fact, the Bible tells us that lost sinners want to remain in sin.   We’ve heard some young adults say, “Well there’s no need for me to receive the Lord now. I’m still too young to be religious or to be tied up in that born-again or holiness stuff. I want to be free to experience all good things that this world has to offer. I will receive the Lord when I grow old or just before I die.”   The problem with the unbelievers who say that is that they do not realize that this lack of desire for God, being spiritually dead, is not something you can just change at will. The older one becomes, the more difficult it is have a hunger and thirst for spiritual matters. Old age or sickness, hardship, suffering, poverty, frustration, or even knowledge of nearness of one’s death will not make a person automatically come to the Lord to be saved.  
  • Ro 3:11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks 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.
  • 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.
  • Eph 4:17,18 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
  • 2Ti 2:25-26 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
  • Jn 3:19-20 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
  • Jn 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…
Someone said, From these verses, we can see that a heart untouched or uninfluenced by God’s Spirit is in bondage to evil and is totally unable to pursue the righteousness that leads to eternal life. What this all means is that if God does not do something to rescue us from our predicament, we will perish in our sins. And this is what we mean when we say we are saved by grace alone, because there is certainly nothing in us worth saving and there is nothing that creatures in such a predicament can do to save themselves. Our salvation depends upon God's graciousness and not upon our goodness. So it is against this backdrop ­ the biblical description of sin, its effects and consequences­ that we better appreciate the doctrine of grace alone.   I will close with these words from Kim Riddlebarger—a Reformed pastor and author who has contributed chapters to books such as Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, and Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Unites & Divides Us. He too reiterates that the doctrine of grace alone cannot be fully understood unless we understand what sin has done to us. I would like you to take note that though he speaks as an American, the principle he presents is true for Filipinos as well.   When we use the term "grace alone," what we mean is that our salvation from the wrath of God—our deliverance from hell—is because of something good in God, and not because of anything good in us. The Biblical conception of human nature after Adam and Eve's fall into sin is not a pretty picture, and Americans, who seem to have an unlimited confidence in human nature and human goodness, have a very difficult time accepting what the bible says about the human condition. In a democratic culture such as ours, we believe that our vote counts, and that by exercising our right to choose, we can actually and significantly change the world around us. We are all taught from our youth that we have it within ourselves to accomplish anything, if we simply put our minds to it and give it our best efforts. … grace alone doesn't make much sense to an American who doesn't think that much is wrong with the human condition in the first place. For if people are basically good, why then, do we need grace in order to be saved. But to those who understand what the bible teaches about the effects of sin, grace alone is our only hope of heaven. And thus when we speak of grace alone (sola gratia), we are speaking of the fact that God saves us, because of his mercy and graciousness toward us, and not because of something—indeed anything—in us that makes us desirable to God. We really cannot understand grace alone unless we understand what it is, exactly, that sin has wrought upon us. (GRACE ALONE, An Evangelical Problem?)   As the chorus of the song, “Were it not for grace,” says,   Were it not for grace I can tell you where I’d be Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere with my  salvation up to me I know how that would go, the battles I would face Forever running but losing the race, were it not for grace [1] Adapted from MacArthur