Biblical Grace Defined

What is grace? And how does one speak of it to those who have heard of it countless times and sung about it ten thousand times?  Let me make the attempt: 

Grace is like a cool rain on a hot day that washes all my sins away. Grace is me, in my nakedness, in all my shame, covered by the finest royal robes. Grace is my head, bowed to the ground in the presence of the king, fearing for my life, only to be crowned with the gems of heaven.  Grace is when, in the place of slamming iron doors echoing through the halls, where despair holds life in its cruel claws, and death is waiting in the dark across the prison yard, a man with a blinding ray of hope in his eyes, and the sound of repentance in his voice, tells of the One who rescued him from hell, saying: “I’m free. I have been forgiven. God’s love has taken off my chains and given me these wings…” (S.C. Chapman).

Grace, pure grace, is the cross of Christ from which flows “free and liberating grace . . . a grace revealed completely apart from the Law, works, or human effort” (John Dunn). Grace, saving grace, is not a pay cheque from God. It’s not a dividend for our attempts to live for Divine approval. We can never earn God’s approval by Law, by work, by self-effort, or anything else. It’s so true; the real offence of the cross is not so much the cross itself, but that it preaches “Done! You’re free! You’re forgiven! You need not do anything! I’ve done it for you!  You need not do a thing to justify yourself in the sight of God.  The great British preacher of the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon, though dead speaks thus:

I know not a word which can express the surprise and wonder our souls ought to feel at God’s goodness to us. Our hearts playing the harlot; our lives far from perfect; our faith almost blown out; our unbelief often prevailing; our pride lifting up its accursed head; our patience a poor sickly plant, almost nipped by one night’s frost; our courage little better than cowardice; our love lukewarmness; our ardor but as ice—oh, my dear brethren, if we will but think any one of us what a mass of sin we are, if we will but reflect that we are after all, as one of the fathers writes, “walking dunghills,” we should indeed be surprised that the sun of divine grace should continue so perpetually to shine upon us, and that the abundance of heaven’s mercy should be revealed in us.

 

What is grace? Grace is the root of the gospel, as someone said. It draws us, secures us, justifies us, sanctifies us, and keeps us. And if grace is the root, peace is the fruit, peace with God, and thus a quiet, restful conscience. How do we find rest from a guilty conscience? Rivet the eyes of your soul on the cross. Fix your eyes on Christ, not yourself. By faith alone, Christ is our righteousness. By faith alone, Christ is our perfection. By faith alone, Christ is our justification. And by faith alone, He is our assurance and peace.  

-The Blackie Pulpit, Feb. 12, 2012

The Atonement of Christ: Its Nature, Extent, & Purpose

Christ died a death that was penal-substitutionary. In other words, his death satisfied the justice of God in place of others. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5.21). The guiltless One suffered for the guilty; The Just for the unjust. Isaiah testifies that: “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53.5), and “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is.53.11).

Second, the atonement was voluntary. Jesus laid down His life of His own accord (Jn. 10.18).

Third, the atonement is particular. Christ died for the elect only. Germane, relevant Scripture texts include:

  1. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11). Context forbids understanding faith to be the reason one is among the sheep. It’s the opposite. Jesus says: “…you do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (Jn. 10.26; cf. Acts 13.48).
  2. “… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many(Matt. 20.28).  ‘Many,’ not all as in everyone without exception.
  3. “… this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt, 26.28). ‘Many,’ not all as in everyone without exception.
  4. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock … to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood(Acts 20.28). The church of God, not the world.
  5. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1.21).
  6. ‘And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Rev. 5.9). This is not all persons without exception, but all men without distinction.
  7. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her(Eph. 5.25).

Fourth, the atonement is actual and effectual, not potential. Christ’s death accomplished its design:

  1. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9.11-12).
  2. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood…”(Rom. 5.9). His death “justified.” This is not a possibility; it is definite. (I do not mean to diminish the importance of personal faith. Only believers are justified at the point of faith. But faith itself is not what justifies. Faith merely connects us to the One who justifies.)

It is a trustworthy statement: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “And she will bear a Son; and you will call His name Jesus; for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” “When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” [“Tetelestai” – ended, completed, executed, accomplished!] And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.” Christ fully accomplished the atoning work of redemption. Therefore, every soul for whom Christ died will never see the fires of hell. Christ bore their guilt in full. Christ completely propitiated God’s wrath as their substitute, which means that the wrath of God due them was spent on Christ. For them there is no hell to pay.

Christ atoned “to the praise of His glory” in the salvation of His people.