I was all set to open another book on Grace when I went to the mail box yesterday and there was another package from dear, dear friends in Orlando, FL. They subscribe to R. C. Sproul's monthly magazine, TableTalk, one that I used to enjoy when I lived there. I have known of him for years, the first time when I applied for admission to his Seminary in Ligonier, PA, only to learn that they did not allow students who had been divorced. Then, he moved his study to Orlando and I was working part-time as a night time janitor and cleaning their toilets and emptying their waste baskets. I got to read some of the mail he discarded and became impressed with a number of personal thoughts out of curiosity. That was when I started subscribing to TableTalk
Enough of that. When I opened my package, and the the first magazine, I came across the following, article so here it is in its entirety:
WHAT IS GRACE?
"A number of decades ago at Ligonier Valley Study Center, we sent out a Thanksgiving card with this simple statement; The essence of theology is Grace, the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude. In all the debates about our role vs. God's rule in sanctification - our growth in holiness. we would stay on the right track IF we would remember this Grace-gratitude dynamic. The more we understand how kind God ha been to us, the more we are inclined to love Him ad serve Him.
Yet we cannot get the Grace-gratitude dynamic right if we are not clear as to what Grace means. What is Grace? The catechisms many of us learned as children give us the answer: Grace is the unmerited favor of God. The first thing we understand about Grace is that what it is not - it is not what we merit. In fact, if that is all we ever understand about Grace, I am sure that God will rejoice that we know that His Grace is unmerited. So her3 is our working definition of Grace - it is unmerit,
Paul's epistle to the Romans sheds light on what we mean when we say that Grace is unmerit. In verses 1:18 to 3:20, the Apostle explains that on the final day, for the first time in our lives, we will be judged in total perfection, in total fairness, in absolute righteousness. Thus, every mouth will be stopped when we stand before the tribunal of God. This should provoke fear in the hearts of fallen people, as condemnation is the only possible sentence for sinful men and women: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23)
But those who trust in Christ Jesus have hope, for we are in Him by faith, we have been "justified freely by His Grace." on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone. Note that justification, is accomplished not by obligation, but freely through Grace on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone. There is no room for boasting for we are justified not by our works but by Grace alone through faith alone. Paul goes on to cite Abraham as the preeminent example of one who has been justified by faith alone and therefore free from God's sentence of condemnation. If the basis for Abraham's salvation, his justification, was something that Abraham did - some good deed, some meritorious service that he performed, some obligation that he performed - if it were on the basis of works, Paul says, he would have something about which to boast. But Abraham had no such merit. All he has was faith and that faith was a gift. "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. (4:3, Ephesians 2:8-10)
Romans 4:4 is a key passage here: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted a a gift, but as his due. And to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin".
That is Grace. Paul could not say it any other way. To him who works, it is debt; if your merit is something, it means that someone is obligated to pay you. If I hire you as an employee and promise to pay you one hundred dollars if you work eight hours, I must pay you for working those eight hours. I am not doing you a favor nor giving you grace. You earned your pay. You have fulfilled the contract and I am morally obligated to to give you your wages.
With respect to the Lord , we are the debtors who cannot pay. That is why the Bible speaks of redemption in economic language - we are bought with a price. (I Corinthians 2:20) Only someone else, Christ, has paid our debt. That is Grace. It is not our good works that that secure our rescue but only the work of Christ. It is His merit, not ours. If we merit anything, He grants us merit by His Grace. and we receive it only by faith. The essence of Grace is His free bestowal. As soon as it is a requirement, it is no longer Grace.
Grace should never cease to amaze us. God has an absolute, pure, Holy standard of justice. That is why we cling with all of our might to the merits of Jesus Christ. He alone has the merit to satisfy the demands of God's justice, and He gives it freely to us. We haven't merited it. There is nothing in us that elicits the Lord's favor that leads to our justification. It's pure Grace.
And the more we understand what God has done for us as sinners, the more willing we are to do whatever He requires.
The great teachers of the church say the first point of genuine sanctification is a increasing awareness of our sinfulness With that comes, at the same time, a increasing awareness of God;s Grace. And with that again, increasing love and an increasing willingness to obey Him.
When we truly understand Grace - when we see that God only owes us wrath, but has provided Christ's merit to cover our demerit - then, everything changes. The Christian motivation for ethics is not merely to obey some abstract law or a list of rules, rather, our response is provoked by gratitude - Jesus understood that when He said, "If you love me, keep My commandments". If I may have the liberty to paraphrase "..keep My commandments, not because you want to be just, but because you love Me." A true understanding of Grace - of God's unmerited favor, always provokes a life of gratitude and obedience.