Saturday, March 10, 2012

Needed... more grace?

At Old Life, Darryl Hart has a post with this comment of his:
... the way to blur law and gospel is by sneeking grace into the relationship. If the law is gracious (which it is in a sense), then it must be salvific. But then there is Paul’s stop sign, the law is not of faith. Must be a different kind of grace.
What the law-is-gracious crowd forget is that Rome says salvation is entirely gracious — good works and all.   
The language of grace clarifies nothing. In some cases it obscures, as in “grace before the fall.”
This got me to thinking about the thrust of so many sermons that are preached today. Too often when Christian living and good works are exhorted from the pulpit, I hear grace invoked as some kind of seasoning or spice that enables the believer to think, speak, and act as God intends. As in: Jesus died for you sins. You’re now forgiven and have his Spirit. So, relying on the grace that he gives, go out and love your neighbor as yourself… The gospel is functionally reduced to “grace added” and gets presented as a means to an end kind of thing, something given in order that you can do it, i.e. live as God teaches in his law.

But we're not in need of mere renovation by grace.  Our problem is not that we're lacking some missing ingredient with which we could live a holy life.   The gospel isn't an offer of  grace with which to turn our lives around.  Rather, the gospel is God's personal and merciful response to the unyielding verdict of the law.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.  Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal.3:10-114)
Yet moral law-keeping as that which we can and need to do leads us back in the direction of that curse.  But you'll say, "Jesus has saved us from the curse of the law.  He bore the curse in our place."  Indeed he did!  And yet, too many sermons relegate that good news to the status of a past historical event.  Something to rejoice in and be thankful for, but now it's our turn.  Our job now, it seems, is to depend on present grace supplied in order to get on with the business of moral law-keeping.  But aren't we supposed to live holy lives?  Yes!  But the problem comes in when the implicit (or explicit) understanding is that, redeemed from the curse of the law, we now can live up to the law.  Grace offered is invoked as a means to that end.  If only we trust and believe more, then by grace we can live as we ought...

But there's a problem and the problem is us!  Still sinners, we keep getting in the way of our own renovation project.  Where is one to turn?


  1. Interestingly enough, I saw a charismatic minister on the tv in the early morning hours. It was Joseph Prince. He teaches bits and pieces of Reformed theology to his credit. Anyway, he said the law can only show us to be sinner and that you didn't do enough.... Sort of like your wife! I'm sure Prince is heretical in some areas but he was entertaining. That's the trouble with Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers. They are entertaining and they entertain people most often in the wrong direction.

  2. Billy Talks to His Pastor. <<< This one is written by John Pedersen, a former minister with the OPC.


  3. Hi Jack,
    Such a sticky Wicket, the Law Grace Distinctive. I will give it a stab, from what I have studied.
    The Law is good. Because the Law cannot give us anything, it therefore cannot be gracious. It is the giver of the Law that is gracious. 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
    Do you think that all this talk of sanctification and union with Christ is rooted more in a selfish and demanding cry for “relief” and a demand for “comfort”, instead of a true desire to know God? The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. I think we major on the “duty” and our skewed knowledge will always leave us lacking in true love of God and neighbor, if we don’t start seeking after the True and living God. We cannot know ourselves and cannot know God, unless we look in the mirror, and that mirror is the Word of God (The Law).

  4. Like Lazarus we were once dead, in a tomb with the tomb stone over the mouth. The call of God the Father of the living/faithfull is effectual, complete and lacking in nothing. Thus says the Lord, “My Grace is sufficient.” One is completely weak in death, and can “do” nothing. The same power that made our spirit alive is the same power that causes us to walk out of the tomb where we once lay dead. Nowhere in the narrative do we hear that Lazarus, or Mary or Martha complained or demanded to know why Jesus did not also unbind the Death clothes and give him a physical cleansing as well. The spirit works through the body of the church and through the ministry of the preached Word the Good Law and Good News of the Christ Jesus Crucified. But the Law and the Gospel do two different things, and a completely separate, however are inseperable.
    The same power that gave us a new life is the same power that causes us to “walk” (Galatians) out of the tomb toward the light, however it is not distributed equally to all (1 Corinthians 12). We are not all given the same measure of faith, however even a mustard seed of faith is sufficient for life. Matthew 17:20. Maybe there are some that burst forth and run with great strength or it may be that most are like me, barely sitting up on our death bed, still dazed with my face cloth and clothes tightly bound. Very much alive, yet still reeking of death.
    My father was in a hospital for two months before he went home to die, a week later. Death certainly has a smell, and I remember it well. Upon entering his hospital room, I would almost gag, and then to lean over and hug him and kiss him, I would almost gag. I loved him so much that I saw past the smell and I hugged him and sat holding his hand for hours on end. He didn’t know he smelled, and I never gave way to the fact.
    Somehow during the course of the day I would also grow accustomed to the awful smell, however as soon as I would leave and get outside, I would smell it again and couldn’t wait to get cleaned and showered, just to get the stink off. My father was dying on the outside, however his inward man was being renewed and he is now present with the Lord, awaiting his final glorification of his body.
    “The man (Lazarus) who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.” John 11:44a How many of us rush forth as Jesus commands us, “Unbind him and let him go.” John 11:44
    Yes we are alive, but I think that we still stink to high heaven with the stink of death that still stubbornly clings. We need to not forsake the gathering together with other followers, on the way. First and primarily to hear the preached Word, as that is the necessary mirror (The Law) so that we may see our grave clothes (sin). Also we need to be about the business of helping to unbind other’s from their grave clothes that are rotten and full of that putrid odor. The Westminster Larger Catechism speaks of this very thing in Question number 99. The seventh and eighth rules to keep in mind when viewing the Ten Commandments speak to our “duties” to our neighbors ( especially the household of faith), as much as it depends upon us. And it depends upon us greatly to help our neighbor out of their grave clothes.
    Oh, that I may be like Paul and say “For the sake of Christ, then “I am content with weaknesses insults, hardships, and persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Let my cry be “Thy will be done.” The Christian pilgrimage is messy but wonderful.

    His Grace, Mercy and Peace be with you today and always.

  5. Or, Sort of like your husband.

    ha ha

  6. Hey Ginger,

    Part of my thought is that when law is presented as the application in a particular sermon, often the gospel hasn't been presented. In fact the law as both God's standard of righteousness and judge hasn't been clearly presented.

    Rather, appeals to and reminders of God's grace and faithfulness have been in conjunction with appeals and reminders to believers to live more faithfully, but no real presentation of Christ Jesus crucified. As Horton would say the gospel is assumed... but likewise the righteous demands of the law are assumed, the very law that we fail to keep (daily, hourly). That Law sets the groundwork for the good news which tells us that it has been fulfilled by Jesus for us. And that gospel must be the ground upon which the 3rd use of the law is given.

  7. Ginger,

    And... referring back to my closing words in the post: the problem always with us is us! Being sinners, we reflexively fall back into merit-based law-keeping. Which, produces pharisees or despairing broken reeds. It seems to me, that is why the Law and the Gospel must be effectively proclaimed. To humble the proud back to that of a contrite sinner receiving forgiveness and acceptance through Christ alone... and to bind up the conscience wounds of the despondent one through the good news of unqualified acceptance to God through Christ alone. That is what appeals to our faith, which faith can only be fed by and find its home in Jesus' finished work.

  8. As long as we have a gospel which has no election and fails to teach the imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ as the reason for Christ's death, we will continue to have not only a "grace added" counterfeit gospel but we also will have a "faith added" gospel in which faith is the object of our faith.

    And when we have faith as the object of our faith, one reaction is to confuse faith and works . The idea becomes that, since faith comes after regeneration, this means that faith is now able to not sin so that there has been this tremendous breach with sinning.

    Instead of justification from our sins, the object of faith becomes our not sinning (so much) The Amyraldians and hypothtical universalists say that Jesus died for more than one purpose--- not so much to make propitiation (because that would settle things!)

    but rather to

    1. make an offer to every sinner

    2. to buy faith for the elect

    Thus they use their fake Jesus as a pedestal they step up on to say that their salvation is conditioned or God's sovereign regeneration---God has now made them different--they believe that their believing is not sinning....

  9. Gaffin: Sometimes there is even the suggestion that while sanctification is highly desirable, and its lack, certainly unbecoming and inappropriate, it is not really necessary in the life of the believer, not really integral to our salvation and an essential part of what it means to be saved from sin. The attitude we may have — at least this is the way it comes across — is something like, “If Jesus did that for you, died that your sins might be forgiven, shouldn’t you at least do this for him, try to please him?” Mark: Gaffin accuses others of being “Galatianists” who teach sanctification by works instead of by faith, and then himself turns our works into that which is a part of our “faith”, because our works are caused by God’s work continually creating in us.

    Gaffin insists on defining “justified from sin” (Romans 6:7) as a definitive breach with the power of sin so that we don't sin (too much) and do (enough) obedience and works. He rejects the notion that not being under the law is not being under the power of sin.

  10. Tom Nettles—The piggy-backing of grace onto the command does not come from any element in the text….The whole idea of obligatory grace is contrary to the biblical presentation of grace as pure

    Mark Jones—“Divine grace is not merely God’s goodness to the elect in the era of redemptive history. … Divine grace is a perfection of God’s nature, and thus a characteristic of how he relates to finite creatures, even apart from sin. In the garden, the grace of God was upon Adam; in the “wilderness,” the grace of God is upon his Son, the second Adam. God’s graciousness may be summarized simply as what he is in and of himself.”