Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reformation 500 Lent Course Session 3: Grace Alone

Reformation 500 Lent Course 2017 (Session 3)

Sola no. 1: Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone – “formal principle” – method – authority – how?

The other solas material content – what?

Sola no. 2: Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone

Are there certain things you feel entitled to / have a right to / feel wronged if you don’t get?

What do you think you deserve from God and from others?

Would you describe yourself as grateful or resentful?

God’s grace and our answering gratitude not a bad slogan for much of the Bible and theology

The meaning of grace: undeserved love, gift

Relational - not some substance / thing or power but God’s disposition / personal attitude towards us and gift of his presence and activity flowing from his love – a characteristic of God

Hebrew OT, hen, (can denote gracefulness or beauty – Proverbs 22:11; 31:30 – charm could be translated favour or grace(fullness)) favour / mercy – Genesis 19:19; 30:27; 32:5; 33:8, 10, 15; 34:11. – Noah, Genesis 6:5, 8 – Genesis 33:11; 43:29; Exodus 33:12, 13, 16, 17, 19 (quoted in Romans 9:15); 34:9; 1 Samuel 1:18; 27:5; Esther 2:7; Deuteronomy 9:4-6, not based on Israel’s righteousness. Numbers 6:24-26 – Aaronic blessing

Hebrew, hesed, mercy / loving kindness / steadfast love / kindness / love / goodness / loyalty / faithfulness / covenant love – 245x in Scripture – Exodus 34:6; 1 Chronicles 16:34, 41; 2 Chronicles 7:3, 6; 20:21; Psalms 107, 118, 136; Deuteronomy 7:9, 12; 1 Samuel 20:8; Nehemiah 1:5; 9:32

Greek NT, charis (related to the word for rejoicing, something of pleasant external appearance – Luke 4:22; Colossians 4:6, loveliness, agreeableness, acceptableness) , grace / favour / good-will (used to translate hen in LXX) – Luke 1:30; 2:40, 52; John 1:14-17; Acts 2:47; 4:33; 7:46; 11:23; 18:27; 24:27; 25:9; 15:11; Romans 3:21-24; 4:4, 16; 11:6; Galatians 2:12; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Romans 12:3, 6; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 8:7; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:7-8; 4:7; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Corinthians 9:8 – gratitude / thankfulness, 1 Corinthians 10:30; 15:57; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 8:16; 1 Timothy 1:2

Greetings and blessings in Epistles - Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; Romans 6:20, 24; 1 Corinthians 16:23; 2 Corinthians 13:14 – “The Grace”

G. R. A. C. E.

Grace is… Mercy is… (children’s song)

Often the favour an inferior finds in the eyes of a superior – e.g. Genesis 6:8; Numbers 6:25

Welsh preacher: “Love with stoop in it” - The love of the prince for a pauper – no rights or claims before God – not something we can merit / earn / demand / are entitled to

“Love for the loveless shown” not because they are lovely but “that they might lovely be” (Hymn: My Song Is Love Unknown) – cf. human attraction – we are not terribly loveable!

Not just narrowly about salvation - Grace is the very definition of who God is - The overflowing generosity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – “Although all three persons are involved in everything that God does, we may assign to the Father… the giving of the love that creates (originating grace); to the Son… the giving of the life that redeems (saving grace); and to the Spirit … the giving of the light that sanctifies (illuminating grace).” (Vanhoozer, After Babel, p36 cites Calvin, Institutes 1.13.18)

“In sum, the grace that God communicates is ultimately himself, and he does so by uniting people to Christ through the Spirit…. Grace points us to… the priority of God’s presence and activity: his shining face.” (Vanhoozer, After Babel, p57)

Creation an act of the generous over-flowing grace of God – God does not need the world – he does not create the world e.g. because he is lonely!

Our creation is a matter of grace – what do we have that we did not receive? – 1 Corinthians 4:7 – no such thing as a self-made person - my birth, my next heart beat are all a matter of grace – everything I have is an undeserved gift of my loving heavenly Father – it is sheer grace all the way down

Theologians sometimes contrast Common Grace (God’s goodness to all people) and Special Grace (God’s covenant love towards his chosen people). John Murray defines common grace as “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” (quoted in Frame, Systematic Theology, p247) - Psalm 145:9; Matthew 5:44-45

God graciously reveals himself – creation, Israel and the prophets, Christ, Scripture, Spirit all a matter of grace

Jesus was full of grace – John 1:14

God graciously makes covenants (agreements, deals, contracts with promises) with the people he chooses

Why did God choose Israel according to Deuteronomy 7:6-9?

The grace of God in redemption / salvation

Essential to understand our sinfulness and the fact that we deserve God’s righteous judgement – the good news only makes sense because of this bad news – the diamond of the gospel shines brightly in front of this black back-cloth – Romans 6:23; 1:18-3:20 - The amazing thing is not that any are lost but that any are saved – unless we see that we are sick and need a doctor, Jesus’ mission will never make sense to us – Luke 5:31-32

How do the following passages describe people’s condition without Christ? John 3:19-20; 8:34; Romans 3:10-18; 8:6-8; Colossians 3:5-7

Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:1-10 – notice the prominence of faith, Christ and the glory of God too (the other solas)– what is the turning point in 2:1-10?

The initiative is God’s – grace fits with election / predestination / God’s sovereign choice – God chooses us out of undeserved love – left to ourselves we would not choose him – John 3:19; Romans 8:28-39; 9:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9-10

We are free in the sense that we do what we want, make real choices, are moral agents accountable to God, but we are not free to live a perfect life – or indeed to want to. We are by nature slaves to sin. Luther’s, On The Bondage of the Will (1525) in response to the Humanist Erasmus’s, On Free Will (1524) – Romans 6:16-23; John 8:34-36

The nature of grace as gift fits with faith, which is the empty hand which receives the gift – faith itself is a gift (God’s gracious work in us)

The Reformed argue that God’s saving grace is irresistible – all whom he effectually calls to the Son come – John 6:37, 44

And since salvation is all of grace, the glory goes to God – all we contribute to our salvation is our sin – all the credit / praise goes to God; all the blame for sin belongs to people

Grace produces humility - attitude to others: there but for the grace of God go I!

Of course, again the RC church agreed that God is gracious – but sola gratia – grace alone – salvation entirely of the grace of God, his work alone – The Council of Trent, Session 6, Concerning Justification ( 1547)

Cf. RC church grace mediated by the church / priests through the sacraments – The Reformed agree that the sacraments are indeed amongst the “means of grace” but not automatic / magic / ex opere operato (from the work worked) – not an independent power, effective for salvation only when received by faith

Cf. Merit – RC church - treasury of surplus merit from the goodness of the saints which the pope could dispense as indulgences

Luke 1:28 – Angel Gabriel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace” – Vulgate made Mary sound like a reservoir of grace (which might be available to others) – better translation: “Greetings, you who have been highly favoured!” – Mary is the recipient of God’s grace

Mercy not merit - Jesus came not as a reward but as a rescue

Other religions, how to somehow reach up to God; Christianity, how God reaches down and lifts us up

Christianity is fundamentally about what God has done in Christ, not about what we must do – Martin Luther: “The law [of God] says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “Believe in this,” and everything is already done.” (Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 26) – One of the purposes of the Law of God is to show us our sin and our need for grace

Luther: “before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and is your own.” (A Brief Instruction on What To Look For and Expect in the Gospels)

The Christian life is all of grace – not God saves us but then we must get on by our own unaided efforts / keep ourselves in God’s good books – we work as God works in us – Philippians 2:12-13 – not that we are entirely passive / “let go and let God”

God gives grace to the humble – James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Proverbs 3:34 – not that God is rewarding merit but he is responding to his own prior work in us – grace is effective for those who humbly receive it – the proud don’t think they need grace

God gives the gift of his Holy Spirit to his people (Acts 2:38; 10:45) and various other spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Hebrews 2:4; Ephesians 4:11-14) - Holy Spirit the Spirit of grace – Hebrews 10:29

The protestant scholastics distinguished:

(1) prevenient grace – the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed on sinners in and through the Word which must precede repentance

(2) Preparing grace by which the Holy Spirit gives us a knowledge of our sinfulness and inability and a desire to believe the gospel

(3) Operating grace, the effective grace of conversion by which we are regenerated (born again), illuminated, granted faith, justified (put right with God and accounted righteous) etc.

(4) Co-operating grace / indwelling grace of the Holy Spirit, working in the believer to make us more like Jesus (sanctification – by which we become more holy)

(5) Conserving / preserving grace which enables the believer to persevere in faith (Muller, Dictionary, p129f)

Responses to grace

Does grace alone mean we can live however we like?

The Libertines in Calvin’s Geneva – we have received grace so we can live as we like – turns grace into licence – God will forgive us – Calvin argues that God’s grace always leads to inner transformation so that we begin to love God and want to please him – we are saved from sin not for sin – Romans 6:1-2; John 14:15

Titus 2:11-14 – What relationship between grace and good works does this passage suggest?

We are not saved by good works but we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:9-10)

Not good works à salvation; but salvation (God’s gracious work in us) à good works

Grace à Gratitude, Graciousness, Generosity – The parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35)

Do you find God’s grace amazing? Why or why not?

What difference should the grace of God make e.g. to our attitudes, evangelism, prayer?

Further reading / resources:

James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook The World (Crossway Good News / Paternoster Authentic Lifestyle, 2002)

John Cheeseman, Saving Grace (Banner of Truth, 1999)

Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

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