Lecture 26: Grace
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
This is the 26th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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I. Different Dimensions of Amazing Grace
Amazing grace; who has not heard the song and though about the phrase; it is indeed amazing and is what we are all about. Grace is often thought of as tolerance for sin. This is not what grace is about and it is never apart from truth. Grace is undeserved, a free gift and usually thought of as unmerited favor, yet what does unmerited favor even mean? It is simply a phrase that we use, not really understanding what it means. Unmerited has to do with not having to do anything to make God be favorable toward me. I would like to think of it as God’s undeserved acceptance. He freely accepts me into his family. In Romans 11:5 we have the statement: ‘so too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.’ Paul is talking about Israel here who is chosen to be God’s people, a people to whom Jesus would come. This is totally God’s working and a totally unconditional acceptance which is foundational to understanding God’s grace in our lives. There is a second dimension of grace that we see in 2nd Corinthians 12 telling us of Paul experiences. As he looks at this, he talks about a thorn and pleading that the Lord would take it from him. But God’s answer was, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ In this, grace means an empowerment to enable us to go on doing God’s work even in the mist of hardship or loss. So, in this context, grace means an empowerment for ministry. We see in Acts 6:8 Stephen who is full of God’s grace. Grace here doesn’t mean unmerited favor or acceptance; instead it has to do with empowerment. So first, it is unconditional acceptance and second, it is an empowerment for ministry and the third dimension of grace is related to cleansing from sin.
We see this in Romans 6:1 it says something strange; ‘Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?’ I think what it means is that grace is something to be made alive. It is related to a cleansing from sin. We see this same kind of thing in Ephesians 2:7 where it is discussing our condition before salvation. In verse 7, it says that he did this so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. There are different dimensions here but in the first three verses, we see that sin is cleansed and we are made alive. There is a cleansing aspect of grace as well. So we have three dimensions of grace: one is acceptance, one is an empowerment and the third is a cleansing.
II. A Common Grace: Drawn or Wooed
There is an agreement in what we call common grace. This has to do with not leaving the world alone. There is a postponing on the impact on sin. Sometimes this is frustrating in that God doesn’t do something about sin in the world. A dividing point has to do with the difference between ‘pre-redemptive’ grace from the Armenian viewpoint and an effectual grace from a Calvinist perspective. Everyone agrees that there is common grace. There is a restrain of sin and preservation of righteousness in all of society. But the questions come in relating to God initiation of salvation. This allows everyone to make a free decision which result in a universal enabling or is it effectual grace, it has a guaranteed impact only for the elect. So another related point is the quality of grace. In John 6:44 it says that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. So it says that no one can come to Jesus unless God draws them. This is a very clear statement. So we ask who is being drawn and how much power is in that drawing. For the Calvinist the drawing here is like dragging; this is an effectual drawing, a powerful drawing. In regards to the Armenian viewpoint, we look at John 12:32 where Jesus says, ‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ It is certainly not saying that everybody will be saved, so what is the nature of this drawing here?
We see in the Song of Solomon 1:4 it says ‘draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.’ We see that this is the pride speaking to her husband. I think that this is a romantic wooing; this is not a dragging one away or to. We see in another passage (Jeremiah 31) where God is speaking to people who are going to Babylon. It says that ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.’ The word here is drawn as ‘I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’ Is this a dragging or wooing? It appears to be a wooing. For the Armenian, it is a wooing or leading; people are wooed to come to God. So Armenians say that all people are drawn and then in John 6:34, it says unless you are drawn, you cannot come. So this is my way of putting this together: understand that the word translated as draw can have a variety of meanings. It can either me drag, which is totally against your will or it can be a resistible wooing, like in the Jeremiah passage.
I think God’s drawing comes in different levels; sometimes it is irresistible and sometimes it is resistible. So when I see God drawing all people in John 12:32, I think he really does draw everybody to himself and when I look at Paul on the road to Damascus, I find Paul being drawn with an irresistible drawing. So I think God works in different ways. Let’s look at John 6:44 where it says that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. It seems that the Father draws everybody with at least a resistible level but only some come, but not everybody who is drawn, comes. What about the more Calvinist interpretation? John 12:32 again says I will draw all people to myself. They say, yes, this is all people either drawing everybody to judgement or this has to do with all kinds of people, not individuals. So again with the Armenians, God draws everybody and it is up to us to decide. You have to decide for yourself on this. I have told you where I stand but people will certain disagree on this. There must be an initiative point of God’s grace; he has to reach to us before we can reach to him. And in every point, there is a response from us that is necessary where we respond to his drawing.
So the nature of grace has three different dimensions: unconditional acceptance, empowered for ministry and cleansing and that grace in a redemptive context has a universal enabling or an effectual for the elect.