Prescriptive Grace: The How’s and Why’s of Grace

If you’ve grown up in Christian circles or read many books on Christian topics, you probably run across a lot of different definitions for grace. Things like, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God” or “Grace is the power and desire to do God’s will” or my personal favorite, G.R.A.C.E. is

God’s
Riches
At
Christ’s
Expense

(This one is the best because it both defines and spells Grace at the same time!!!)

And while I don’t really want to knock those definitions (except maybe the acrostic), I wonder if you’ve ever felt like me that such simplistic definitions do not do grace justice?

I should point out that I’m not saying that we can completely understand grace. In fact, as we discuss grace a little bit, I’d like to try to show that to understand grace completely, we would have to understand God completely.

The seed thought that I have for thinking about grace is this:

Grace is associated with the specific work that God is performing in any situation. What we identify as grace is the interaction of God with us as His creation to accomplish His purposes. Grace is tied up in the specific actions of God and in our perception of those actions (think revelation).

In this post, I want to focus on the specificity of grace in any given situation.
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Respecting our Depravity

Perhaps you’ve experienced the following:

You are watching television, a crime-drama or a thriller, something like CriminalMindsBonesNumbers or CSI:MiamiNewYorkIdaho. You know exactly the sort of show I’m speaking of. On the screen there is a woman. She is at home and she is alone. There is a very good chance that she is attractive or even beautiful. If so, there is an even better chance that she is dressing for bed. Slowly, the music assumes a suspenseful tone and the camera pans back letting you in on the secret that she is not as alone as she might think. If you have watched these types of shows more than once, then at this point you know that something horrible is going to happen to this woman. The question is, what will it be? You lean forward in your seat. The camera moves closer and perhaps you are allowed to see the attacker or perhaps the woman hears a sound from another room and goes to investigate. Either way, the suspense builds further and further until it is at a breaking point. It is at this moment that someone calls you from the other room. Your wife, your husband, your mother, your child, it does not matter who. “Can you come here for a minute?” they ask. “Just a second you reply”, and to yourself you think, I want to see what they do to her.

Do you understand the significance of that thought? Someone has imagined an evil, and you would like to see it executed. Someone has sat and contemplated the horror that they could inflict upon someone else, and while it is not real, in fact, because it is not real, it will delight you to see what they have devised. You may shudder at what you see, but it will not compel you to turn the television off or to not return to it again.

Don’t think that I’m just making this scenario up, or that I’m just guessing at human behavior, because I’ve done this very thing. I’ve thought those very thoughts. I’ve done it so many times that it makes me sick.

Perhaps there is some part of you that resonates with the above examples. Perhaps you too know what it means to see evil and to be intrigued by it. Perhaps is too soft a word.

You have come face to face with evil. And if you are honest with yourself, you know that it’s occurred every time that you’ve beheld your own face in a mirror.

The shocking thing though, is not that we are so depraved, but that we pretend to be surprised when someone acts on that depravity. We listen to the nightly news and we hear about the murders and the beatings, we hear about the woman who abandoned her children in a locked car in a parking lot, and we can scarce believe it happened. “How could they do such a thing?” we ask, and in our black and filthy hearts a sharp-toothed little monster shakes its head in mock surprise and grins, “How indeed?”

 

I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.
(Psalms 101:1-8)

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

The Love of God Blesses All Men

Go read this post about the love of God. While there may not be anything groundbreaking there, it is good to think through these things.

Here’s a snippet:

God demonstrates intended goodness on the reprobate. God’s ultimate purpose is to display His glory and the men are objects of means wherewith God will draw all men to Himself. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards the very fact that the rejection of this kindness heaps more judgment on the non-elect proves that it is actual kindness, else it would be of no consequence to the reprobate. The fact that wicked men abuse these good gifts and heap more wrath on themselves does not negate the intent of the gift. John Calvin states, “Proofs of the love of God towards the whole human race exist innumerable, all which demonstrate the ingratitude of those who perish or come to perdition.”

Charles Spurgeon on Free Will and Predestination

There has been some discussion of late here at The Preacher regarding free will and predestination, so I thought I would post a rather lengthy quote by Spurgeon on the subject. In this instance Spurgeon does not speculate on the method of reconciling these two seemingly contradictory concepts, but instead, merely states that regardless of our understanding of the workings of God, they both exist and are reconciled to one another regardless of whether we accept or embrace it.

The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once.

I am taught in one book to believe that what I sow I shall reap: I am taught in another place, that “it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”

I see in one place, God presiding over all in providence; and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure.

Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism.

That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

This quote is from a sermon delivered on Sabbath Morning, August 1, 1858, by the REV. C. H. Spurgeon at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

You can read it in full at the following link: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0207.htm

More Questions for Atheists

If the universe is composed entirely of matter and there is nothing that is not matter, then what matter makes up the laws of logic?

Follow up: If your answer to the previous question is that logic is a construct of the mind, made up by man, and is an arbitrary set of mutually accepted ideas, then please tell me this: If we use logic and reasoning to determine truth/knowledge, then by what means did we determine that logic and reasoning are true/useful ?

Christians and Science

There is a lot of talk today about the difference between science and religion, about the gulf between the Christian and the scientist, the chasm that separates faith from fact. There is a tone to the rhetoric that suggests that these two areas are not only incompatible, but that the Christian’s ability to view the world is inherently limited, and is therefore operating at a distinct disadvantage.

The heart of the idea that is being sold is that the scientist deals with the real world, with atoms and energy, with metals and chemicals, with universal laws and cold hard facts, while the Christian is left in the fanciful world of magic and fairies, of gods and miracles, of spiritual and invisible things that are only knowable through that slippery thing called faith. This idea supposes that the theologian who is studying the nature of grace is doing something fundamentally different than the astronomer who is studying the nature of the heavens.

The problem with this is that it is a lie.

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Is There Truth Outside of Christianity?

Jamie Kiley is wrestling with a worthwhile question, namely, “What does Paul mean when he says that ‘everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God’?” Her question was prompted by the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (someone who I do not respect at all as an expositor of the Word of God.)

Bell uses this verse as part of his justification for the following statement:

As a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God’s and everything in it.

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The Mundane Deception

If you listen to commercials or read print ads, you’ve probably run into the word “mundane” a few hundred times or more. You may have even used it from time to time in everyday conversations. And why shouldn’t you? It’s a perfectly good word for describing the ho-hum, humdrum, habitual lives that we hate to live. Or is it? I think that somewhere in the modern consumption of the word, we have also managed to swallow a lie. And not just any run of the mill, garden variety lie, but a lie big enough to turn the tables and swallow us as well. A lie that, were things seen as they truly are, would be properly described as mundane.

The word mundane comes from the Latin word mundis, and means of the world or earthly and by implication, it has come to mean boring, banal, and unexciting. And that’s significant, because mundane has another meaning as well, one that backtracks a bit and unwinds itself, a meaning that in some ways, diminishes the borders of the word, and in other ways, sets it up as a ruler over an incredibly populous kingdom. Intrigued? The word mundane means of the world, and before you say, “you just said that”, let me explain that it means of the world in the sense that it does not mean, of heaven.

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Protecting your family

There are certain Bible verses that stay in the forefront of my thoughts. They are typically verses with strong imagery, with straightforward application, the sort of verse that you can see in action around you practically anywhere you look. I Peter 5:8 is such a verse:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour

I think about this a great deal lately, about the last five words in particular. I know people who have been devoured by the adversary, people who have been eaten and metabolized by the awful work of sin. We think of being devoured as being destroyed, but nothing eternal can be destroyed, it can only be changed, and we all know people who bear the marks of such a transformation. To some degree, we all bear such scars ourselves.

I think about these things when I look at my children, when my daughter is squeezing my hand and looking up at me with large and innocent eyes, when my son is standing in the center of our living room staring up at the television and drinking in whatever we have chosen for him to see, when my wife is at home and I am at work and she is facing the dark thoughts of a dreary afternoon. I think about these things, and I wonder what, if anything, I have done to keep this beast at bay. Some days, I know and fear the answer to that question.

But I should be clear here, we are not to fear Satan. There is only one thing that we are to fear, and that is not fear itself, but God Almighty. For Satan, we reserve our vigilance. For Satan, we reserve our seriousness and our sobriety of mind. And we know what this means. It means no more laughing at little sins, at cute wickednesses and clever blasphemies. It means being wise and alert and sleeping with one spiritual eye open. It means going through our homes and looking at everything with an air of suspicion, with an air of caution, with the thought in the back our minds that our families and our own lives may depend upon it. Because whether we like to think about it or not, there is a beast out there, and he is hunting for more than just you.

A World Without Hypothetical Situations

I don’t have time to give this the treatment it deserves, but for those of us who hold to the Reformed position, this deserves some serious thought.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old bon mot, imagine a world without hypothetical situations. But let me suggest something: if you believe that the world from beginning to end has been ordained by the Words of God, and that nothing happens or exists outside of this ordination, then that is exactly the type of world that you live in.

When I talk to and debate theological issues with Arminians, and we discuss the nuts and bolts of salvation and God’s goodness and the history of the world, invariably someone will propose that we examine the world through the simplified lens of a hypothetical situation. And this is where things start to break down.
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