Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials – The relation of grace to sanctification

Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials

by Dan PhillipsI feel a bit like Jude (v. 3), except without the inerrant inspiration. I had a long, detailed post on another topic nearly ready. A recent development pushed that out of my mind, and pushed this subject into it.It won’t be pretty; I’ll be trying to keep up with my thoughts and make them intelligible. But I reserve the right to re-post this in a shinier form at a later date.

And so, without further eloquence:

    1. God’s grace was given to His elect in His purposes from before times eternal (2 Timothy 1:9). It is not an afterthought.
    2. Grace answers the question Cur Deus homo? — it is why God the Son became a human being, lived among us, fulfilled all righteousness, died in the stead of the elect, and redeemed them (1 Corinthians 8:9). Nothing in us motivated the Incarnation.
    3. Grace is known in the special revelation of the Gospel (Colossians 1:6), not by natural revelation.
    4. Grace frees the elect to exercise saving faith (Acts 18:27). Slaves don’t free themselves.
    5. Grace is the whole reason we are declared righteous as a free gift by grace alone, through faith alone, in and because of Christ alone (Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7); it is not merely an important factor.
    6. Grace in Christ’s death is the cause of our righteous standing before God (Galatians 2:21; 5:4). Human works play no part whatever.
    7. Grace is a good reason to leave sin (Romans 6:1ff). It is not a good reason to remain in sin.
    8. Grace frees us from the Mosaic law’s condemnation (Romans 6:14). It does not “free” us from God being God, nor from all that necessarily follows from that truth.

  1. Grace motivates and empowers us to do more for God than we otherwise would (1 Corinthians 15:10). It isn’t our license to do less or nothing for God than we otherwise would.
  2. Grace strengthens us for service (2 Timothy 2:1). It does not “strengthen” us for indifferent, lazy lassitude.
  3. Grace motivates us to speak more boldly to professed brothers in Christ (Romans 15:15). It does not motivate us to care less about God’s glory or others’ spiritual health.
  4. Put another way, grace is the motivator for speaking even unwelcome truth boldly to professed Christians (Romans 15:15). Grace is not the antithesis of such plain-speaking.
  5. Grace builds us up as Christians (Acts 20:32). Grace is not for the moment of salvation only.
  6. Grace is at home with humility (1 Peter 5:5). It is the opposite of stiff-necked, arrogant rebellion against the word and will of God.
  7. Grace is the sufficient, efficient, indispensable and unerring cause for practical holy living, for obeying the written word of God (Titus 2:11-12; cf. Romans 8:12-13). It isn’t our “get out of obedience” card.
  8. Grace will be fully experienced, realized, or known until we see Christ (1 Peter 1:13). This present consciousness of grace is not “all there is.”
  9. Until that day, we must grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). No man can say he is “there,” yet.
  10. It is an abominable blasphemy to use pleas of “grace” as a cloak for outrageous, amoral, immoral, licentious thinking and living (Jude 4). Grace is not a pretext for sin.

Three brief reflections:

Dispensationalism. I am unapologetically a Calvinist dispensationalist (someone tell that punk Heinrich). Having said that, it shames and confounds me that so many have cause to associate dispensationalism with antinomian, libertine licentiousness. I disown that false teaching with every fiber of my being, and it in no way grows necessarily out of the heart of the dispensational approach to Scripture.

That dispensationalists as a whole haven’t roundly disowned that bastard child is as fully to our shame as the failure of Moslems to denounce all terrorism.

For whatever it’s worth, count me as a denouncer.

It doesn’t matter. However, anyone who thinks that abuse of the rich Biblical concept of grace is confined to dispensationalism… well, you need to get out more.

Final plea. Do this for me.

  • If you’re going to sin, poke God in the eye, shame His name, bring ridicule on the Gospel, and refuse to deal with your sin by repentance as God defines it — don’t drag the lovely word grace into the sewer with you. Just sin, and prepare for the consequences. Well, scratch that. You can’t prepare for the consequences. But at least let’s not lie to ourselves and others, compound our sin, and smear the dung of our sin over the beautiful concept of grace.
  • If you’re going to sin and bring heartbreak, ruin, robbery, treachery, betrayal and misery into the lives of others, and then refuse to deal with your sin by repentance as God defines it — don’t drag the the lovely word grace or “the Cross” into it. Grace and the cross are the antithesis of continuance in heardhearted, unrepentant sin. What we’ve done to others is bad enough. No need to blaspheme the saving grace of God in the bargain.

That is all.



The relation of grace to sanctification

Listen closely to what God moves Paul to say in Titus 2:11–14:

For the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared, instructing us that, by renouncing irreverence and worldly desires, we should come to live level-headedly and righteously and reverently in the present age, as we eagerly await the blessed hope and appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, in order that He might redeem us from all lawlessness, and might cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works. (DJP)

This passage, then, is about grace (v. 11). What’s more, it is written by the apostle Paul, whom God assigned a special position of managing the message of His grace (Eph. 3:2). So we must pay close heed if we are to get the “real scoop” about what God means by “grace.”

Is grace, in this passage, God’s way of making it “okay” that we live on under the authority of sin? Is “grace” how God makes peace with the idea of sin? Does “grace” mean that God accepts our giving no thought to His revealed will, floating along with the currents of our own desires on the waves of the world’s trends?

Is grace a passive thing in God, and a “Get-Out-Of-Hell(-But-Still-Live-Like-It)-Free” card for us?


If Paul meant anything like that, he should have written that “the grace of God that brings salvation to all men” appeared in order to “instruct” us that we can live crazily, unrighteously, and godlessly, and that we shouldn’t give a gnat’s toenail about what pleases God.

But Paul wrote nothing of the kind. By contrast, the apostle says that the saving grace of God is a dynamic thing, a transformative, supernatural power. The woman or man touched by the grace Paul speaks of will never remain the same. That person will be revolutionized, created anew. Focus on Paul’s wording:

  • Grace brings us salvation. It effects rescue, deliverance. Grace gives us new life and saving faith. Grace imputes Christ’s righteousness. But it doesn’t stop there; grace sees to it that we are really delivered, really rescued—saved. If we have been left where we were found, we haven’t been saved!
  • Grace instructs us. The word translated “instructing” is paideuousa (pie-DEW-oo-sah), which is a word that carries the idea of “education with a pow.” It is discipline, pointed and powerful instruction, training. This verb and the related noun are used in Hebrews 12:5–11, of God the Father’s discipline of His children, a discipline that may be like a whipping (v. 6), and which is far from fun to receive (v. 11), but which has the actual effect of bringing us to righteousness of life (v. 11). Paul’s uses of the verb have plenty of “pow” as well (1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:25).
  • Grace instructs us to renounce ungodliness. Renouncing is the “negative” lesson of grace—what it teaches us to put to death. It means “saying‘no’ to” these desires, showing them the door (or the shotgun). Not coddling or “gracing over” or shrugging off. This is a necessity for godly living (“by renouncing”; that is, “renouncing” is how it is done). It is something that grace instructs us to do, not something that automatically happens to us.
  • Grace instructs us to live levelheadedly and righteously and reverently in the present age. That means that grace teaches us to live in a way that respects God’s lordship, and thus His revealed law-word for us. It describes a life of heartfelt striving to conform to God’s Word. That’s what God’s real, dynamic grace teaches! A life unconcerned with the Word is a life that hasn’t known the touch of this grace.
  • Grace redeems us from all lawlessness. Paul in Titus 2:14 views “lawlessness” as a slave owner or captor, and Jesus as the one who paid the price to liberate us from that bondage. But “lawlessness” is just what Gutless Gracers end up enabling—a mind-frame that doesn’t view itself as obliged to any standard, including God’s. With the Gutless Gracer, “to hear” is not “to obey.” This has nothing to do with adding works to the Gospel; it has everything to do with the Gospel liberating us to be God’s slaves.
  • Grace makes us zealous for good works. Paul surely cannot be saying “zealous to explain how good works are optional.” This zeal is an assured effect of Christ’s saving grace, Paul says. “Good works” are behaviors that God’s Word identifies as pleasing to Him. According to Paul, then, the person who knows grace will be eager and enthusiastic about finding out what God wants of and for him, and about plunging into it with all he’s got.

Put it all together, and what do we have? Grace with guts, with transformative power.


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