The Grace of God

March 19, 2014

by Brad Reynolds, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Services
Professor, Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College
Cleveland, Ga

The following assumptions are held regarding the affirmations: First, most Southern Baptists would agree with the affirmations in Article 4 (of the Traditional Statement). Second, some who agree with the affirmations think they do not go far enough. Instead, they would add to them. Third, many who would deny them would do so on the basis of the phrase “any person.” Thus, the affirmations concerning the grace of God are a minimal statement. Some of the supporting biblical passages will be considered below.

“But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:11 NASB).[1]

John Polhill states regarding this passage, “God’s acceptance of the Gentiles has drawn a basic lesson for the Jews as well. There is only one way of salvation – ‘through the grace of our Lord Jesus.’”[2] One could never earn one’s way into heaven. Our greatest works are filthy rags to a Holy God. Amazing grace is the sole vehicle God uses to offer life to man.

“…being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

This verse connects to the “all” in verse 23. James D. G. Dunn comments,

The gospel is that God sets to rights man’s relationship with Himself by an act of sheer generosity which depends on no payment man can make, which is without reference to whether an individual in particular is inside the law/covenant or outside, and which applies to all human beings without exception. It is this humbling recognition – that he has no grounds for appeal either in covenant states or in particular ‘works of the law,’ that he has to depend entirely from start to finish on God’s gracious power, that he can receive acquittal only as a gift – which lies at the heart of faith for Paul. … For at this stage everything, the whole argument, the gospel itself, depends on the most fundamental insight of all: that man’s dependency on God for all good is total, and that the indispensable starting point for any good that man does is his acceptance of God’s embrace and his continual reliance in God’s enabling to accomplish that good.[3]

Dunn correctly remarks that man being made right with God is an act of grace which man cannot earn but only receive as a gift.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The amazing grace of God is inextricably linked to the amazing love of God. While we were yet sinners Christ took our place. He took the judgment of God on Himself. He took our sins upon Himself. As our substitute, He paid our debt. As Robert Mounce explains, “God did not wait until we had performed well enough to merit his love (which, of course, no one ever could) before he acted in love on our behalf. Christ died for us while we were still alienated from him and cared nothing for his attention or affection.”[4] God did not demonstrate his love by prohibiting evil from impacting our lives. He demonstrates his love by paying for the sin in our lives. The proof of God’s amazing love is His Son. It is significant that God refers to Himself as love (1 John 4:8). He does not refer to Himself as hate. To claim God hates certain individuals without, in the same breath, claiming God loves His enemies and “God so loved the world” is to disregard a clear biblical teaching.[5] We should neither sacrifice the benevolence of God on the altar of human systems nor avoid certain texts which assist in clarifying other biblical texts.

The affirmation above states that “grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation … ” Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are an expression of God’s grace. The offer of the gospel is grace. The work of the Holy Spirit is grace. The salvation of any person is grace. All of these are examples of God’s grace. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is a gracious act of God. The power of the gospel unto salvation (Rom 1:16) is a gracious act of God. Grace! Grace! Grace! God is the author and finisher of salvation. He provides grace.

How does God convict the sinner? By His Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Where is the power of God for salvation? The power of God for salvation is found in the gospel, or the message of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18). When we simply share the good news of Jesus Christ, that is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Anabaptist leader Balthasar Hubmaier put it this way, “God by means of His sent Word gives power to all people to become His children.”[6]

The Denials
Since the points of disagreement center mostly around the denials in Article 4, more attention will be devoted to the denials. The first sentence denies the concept of irresistible grace. The second sentence denies the concept that faith is equivalent to works. Advocates of the TS reject the idea that when an individual, by his own free will, believes in Christ he has earned his way into heaven. The two sentences in the denials are connected and will be treated as such. This section will attempt to support the denials by addressing many of the biblical texts to which Article 4 appeals.

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:27–28).

The New Testament term for “faith” means “to rely on,” “to trust,” or “to believe.”[7]” To trust or not to trust seems to be one’s personal decision. In this passage Paul juxtaposed faith and works. In other words, faith is never to be equated with works. To claim faith is a meritorious work is to make a claim contrary to the Scriptures. What may be disputed is the origin of the faith in question. Is the faith owned by God and given to man as a gift (in the sense that God’s grace is given to man as a gift) or is it an individual’s faith? The next passage more clearly demonstrates the disagreement.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8–10).

In has been argued that the antecedent of touto (“that”) in “that not of yourselves” is grace and faith. The problem is the text itself seems to deny such an interpretation. The Greek term for “that” is in the singular. This truth indicates that its antecedent is something (singular) and not some things (plural). Had God intended it to refer to both grace and faith, the plural feminine “tauta” (“these”) was available for Paul’s use. Paul could have easily stated “these are the gifts of God.” But He did not use the plural. For these reasons, the forced application of the singular neuter pronoun “that” to refer to two feminine nouns would be inappropriate.

Thus, “that” functions as the antecedent to grace or to faith or to salvation. If one had to choose among the three, context points to salvation. If so, then this verse fails to provide biblical support for the idea that faith is a gift from God.

But an objection might be raised….

[1]All biblical quotations in this chapter are from the New American Standard Bible.
[2]John Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary, vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2001), 327.
[3]James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1988), 179. Emphasis in the original.
[4]Robert Mounce, Romans, The New American Commentary, vol. 27 (Nashville: Broadman and Hol- man, 1995), 136–137.
[5]Romans 9:13, quoting Malachi 1:2–3, quotes the Lord, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” It is not necessary to insist that God made a decision prior to Esau’s actions that He hated Esau any more than it is necessary to insist that a disciple of Jesus must hate one’s family (Luke 14:26). In both instances, there are better ways to understand the teaching in context.
[6]Balthasar Hubmaier, Freedom of the Will, II in Balthasar Hubmaier, translated and edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 450.
[7]Rudolph Bultmann, “pisteuo?” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, translated by G. W. Bromiley (Stuttgart: Verlag, 1968; reprint Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 6:203.
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SBCToday reprinted with permission the above excerpt.

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