The Protestant Reformers were used by God to rediscover the precious doctrines of grace which for centuries had been buried under layers of Roman Catholic superstition, paganism and corruption. The Roman church denied the sufficiency of grace and of the work of Christ to save sinners. According to Rome, the means of grace had to be supplemented and augmented by the church; God had not quite done enough; man must contribute his part to the work of salvation. But God used the Reformers to restore truth to the church, and led His people to victory in the Reformation under these banners or slogans which correctly and powerfully set forth salvation by the grace of God alone. “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Reformers discovered that the reality and centrality of grace is at the heart of the gospel. Grace was to the apostles the fundamental fact of Christian life. The salvation revealed in the Bible is of grace from first to last (Ephesians 2:5, 8). The grace of God brings it (Titus 2:11), and the praise of the glory of God’s grace is the end of it (Ephesians 1:6) J. I. Packer).
Grace is undeserved favor, unmerited love. It is God blessing people to whom He is not obligated in the least. God’s love is a free gift, entirely undeserved on man’s part, entirely dependent on His will alone. Grace is God’s electing love whereby He chose a people for Himself spontaneous, discriminating, unconditional, unsought, undeserved love (Deuteronomy 7:7ff, 9:4ff, Hosea 11:1–11). Grace is God’s covenant love, wherein He is faithful to His covenant promise by which He bound Himself to His people to be their God and to use all His resources to bless them. It is God acting spontaneously to save sinners.
Quoting Packer once again, “Grace is election-love plus covenant-love, a free choice issuing in a sovereign work. Grace saves from sin and all evil, and brings ungodly men to true happiness in the knowledge of their Creator.”
Grace is fully sufficient to keep, and bring to heaven all the elect of God: “the word of His grace…is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). In the Scriptures, grace is always connected with the Person and work of the Mediator, the God-Man Jesus Christ. It is in union with Him that the riches of grace—election, redemption, and preservation—are given to men. These comprise the entire reality of salvation. For example, election is “of grace” in Christ (Romans 11:5) wherein guilty sinners are chosen by God to be redeemed and regenerated (Ephesians 1:3–12, 2 Timothy 1:9, 2 Thessalonians 2: 13). “We are justified by grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Regeneration, like redemption, springs from the mercy and grace of God (Ephesians 2:4, Titus 3:5), and is a quickening or resurrection from the death of sin which enables the new-born person to turn to the Redeemer in faith. Finally, God preserves, “in love,” or keeps in Christ, those whom He has united to Chist by faith through the Spirit (Ephesians 1:4, Philippians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, Romans 8:30, 2 Timothy 1:12, 4:18, John 10:27).
The church does not control grace, nor is grace something that the church can dispense like Pepsi at a soda fountain. Grace is not an impersonal force that is automatically switched on by prayer or the sacraments or good works or the chanting of mantras. Grace is a personal, free gift of God’s love, controlled only by His heart and hand.
Today, once again, the truth of grace seems almost lost. The Roman Catholic church teachers that salvation depends upon obedience to the church, while liberal, and alas; many evangelical Protestants teach a moralistic doctrine—that salvation will be given to all those who try to be good. As we enter the 21st century, many earnest Christians are praying for renewal or revival; it is only from a rediscovery of grace that these blessings will be given to the church.
Reprinted from Equip, the leadership magazine of the PCA, January-February 2000.Rev. Paul Settle, one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), serves as assistant pastor at the Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, Texas.