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December 3, 2017 Five, Part Four

 

We are in the midst of a series on the Five Solas. The Five Solas came out of the Reformation in response to the works-oriented doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, dedicated men of God who were given much light by the Holy Spirit, were (and still are) mightily used by the Lord to bring people out of darkness. But the Five Solas were neither just their idea nor the idea of their disciples. Rather these five blessed truths are clearly and firmly revealed in Holy Scripture.

 

The first one we looked at was Soli Deo Gloria. This is a Latin phrase that means “the glory of God alone.” It speaks to the purpose of our salvation. With respect to our salvation, it proclaims that God alone should get the glory. Not Mary, not dead saints, not the sinner. God alone!

 

Not only in salvation, God alone should also get the glory in all of our life. Seeking to give God alone the glory orients our life aright and delivers us from sorrow and misery.  It brings us joy! Why? Because it fulfills our purpose, which is to bring Him glory. God alone deserves glory because He is so worthy in all of his marvelous attributes.

 

So, Soli Deo Gloria means that God alone gets the glory in salvation and in all of life.

 

The second Sola we looked at was Solus Christus. This means Christ Alone. It speaks to the sufficiency, exclusivity, and outworking of our salvation. We saw that this communicates three things:

 

  • Christ alone is all-sufficient for our redemption. We do not need the sacraments and we do not need our own good deeds. His deeds are the ones that save us, not ours.
  • Christ alone is the only way to see God. There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.
  • Christ alone is the way to live the life we have been called to live. We do this by his own supply of life. We receive him not just one time, but we daily need to feed upon him. Otherwise, we will become weak, lethargic, or depressed.

 

Today we will consider the third Sola – Sola Gratia. This means Grace Alone. This sublime phrase communicates the source of our salvation.

 

Let us first be clear on what grace is.  It is a word of central importance. It may be the key word of the Christian faith. If we can understand grace better then we will love God more. Do you desire to love God more? If so, then give heed to my words. Grace is what the New Testament is about.[1]

 

  • God is “the God of all grace.” (I Peter 5:10)
  • When Jesus came, grace came. (John 1:17)
  • The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace.” (Hebrews 10:29)
  • Our hopes rest upon “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:11)
  • The Lord upheld a man who was discouraged, the apostle Paul, with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor 12:9)
  • The good news by which we are saved is called “the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
  • It is the “word of his grace” that both builds us up and gives us our inheritance. (Acts 20:32)
  • The opening of all 13 of Paul’s letters begins with the words, “grace and peace,” rather than the conventional “hail” used in beginning letters of the first century.
  • The conclusion of all his letters ends with a wish that “grace” would be with his readers rather than a conventional “farewell.”
  • Peter and Jude begin their letters the same way.
  • Hebrews and Revelation end the same way – with grace.

 

J.I. Packer says, “Grace was to the apostles the fundamental fact of the Christian life.”[2] Packer also says that the meaning of grace is not well appreciated today and I think he is right.

 

It is used in two ways in our culture. Often, when people hear the word “grace” they think it only refers to a prayer before a meal. I remember when I was in the Air Force and before I became a Christian, there was a young man in my company during technical training (for my specialty that was the first three months following basic training). He would always say grace before every meal. He was the only one that did that in the whole company. I thought he was peculiar and so did everyone else. At the same time I respected what he did even though, at that time, I didn’t even believe in God. “Saying grace” is a good practice, not only privately, but in public places. However, this is sometimes the only meaning people know for the word.

 

The other way it is used is to describe an almost inexpressible quality about people, usually ladies. And so the late Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of our former President, was said to have grace. The word used in this way means a certain unique blend of qualities including the manner of speech, humility, kindness, deportment of the body (e.g., the way a lady walks), and dress. I think our current first lady has grace in this respect. Do you agree?

 

But this is not how the Bible uses the word “grace.” Grace is simply someone’s favor. If you are a recipient of God’s favor it means that he has a positive regard for you. It is his kindness. Joseph experienced favor from others when he went to Egypt. Remember that Joseph was beaten by his brothers and sold as a slave. He received no favor from his brothers. But he did in Egypt.

 

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2             The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3             His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4             So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. [3]

 

Note that Potiphar gave Joseph favor. Why did he? Ans: Because he saw that God was with him and caused all things that he did to succeed. There was something about Joseph that brought about Potiphar’s favor towards him.

 

After this, Joseph gets thrown into prison. Not a good place to be!

 

            And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21             But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22             And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23             The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. [4]

 

Now the keeper of the prison shows Joseph favor. Why? Because whatever Joseph did he noticed that it was successful. Again, there was something about Joseph – his success – that brought the favorable disposition of the Keeper.

 

Here is where grace is different from simple favor. The receipt of favor can be, and often is, because of the qualities, abilities, or what some might call fortune of the recipient. Here is the wonder and exhilaration of grace: Grace is favor received because of NOTHING AT ALL about the person. Grace is God’s favor towards you when you know that you shouldn’t have it.

 

The grace of God flows from the special love that he has for his called-out ones. There is a sense in which God loves all people. Yet, he has a special love for those whom he has called to Himself. In the Old Testament this love is represented by the Hebrew word chesed. Chesed is one of the most beautiful and encouraging words in the OT. It is usually translated “lovingkindness” (KJV and NASB), “steadfast love” (ESV), or “unfailing love” (NIV). It is the love that God has for his covenant people. It appears 248 times in the OT. Hence, it is not a character quality that is merely incidental to God’s nature. It is at the core of Who God is.

 

If you have been called by God then you are a recipient of his lovingkindness and, from this lovingkindness, you receive his grace! God’s favor is upon you! Not because of anything good in you. Simply because of his chesed. Praise God for this extraordinary grace!

 

It is this grace and this Grace Alone – Sola Gratia – that is the source of our salvation. God is not like Potiphar nor is He like the prison keeper. He does not extend his favor towards you because of anything good about you. We are not the source of our salvation. Neither are we even partly the source of our salvation. It is God’s grace alone.

 

Never think that it depends upon you. If you think this way you will end up on one of two paths. Either you will end up in great discouragement, maybe even depression or defeat. Why? Because you will recognize in your weaker moments that there is still evil and vileness within you and you may think that God will not accept you any longer. That is a potential path of rejecting Sola Gratia.

 

Another path is one of condescension and spiritual pride. When one thinks that their salvation and standing in God’s favor depends upon them, and they believe that they have succeeded, then they tend to look down upon others who are struggling in their walk with the Lord. They would never come out and say it, but they believe in their hearts that they are better than others.

 

Both of these paths are deadly to a healthy and happy life. They can even derail your faith. O! We need to love the reality of Sola Gratia! It will keep us spiritually healthy. It will prevent discouragement. It will prevent condescension.

 

If you find yourself upon one of these two paths they lead you away from the grace of God. They rob us. If we truly belong to him the grace of God is still there but we cannot experience it because we have fallen away from it. God’s grace has not moved. We have.

 

The two paths that I have described above are both the results of one error. That error is legalism – the idea that my acceptance depends on me.  The apostle Paul says to those Galatians who were thinking and acting this way:

If you expect to be made right with God by obeying the Law, then you have turned away from Christ and His loving favor. (Galatians 5:4; New Living Translation)

 

Those last two words in the NLT, “loving favor,” is the word grace. Paul is saying that if you expect to be right with God on the basis of your obedience then you have fallen away from grace.

 

There is an opposite error to legalism that one can fall into and that is in thinking that how we live makes no difference because we are under grace. That error is called antinomianism.  (It may also be called libertinism.) That is a big word. It sounds more complicated than it is. It is a good word to know because we do not want to fall into this terrible misunderstanding of God’s word.

 

We all know that the ending, the suffix, of “ism” just means a belief or practice. A country Christian once said, “Any word ending in an “ism” means that you gotta stay away from it.” Someone asked him, “what about baptism?” This country fellow thought for a moment and said, “Partner, you don’t know the difference between an ‘ism’ and a ‘tism.’”

 

So, the “ism” part is easy. The prefix is easy too. We all know what “anti” means. It means “against.” Or, more simply, just “no.” We are just left with the main part of the word, nomian. What does that mean? Nomos is the Greek word for “law.”

 

Antinomianism is the belief or practice that one need no longer follow God’s law. This is just as deadly as legalism. Just because we need not follow the law in order to be accepted by God does not mean that we need not follow it. Those are two entirely different things, yet some Christians get them confused.

 

Whereas the legalist so magnifies the law as to diminish grace, the antinomian so misunderstands grace as to lose sight of the beauty of God’s law as a rule of life. Grace, while it condemns self-righteousness and spiritual pride does indeed establish the law as a rule of conduct.

 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12             training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, [5]

 

You see, the grace of God trains us to live rightly. The only way we live rightly and joyfully is by being conformed to God’s beautiful commands. But even this is by God’s grace.

 

Grace alone is the source of our salvation. It is also the source of our forgiveness after we have come to Christ. We see ourselves as sinners. We come to faith and repent of our sins. We try to walk in faithfulness but we discover that sin still dwells within us. We disobey the Lord even though we desire to please Him. We still need forgiveness as we walk in faith.

 

We stumble. We even disgust ourselves at times. The only way we are restored to fellowship with God is because of God’s grace towards us. Even after coming to faith we must look to grace for our restoration. If we look to ourselves we will only sink deeper into discouragement and, possibly, into avoiding the Lord in our thinking and living. It is grace alone that delivers us from ourselves!

 

Thank you, Lord, for your marvelous grace!

 

Grace Alone is the source of our salvation and the source of our forgiveness even now. It is also the source of our joy once we have come to the Lord Jesus.

 

In the New Testament the word “grace” is translated from the Greek word charis. Charis is derived from chairo, which means to rejoice or to be glad.  Grace, for all the other things that it brings, primarily “is that which brings joy, pleasure, enjoyment to the beholder, hearer, or receiver.”[6]

 

This is the practical, experiential aspect of grace. Grace is what God is to us for our enjoyment.[7] I love that sentence! It is not original with me. Once you have experienced it, you realize how true it is! Grace is what God is to us for our enjoyment.

 

In John 1:17 we read:

 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. [8]

 

I am very partial to the way the Recovery Version renders this verse:

 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and reality came through Jesus Christ.

 

Grace and reality both came through Jesus Christ. Grace and reality both were present under the old covenant, but they did not come in their fullness until Christ came. Grace is a Person and that Person is Christ.

 

In I Corinthians 15:10 Paul says:

 

            But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. [9]

 

Galatians 2:20, which we looked at in our last installment, is parallel to the Corinthian passage:

 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.[10]

 

Galatians 2:20 says, “Not I, but Christ.” I Cor 15:10 says, “Not I, but the grace of God.” Do you see the parallel? Galatians: “Not I, but Christ.” Corinthians: “Not I, but the grace of God.” Christ and grace are parallel.

 

2 Timothy 4:22 says: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”[11] In this one verse Christ and grace are parallel.

 

Grace is actually God Himself coming to be our enjoyment! It is this grace alone that is the source of our enjoyment.

 

One of my favorite verses in all the Bible is this one:

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [12]

 

In this one verse we see the Trinity; we see the love of God – his chesed, the very source of our source; we see marvelous grace as Christ; and we see the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which is just his presence. The Persons of the Trinity may be distinct but they are never separate. They are always together. When you get grace you receive Christ, you receive the Father, and you receive the Spirit. When you get grace you receive the Triune God! And when you get Him you get enjoyment. Hallelujah! This is grace for our enjoyment!

 

We need Sola Gratia! It is grace alone as the source of our salvation. If we see this then we will be able to avoid legalism and antinomianism. It is grace alone for our joy, because grace is a Person! It is God Himself coming to be our enjoyment!

 

Let us proclaim together:

 

Grace Alone!

Grace Alone!

Grace Alone!

 

Thank you, Lord, for your grace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The list following is taken from: J I. Packer, 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2007), 91.

 

[2] Ibid

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 39:1–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 39:20–23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Tt 2:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Witness Lee, An Exposition of New Testament Words, Living Stream Ministry (Anaheim, CA: 1981), 117.

 

[7] Ibid

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 1:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 15:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 2:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 4:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 13:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.