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Thursday, June 3, 2010

True Confessions of a Reformed Catholic: Sola Gratia

“[God] who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1.9-10).

In the 1500s Church Reformers put back on display 5 of the family Gems that had been packed off into the ecclesiastical storage. These 5 Gems are called the 5 Solas. They are, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria. In this post we will be enjoying the surprising beauty of the 3rd Sola, Sola Gratia.

What Sola Gratia Doesn’t Mean: Some folks have the following mistaken notions: (1) We’re pretty good folk, and so God gives us a pat on the back and says, ‘Keep up the good work team!’ Or (2) God sets the game in motion and then steps back to see what we’ll do. Or (3) God looks at the end of the game; sees who the big players are, and then comes back and says, ‘Yeah. You’re gonna score big, so you’re my first draft choice.’ All of those examples imply that we have something going for us within ourselves already. But God is very clear in diagnosing us (Romans 3.9-20); the only thing we have on our side is that we’re turncoats, that we’ve sold out to the opposition.

But also sola gratia does not mean: You’re in no matter what, just because God is a great guy and wants to make everybody happy (universalism). and sola gratia does not mean that grace is some kind of substance, like flubber, that gives super-bounce to a silly professor; or that grace is like some high-octane juice that makes cars run faster, cleaner and more fuel efficient (synergism). All of these examples where the mistaken notions of many religious leaders in the 1500s, clear back to Paul’s day, and even so in our day.

So then, what exactly does Sola Gratia mean?

What Sola Gratia Means: It simply means by God’s grace alone. And what is grace? Grace can easily mean a gift and a kindness, but more often than not it means the full-blooded, personal love of God in Jesus Christ poured out on us in spite of what we deserve. It is what God is and does, in, by and through His Son Jesus Christ alone, and one of the benefits is that it makes us able to do what we couldn’t and wouldn’t. Look at our passage quoted above (2 Timothy 1.9-10):

· God saving us and calling us is (to paraphrase John Murray) a high, holy and heavenly calling in its origin and its destiny! From….to…

· God saving us and calling us with a holy calling Is not according to our works, our abilities, our decisions, our propensities, our successes, or our inherent desirableness.

· God saving us and calling us with a holy calling Is according to God’s own purpose and grace. Titus 3.1-8. It is the full-blooded, personal love of God poured out on us in spite of what we deserve.

· God saving us and calling us with a holy calling Is given to us in Christ Jesus before time began and is now revealed in time/space/history.
 The Present Need: The Bible is very clear about a way forward here: give up trying to build up our own spiritual self-actualization and be glad in the whole-hearted preemptive goodness and love of God given in Jesus Christ alone. How do we do that?

· Quit trying to secularize our human condition. Secularism is the opiate of the people, and secularism says we’re all good by nature. Now, that was true of Adam before he fell, but it’s no longer true. Everyone has now come from a marred source, and so brokenness and corruption is the normal twistedness of the day. The problem with all the bad thinking about, and cheapening of, grace is because we no longer understand or accept God’s diagnosis of us. Because we do not understand our real condition we heap cheap, tasteless, made-in-China-Walmart-blue-light-special grace on ourselves. Cheap grace is that opinion that we’re pretty trendy people who impress God by our cool photo-ops and great haircuts, who make just a few mistakes and so only need a helping hand. But God is not impressed. He is not fooled. He is not wowed by us and our gadgets and techniques and photoshop-brush-ups.

· Embrace the joy of God’s unstoppable love in Jesus Christ. He knows us right well, He knows us fully, He knows everything we have hidden from everyone else, and still chooses to love us, in Christ. The cross of Christ is the place where God’s revulsion of our sin and the depth of His love all meet.

Sola Gratia.


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