Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Freedom and Sufficiency of God's Grace

I was listening to a CD where the speaker mentioned this phrase. I though for a moment about what a remarkably brief and concise statement about God's grace it is. God's grace is free, and it is sufficient -a powerful thing to ponder! Many today will go to great lengths to extol God's grace and yet, in the same breath, utterly neuter it: removing its inherent freedom and inherent sufficiency as demonstrated to us in the Holy Scriptures. Still, it seems important to keep reminding us, despite how quickly we abandon it, of the true nature of the grace of God.

Paul was told, as he reports, that, "My grace is sufficient for you," while mentioning the agony of the thorn in his flesh and how he petitioned for its removal three times. Regardless of what this means in great detail, consider that God is essentially saying "I am sufficient for you." When we speak of God's grace, we are not speaking about a thing, we are speaking of, primarily, a part of who God is. He is gracious. The question then arises, "Is God freely gracious," or better, "Is God's graciousness toward us free?" Many of us will say, "Yes, of course," but then teach, "No way."

What does it mean when we say God's grace is free or that God has freedom in being gracious to us? We mean that God is not bound, by anything in us or any external principle, to be gracious at all. He is not bound at all to be gracious to any, some, or all. He chooses to, and He chooses to do so freely. So why do so many insist that God's grace is unfair if He does not choose to be gracious to all men equally or all men in the same way? We are seeking to limit the freedom of God Himself. We are passing human judgments and forgetting that God, and His grace, are by nature free. He is God. He does not need us, nor does He owe us anything. If He chooses to be kind to even a single man, it is an act of grace alone. He has the freedom to be gracious or not to be, for He is God.

Grace is free by definition. If grace is required or forced by compulsion or based upon anything in the objects of grace, then grace is no longer grace. Using the simple "free gift" analogy, is it still a free gift, given purely by our own free kindness, if we are then bound, by giving it to one person, to then give it to others in order to be fair? Of course not. Is the free gift free if we give it based upon something the person does that makes it more fitting for them? Of course not. It is no longer grace. Grace is a disposition of God whereby He freely bestows favor upon someone for no reason other than that He is pleased to do so for His own glory and own name's sake. Grace is intimately tied to the character of God, whose ultimate plan is to glorify Himself amongst His created order. It is not something fit for some and not others, not something earned, not something we can pull down from heaven. It is very simply the kind and free goodness of God.

We also say that God's grace is sufficient. By this we mean at the very least that when God chooses to be gracious to a person He will be gracious to them in the way He purposes. His graciousness, in whatever form it is designed and manifested, will not be lacking anything in its effect. We commonly mean this in the context of God's sovereign grace in saving sinners. This is a prime example. If God so chooses to save, purely by His grace, and He purposes to actually do so, then it will happen. If we mean that God only chooses to make His kindness known, but not to actually save, then this shall happen.

We can compare this with the very common understanding that God's grace in saving sinners involves potentiality only. God's grace can only take you so far. You must cooperate, usually by turning to Him, for it to actually save you. This kind of grace is insufficient, unless it can be demonstrated that God, in His grace, only purposed to make salvation potential and not to actually save men. It belittles the grace of God in saving men to a mere wish of God or to God trying to "woo" men to Him, but in the end being utterly helpless to accomplish His gracious purposes and intentions toward us. Again, this is not Biblical grace -this is insufficient grace.

The Bible paints a different picture of God's grace, thankfully. It displays a God who, from eternity past, has chosen to be freely gracious to particular men from out of fallen humanity, a prerogative that is His fully, by the kind intention of His will, to rescue them from bondage to sin, from His wrath, and from wickedness and separation from Him. It displays a God who, through the means He has ordained, actually does what He has graciously purposed. He saves sinners.

This idea is utterly foreign and is often hated, misrepresented, silenced, and fought against. We should not be surprised at this, knowing that what the Bible says about us is true. But we must come to see that to insist upon man's freedom (in the sense so many do, salvation) is to exclude God's. To center salvation around man is to destroy the Biblical teaching on the nature of God and His grace, which is both free and sufficient.

This is not meant, in any way shape or form, to be a Biblical defense -especially since I have cited no Scriptures and only made some bare and non-explicit references, but I hope that some reading this will recognize things in it that cry out to us and challenge our thinking. Is God free to save, or is He not? Can He do what He purposes, or can He not? Rather than pondering in our own minds what might be plausible to us or philosophically appealing, let us bow to the Holy Scriptures for these answers.

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