Reformed Theology: Presented, Defined and Defended – Part II (The G.R.A.C.E. Approach Presented)
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 (to be extended…..)
So moving forward from our introduction a few months ago, we get into the next portion of our discussion on the doctrines of grace. In this segment, I plan on both introducing our approach to the topic (a little different than what you’re normally used to, especially since I use a different acronym) as well as the first letter in the acronym.
6/3- small update to the ‘G’ definition.
What’s Wrong With T.U.L.I.P. ?
Most people who come to the doctrines of grace have probably been introduced to it using the acronym T.U.L.I.P., each letter standing for a different ‘point’ of doctrine in the doctrines of grace. These letters usually represent Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints. The acronym itself is barely 100 years old; twentieth century reformed writer Lorraine Boettner used the term in his book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, published in 1932. The first reference to it goes back to Dr. Cleland B. MacAfee of the Presbyterian Union in Newark, NJ in 1905, as cited by Dr. William H. Vail in 1913.The acronym is helpful, but in many cases, only after an extended discussion to explain what each term means. Many people assume things about the words on face value (just as some think that ‘Calvinism’ was invented by John Calvin).
For example, some think the ‘T’ means that man is utterly as bad as he can be and everyone walking is a Hitler. They then say “well, we even have atheists that do ‘good’ things, so man isn’t as bad as he can be. therefore, the doctrine is wrong.” Of course, the problem with their assessment is that they don’t understand what is meant by the term. No one who believes in total depravity (the author included) uses it to mean that everyone walking is a Hitler at all times. From this point, I’d point out that the total means that all of man – spiritually and physically – has been touched by sin and corrupted. Total corruption may be a better term, but it too lacks the connotation of man’s moral state with regard to sin (man is not born neutral with only the potential to sin). Ultimately, no set of ‘abbreviations’ are going to completely satisfy and fulfill the need of a ‘quick explanation’. That’s just as well – the doctrines of grace aren’t a ‘quick explanation’ topic.
The G.R.A.C.E. Approach
All that said, I do think an acronym can still be helpful. Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has used (in one of his older books, The Sovereign Grace of God, written around 1990) uses the acronym G.R.A.C.E. to describe the doctrines of grace. Originally, from what I understand, he used the T.U.L.I.P. acronym and added an “S” to beginning, the S representing the Sovereignty of God as a proper starting point for this discussion. I haven’t viewed the book, but I liked the idea and have been using ‘G.R.A.C.E.’ as an acronym (which covers the same ground as ‘S.T.U.L.I.P.’) for the doctrines of grace for a few years. The letters represent:
God’s Sovereignty (control, rule, reign, and ownership) in and over all of history and time includes election and predestination (the choosing of some as the recipients of salvation and God’s undeserved favor and saving love), reprobation (the passing over of others for salvation, whether passively allowing them to ‘go their own way’ or actively creating them for the purpose of destruction) and the right of God to do with His creation as He pleases. This includes, but is not limited to hardening Pharoah’s heart, raising up nations to punish Israel by taking them into captivity, turning over those of a reprobate mind in Romans 1 to their desires, turning the hearts of kings where he pleases, controlling the roll of the dice, the falling of sparrows from the sky, the exact timing and circumstances of Jesus’ birth, the crucifixion of Christ and all surrounding circumstances (by the hands of sinful men), and both giving Satan permission to afflict Job as well as determining exactly how long and how much Job should suffer. In doing so, He does no one any wrong and commits no sin. This point, when used as the starting point (the same way Genesis’ 1:1’s starting point is God) helps us to frame the issue in a fashion that keeps us centered on honoring God with our thoughts about Him (our beliefs) and shape our attitude toward what the Bible teaches. We may not always like the way God does things, but He is always good and just in the execution of all of these things. Our place is to find submission to His hidden counsel a joy and not something to be fought against, even when it is directly painful to us.
The Radical Corruption of humanity by sin. The word radical comes from the latin word radix, which means root. What this means is that humanity is corrupted by sin down to its’ root level of existence. The physical body is corrupted by sin – born that way. So we die (Romans 6:23). The spiritual being of man is corrupted by sin – so we are born not neutral, but estranged from and hostile toward God. Man’s natural condition as of the fall is sinner (action) and tainted by sin (condition). Sin affects all of man’s actions so that even the ‘good’ we do is the equivalent of filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Because of this corruption, man is both unwilling and unable to choose vertically (to follow God). Man is slanted toward sin. He may, for example, make course changes so that his sin will land him stealing money from a cash register instead of committing identity theft, but he is still a theif. He may not murder a man, but he may murder a man’s reputation and wish malicious thoughts toward him. This still qualifies him, courtesy of Matthew 5, of being a murderer. Some men may go out and physically cheat on their wives, others may sate their desire with pornography, and others still will be content to fantasize about women they meet (even while having sex with their own wives). All of these men are adulterers according to scripture.
Because of this corruption, the Accomplishing Grace of God is necessary for a man to believe the gospel message. This grace is also necessary for a man to continue in the faith. I call it this because His grace actually accomplishes what He intends for it to do – in this case, bring a man to faith and give him both the ability and the willingness to believe the gospel message and do what is pleasing to God. This same grace also preserves men from falling away fully and finally from the faith (discussed below), convicts of sin and prods the believer toward holiness in life and thought. His grace also teaches men to love the brethren, drives men to love truth and hate sin. This grace is responsible for the believers’ perseverance in faith, so we will walk over some parts of this ground when we talk about the ‘E’ in this acronym below.
On the cross, Christ gave a Complete Atonement for the sins of all those who will believe the gospel. The intent of the atonement was to save those who have been elected, predestined and been the recipients of God’s saving grace. The value of the atonement is such that if God so willed, the entire world would be saved by it. There is nothing deficient in the atonement, nor is one drop of Christs’ blood wasted on people who will never be saved. In addition, all of that person’s sins are paid in full by the atonement. It is not a hypothetical atonement that becomes effective when a person places their trust in Christ, but an actual and real payment for sins. The atonement is substitutionary – Christ died in the place of specific people. The atonement was a propitiation – it satisfies the wrath of God. For those who believe in Christ, there is no more wrath of God.
As a result of these things, the experiences Enduring Preservation and Perseverance. First, the believer is preserved and protected from falling away from fully falling away from the faith by the power of God Himself. Second, the believer, because the Spirit of God dwells in him, he “cannot make a practice of sinning because God’s seed abides in Him” (1 John 3:4) and he will with 100% certainty “work out his salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in him both to will AND to do for His glory” (Phil. 2:12-13). A good tree has no choice but to bear good fruit. The condition of an apple tree is that it eventually bears apples. If it bears peaches, it’s not an apple tree that became a peach tree. It was never an apple tree to begin with. It bears apples because it is an apple tree, not to become an apple tree. At a quick glance, we may not be able to tell what kind of tree it is (unless we are horticulturists and know trees well), but after watching it over time, we can tell what kind of tree it is when the fruit comes in. Further, we can’t tell what kind of tree it is by the fact that leaves bloom off of it – several trees have similar looking leaves, but produce different fruit. The good tree continues on as a good tree, eventually bearing fruit as it should. It perseveres.
All of these doctrines are really and truly aspects of one overall doctrine: God saves sinners.
GOD: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, working in perfect unity and never at cross-purposes to oneanother (but rather, FOR cross purposes). The Father elects, the Son redeems, the Holy Spirit movers in the person to bring them to faith. There is none whom the Father chooses that the Son does not redeem and the Spirit does not regenerate (give spiritual life to so that they may be able to believe). All Three members of the Godhead work collectively in redemption and salvation and always in full agreement.
SAVES: Not simply ‘makes savable’. Not ‘makes potentially savable’. Not ‘saves halfway’. Not ‘makes a generic or general offering that anyone can draw from’. Not ‘saves conditionally until you mess up’. From first to last, beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. From predestination (before time began) to choosing/marking off for salvation (in Christ, you did not choose me, I chose you), to calling to salvation (I will take out your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, cause you to walk in My ways and obey My statues, put My spirit in you to fear Me so that you will not turn from me) to application of that in ‘real time’ – atonement (He will save His people from their sins, I lay down my life for the sheep), justification (there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus), propitiation (He is the propitiation for our sins), sanctification (he cannot go on sinning because God’s seed abides in Him), preservation (I give to them eternal life and none can snatch them out of my hand), perseverance (….if they were of us, they would have remained…) and eventual glorification (those He justified, He will also glorify).
SINNERS: Men and women who are not neutral to God, but who are hostile toward God, unable and unwilling to please God, actively seeking ways of suppressing the truth of God and either making their own god that they can approach as they please or attempting to approach God on their terms rather than His. Beings who bring nothing to the table worthy of saving and who only deserve wrath and judgement from God without mercy.
God saves sinners. That’s it – and these will serve as a working definition of each term (so you don’t have to ask me ‘what do you mean by that ?’).
The next five portions of this series will cover each one of these doctrines with copious amounts of scripture supplied to give a basis for each belief. Along the way, we’ll also try to tackle some of the Q & A that usually pops up when we discuss these issues.
Yes, there are additional areas that will be addressed in the course of this discussion – including discussions on God’s goodness, the necessity of His wrath, His mercy and all. With that, we’ll hit the ‘G’ on the next article.