Christianity 201

August 11, 2015

The Present Grace Emphasis


Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…

Matt. 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

This is one of several articles I’ve encountered lately that suggest that as the pendulum swings, we are currently seeing a great deal of emphasis on the grace of God, perhaps at the expense of teaching on God’s justice or holiness or even his wrath. This writer has never been featured at C201 before; J. T. Cochran is currently studying for his doctorate in Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in addition to serving in a local church in Illinois. Click the title to read at source. (Scripture verses are embedded links.)

Have We Made Too Much of Grace?

Thomas Watson writes in The Ten Commandments:

If we trust in our grace, we make a god of it. Grace is but a creature; if we trust to it we make it an idol. Grace is imperfect, and we must not trust to that which is imperfect to save us. ‘I have walked in my integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord.” Psa xxxvi I. David walked in his integrity; but did not trust in his integrity. ‘I have trusted in the Lord.’ If we trust in our graces, we make a Christ of them. They are good graces, but bad Christs. (57)

For a decade I was taught to completely write off the law of God, or at least that’s what my ears heard. Honestly, it’s what I believe is the general temperature of the evangelical pool: a lot of cool grace but none of the warm law. In the last four years my disposition to the law has altered. I’ve grown to not only have strong affections for the ten commandments, but I use them constantly in my life to war against sin. As I introspectively watch over my life, the commandments of God play a crucial role in seeing my disobedience and my need for Christ. In turn I apply the instruction of the law as I instruct my children, using resources like New City Catechism, the London Baptist Catechism, the Westminster Catechism, and the Heidelberg Catechism. Both my wife and I have been enriched by these resources.

But I imagine, a lot of people reading this, would be a bit surprised by this shift. It’s just not the view that I swam in for so long. It’s like I got into a different pool, one that’s a little bit warmer, and, well, I like it there. My whole family likes it there. Now I really want to go to the old pool and show others that maybe their water is a little too cold.

My concern is that some in their thirst and need for grace fashion an idol out of grace. Though we should make much of grace, we should not make too much of grace. Fundamentally, as Watson says above, grace makes a poor Christ. It is no Christ at all. Grace is an instrument of God. It is an abstract idea that describes a relationship. It is an attribute of God, so a facet of him for sure. But you cannot worship the part in substitute for the whole. Then you make less of who God is. Grace, I would say, is more than a thing but certainly less than a person, and it’s only a person that saves, the person, Christ (1 Th. 5:9). I am fascinated by how Watson refers to grace as a creature.

Likewise, the evangelical air is filled with a spiteful aroma towards the law and commandments of God. Where we have made too much of grace, we might have made too little of the law of God. Perhaps some have put their trust in grace, thus eliminating a need for law, rather than putting trust in Christ. But the same argument above applies to the law of God. God is just and thus a law-maker and the first law keeper. When we write off God’s law and commandments, we write off God’s equity, his justice. And then God becomes less than who he is. We fashion a false god by butchering his attributes and amputating the ones we don’t like.

We need the law, but don’t be confused. By saying we need the law, I am not arguing that the law saves. The law does not save us. The person Christ saves (1 Th. 5:9); he saves us by grace (Eph. 2:8). But, I need to remind you, that the person Christ embodied the law, kept the law, and fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17). Thus, it must be significant; it ought to be precious in our eyes — as precious as grace. But I bet that sounds discomforting to you. And that’s because I’m heating up the evangelical pool pretty quickly, and you might not find that new temperature the comfortable temperature that you are used to. But many would argue that the law schools us towards Christ (Gal. 3:24). It instructs us of our great need for him. We do not embody, keep, or fulfill the law like Christ did. Thus, we need Christ. This makes the law precious.

Because Christ in His human nature, lived righteously and justly, piously and equitably, he satisfied our need to keep the law of God. In his piety he kept the first table of the law and in his equity he kept the second table of the law. Watson says, “The first and second tables are knit together; piety to God, and equity to our neighbor” (46). Christ set the standard we could not keep and achieved what we could not achieve. He was fully pious and fully equitable. He did it for us, so that we might be counted as righteous with him (Jer. 23:6). Thus, we need the law to need Christ. And we need the law so that we see Christ. Christ is not just an incarnation of grace; he’s an incarnation of the law too because he is an incarnation of justice.



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