12 March 2013

Is "grace" the loveliest word? Perhaps not

by Dan Phillips

I have long heard (and long said) that the dearest word in a sinner's vocabulary is grace. Of course, I still believe it is a dear and a powerful word — but another word is challenging its place in my heart.

It's struck home as I have been preaching a series on the much-neglected letter to Titus. Among the many delights in this letter is Paul's repeated use of a particular title for Father and Son. Here are my translations of the relevant verses:

1:3  but He made His word apparent in His own seasons, in the proclamation with which I myself was entrusted, by order of our Savior God;
1:4  to Titus, genuine child in accord with our shared faith: grace and[1] peace, from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Savior.
2:10  not embezzling, but instead exhibiting all good faith, in order that they might adorn the doctrine of our Savior God in all respects.
2:13  looking forward to[2] the blessed[3] hope and appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ;
3:4  But when the kindness and philanthropy of our Savior God appeared,
3:6  Whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

[1] Many Greek manuscripts have “mercy” instead of “and.”
[2] Or “eagerly awaiting.”
[3] Or “happy.”

There it is, the glorious, lovely word: Savior.

Note how Paul alternates: first, he calls the Father Savior, then the Son; then the Father again, then the Son; and yet again the Father, then the Son. One pair in each chapter.

It is a lone word, but so packed with meaning, with instruction, with assurance.

First, in that word Savior lies all my humiliation and self-denial. Savior tells me that I am lost, helpless, hopeless, and without resources within. Savior informs me that I do not merely need God's assistance or encouragement. I am not in need of a Partner, a Helper, an Enabler. I don't need a Co-Signer.

My case is far, far worse. My lot is not unfortunate or challenged; it is a disaster and a devastation. No part of this process can be left with me nor entrusted to me. God does not stand on the shore, calling to me "Swim harder! You can make it!"

No, Savior tells me that I am floating placidly on the ocean bottom, without the least ability to do for myself. A hand out or a hand up would be wasted on me. Nothing less than a Savior will do.

And, second, God is that Savior. This word tells me that Father and Son have undertaken — not merely to try to save me, not to offer salvation to me, not to call me to salvation, but — to save me. This puts the entire burden of the entire enterprise on their shoulders.

And such shoulders! This is the Father who authored the entire plan of salvation in the dim ages of eternity past! This is the Son who mediated creation and carries out the Father's plan, which involves the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit on me richly (richly!) through Jesus the Son. Other shoulders would buckle; other would-be saviors could fail, would fail.

But if Father and Son commit themselves to be my Savior, is there any chance of failure, any possibility of my ultimately being lost? Were that the case, given that God is "the unlying God" (Titus 1:2), He could not in all honesty have taken on Himself the grand and glorious title of Savior. He would have had to style Himself "Salvation-Attempter," or "Good-Hearted Would-Be Rescuer," or "Benevolent Halfway Helper."

But glory to His name, both Father and Son created, chose, and called themselves by a title that proclaims hope and assurance: Savior.

This is worth a moment's more reflection. Suppose you were languishing in despair, and one of  your fellow sufferers cried, "We're saved! Help is on the way!"

"Who?" you gasp.

"A bureaucrat!" came the reply.

Would you rejoice?

Then suppose instead that the answer was "It's... wait... yes, it's God! It's the God who called the universe into being with a word, who gives life to all, who holds all the stars in His hand, and carries everything by the word of His power! God is coming to save us!"

Would that be worth a cry of exultation?

That title Savior calls me to look away from myself, from my every effort and trait and attribute. It bids me leave off constant morbid introspections, incessant spiritual pulse-taking. It beckons me to look to Gethsemane, to see the Son committing Himself to drain every last drop from the cup. It points me to Calvary, where He hangs forsaken by the Father, not for His sins, nor to "try to" save me from my sins, but to be able to end it all with the glorious shout "It is finished!"

It directs me to look to Father and Son, and to call God not only Savior, which is marvelous enough; but, through the glorious Gospel, to call God my Savior.

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

Not your main point, but your post reminds me of the importance of right theology - which underlies your entire post:

God the Father and God the Son are my Savior. This does not mean that my salvation is a work of God together with a great Creature, but rather that it is the work of God, the only Savior. At the same time it does not mean that the God who is the Father and the God who is the Son at some point got together and agreed on this one thing - my salvation, but that God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, is my Savior. Moreover, it does not mean that God at one point acted as my Savior in the guise of "Father," and later completed the work in the guise of "Son," but rather that my salvation comes from divine inter-cooperation in the incomprehensible council of the Godhead.

Trinity is all over this post. "Such shoulders" indeed! My hope and confidence is established on the triune nature of the God revealed in Scripture.

Peter said...

Thank you Mr Phillips.

Robert said...

Great post, Dan. Thanks.

Kerry James Allen said...

"Oh, what amazing mercy," each saved soul may well say, "and all this for me!" Everlasting love ordained it, immutable love has accomplished it, and unchanging love will perfect it." CHS

Anonymous said...

"There it is, the glorious, lovely word: Savior."

Amen! And I would also add, this Savior died for us while we were against him -- we would never expect someone we treated as an enemy to save us.

But this whole post is generally meaningless for most of American Christians. Savior? What exactly is God saving us from? They don't believe in any kind of literal hell, and if they do, most don't end up there. Understanding the Gospel without understanding Sin and a Just God is like trying to understand chemotherapy but having no idea what cancer is.

DJP said...

Yep. That's why TWTG starts out spending a great deal of time around Genesis 1—3, Jeremiah 17:9 and environs.

That said, the very word "Savior" does itself hint at the depth and extent of our problem.

Jeff Fleeman said...

"Understanding the Gospel without understanding Sin and a Just God is like trying to understand chemotherapy but having no idea what cancer is"

That's getting logged in my memory banks for future use...

Anonymous said...

May I quote you from this post? I'm teaching through Galatians for our men's evening chapel at the rescue mission where I work.

DJP said...

Abbalooley, J. E.

FX Turk said...

This is exactly right. It's exactly, perfectly right.

I think: this is actually the word the exposes all the flaws in all the false theologies one can encounter.

Robert Warren said...

Thanks, Dan.

I'll add to this my modest little contribution to last week's popular #hashtag:

If your Jesus only makes salvation possible, and doesn't save perfectly, #CheckYourJesus

Kerry James Allen said...

Did Dan just write in tongues? Oh well, if a big guy who prays for a "reforming" pope is open to it I guess we lessers should be too.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

The word/concept/term "grace" is abused and misused on occasion.

Abusing and misusing the word/concept/term "Savior" is a bit more difficult to do than the word "grace".

P.S. HSAT, I have seen Obama proclaimed as a "Savior". Has anyone else seen this?

DJP said...

If anyone has, keep it OFF this meta, or I will disappear it.

When TUAD steps out and gives his email or starts his own blog, you can go there and talk about whatever he wants.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

No intention of derailing this thread. Just providing an example of how the theological term "Savior" can be co-opted.

St. Lee said...

So you're saying that "Savior" is not just an empty title, but also an adjective - as in a description? I agree 100%. Very good post!

Aaron Snell said...

Great meditation, Dan. Noting the God=savior/Jesus=savior structure as you have has got me thinking. Given that the Granville Sharp construction occurs smack in the middle, what do you think of the idea that Paul is not referring to the Father specifically when he calls "God" savior, but rather in each one of these pairs is embedded an affirmation of the deity of the Son, the second filling out the meaning of the first? Probably from a Pauline corpus perspective there's a consistency in reading "God" as "Father." But 2:13 has me wondering.

Again, fantastic post.

DJP said...

Thanks, Aaron. You pretty much anticipate my answer. As a rule, when Paul simply says "God," unmodified, he's referring to the Father (though the Son is also God); and when he simply says "Lord," unmodified, he's referring to the Son (though the Father is also Lord).

yankeegospelgirl said...

It's amazing how many people won't acknowledge their desperate need for a Savior. I find the words of one of my favorite musicians, Billy Joel, sadly chilling here, as he describes his experience being a young teen at a Roman Catholic church:

"There is a guy hanging upon the wall in the church. Nailed to a cross and dripping blood. And everybody blaming themselves for that man’s torment. But I said to myself, 'Forget it: I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin There is no blood of my sacred martyr on my hands. I pass on all this.'"

A little water clears us of this deed...

Robert said...

Tagging onto Dan's and tankeegospelgirl's comments, while the major problem in the world is people acknowledging their need for a Savior, I'd track it back to the unwillingness to recognize that they have a Lord (besides themselves). And we all have a relationship with Him, but it is only a right relationship when we acknowledge our need for the Lord to be our Savior.

Anonymous said...

The Hoily SPirit is also your Savior, but, perhaps you just forgot.

DJP said...

Since I based my post on explicit Bible verses, could you give me one of your own for your point as well, please?

Solameanie said...

The old hymn "Hallelujah, What a Savior" comes to mind.