22 May 2007

Gutsy grace

by Dan Phillips

If you've ever tried to come up with a definition of "grace" that satisfies the full breadth of Biblical meaning, you've begun to realize what a daunting task it is.

It isn't that the many definitions of "grace" are untrue; it's just that they tend to be inadequate.

"Unmerited favor" is flat and shallow. It rightly strikes the note of the freeness of grace, without which the word is without its own essential meaning, but it only brings us to the right door. It doesn't take us beyond the threshold.

The GRACE acronym of "God's Riches at Christ's Expense" is better, in that it points to the multifaceted abundance of grace ("riches"), and brings in the additional thought that grace, while free to us, is not free to God. We "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). Christ secures grace for us by His active and passive obedience. Grace is at the price of His payment of the ransom-price in His blood. What costs us nothing, cost Him everything He could give.

When I designed a way to present the Gospel in a church I pastored, I devised an acronym based on the word:
God is holy
Righteousness is required
All have sinned
Christ died for sinners
Each must repent and receive Christ by faith
It had its usefulness in sounding essential Biblical truths; but as a definition of grace (which it wasn't intended to be), it stressed initial salvation, which is an incomplete picture.

We must see that grace is more than saving in the sense that it doesn't just bring us to the marriage-ceremony and get us wed. That is, our picture of grace is inadequate if we see it only as making it so that "when that roll is called up yonder [we'll] be there." That is the decisional error that (rightly) calls one to commit oneself to Christ, and then (wrongly) leaves out the truth that this begins an eternal, daily, growing, vital relationship.

The error is not in linking grace-alone to salvation; it is in our view of salvation. We rightly oppose the Pelagian/Arminian "daisy" of "He loves me, He loves me not." Genuine, Biblical salvation is not a hope-so, maybe, one-day-in-the-future affair. We can have confidence that we have eternal life now (1 John 5:13). This is because we stand abidingly saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But saved means more than just a category-switch on the books somewhere Out There. It is that, to be sure (Colossians 1:13), but it is also...

...well, it's what Paul says it is in Titus 2:11-14—
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
There it is, you see. Grace brings salvation, and it then trains us in holiness. For a doctrine of grace even to approach the robust, multifaceted richness of the Biblical concept, it has to live happily with this section. It can't stumble or turn to mumbling "Yes-but"-ing.

Paul says that the grace of God indeed has appeared in Christ and brought salvation — but God's grace did not stop with merely an external, bookkeeping re-categorization. The inspired apostle writes that grace — grace! — actually trains us in holiness. It is our pedagogue (παιδεύουσα, paideuousa) in sanctification, in holy and hopeful living.

So, while he does distinguish the two, the apostle does not divorce saving grace from sanctifying grace. The one is the necessary cause of the other. If our doctrine of grace does not include both truths, it is at best sub-Biblical, and at worst anti-Biblical.

If you asked the apostle how he was saved, he might answer, "By grace" (Ephesians 2:8-9). But equally, were we to inquire as to the source empowering Paul's Christian life and ministry, he would no less answer, "By grace" (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace, to Paul, is not a static accounting term, but a dynamic reality.

This is why it is such a crime that a school of thought should falsely hide itself behind the rich Biblical word grace, while its actual definition boils down to gutless grace. A "grace" that merely technically categorizes one as "saved," while making no necessary resultant impact on one's life and thought, is nothing like what the apostles would recognize as genuine grace. Their God-given and authoritative notion of grace is that of gutsy grace, a grace which atones, redeems, converts, regenerates, sanctifies, empowers, and keeps. To give false license to unregenerate professions and godless living, under that moniker, is a crime of the first magnitude.

God's grace saves and, necessarily and consequentially, sanctifies.

What God has joined together, let no man sunder.

Dan Phillips's signature


Daryl said...

Excellent article.
For years I struggled, in part because I lacked this insight into grace. It seems to me that without such a full understanding of what grace is, we take verses like this:

"Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord" Heb.
12:14 (not to mention much of James)

and make them out to be supportive of salvation by works. The exposition of grace you have provided will help us to avoid that conclusion in favour of the idea that it is grace itself that works ALL the works of God in our lives.

Thank you.

Tom Chantry said...

Grace, to Paul, is not a static accounting term, but a dynamic reality.

I struggled through the definition of this term when teaching a Bible Study through Ephesians. I started out with what I thought was a suitabe definition, but how do you define that by which "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" is communicated to us? After multiple revisions, I felt like saying, "Look, read Ephesians 1 through 3. That's my definition of grace. Not very handy, and maybe it's my fault for being a poor theologian, but it's the best I can do without robbing the God of all grace of something of His glory."

Excellent post. Pyro in general has been very strong of late.

Pastor Mike Paris said...

Great post about grace. Maybe we should write a book about the amazing, fathomless depths fo the theology of grace. We could call it "What's So Amazing About Grace?" ;) [that lump is my tongue placed firmly in my cheek]

You posted:
If you've ever tried to come up with a definition of "grace" that satisfies the full breadth of Biblical meaning, you've begun to realize what a daunting task it is.

It isn't that the many definitions of "grace" are untrue; it's just that they tend to be inadequate.

Well that was well put! We stumble to explain it, simply because we can't. But I will give my days to sitting at the feet of the Master and learning of Him. His grace is sufficient and able to handle my journey towards holiness. I pray that today is another one of those great days of seeing grace in action, being overwhelmed by it, and stumbling to find words that encompass its height, depth, breadth.

Keep searching for the "perfect" definition/illustration! It is worth the effort!


DJP said...

Well, Mike, fwiw, I haven't so much as touched that book. So, if there's overlap... we're both equally right! Or the converse.

(In fact, I don't believe I've put finger on a Yancey book since Disappointed with God.)

Ben N said...

The great theologians Dc Talk :) once sang:
"I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I've got one for every selfish thing I do
What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior"

We still need our Savior, we still need GRACE.

Great post!

DJP said...

Yep, Benjamin; it is equally an error to make grace or salvation exclusively past, present, OR future.

The Bible places grace in the past (Ephesians 2:8-9), present (Titus 2:12), AND future (1 Peter 1:13).

donsands said...

" gutsy grace, a grace which atones, redeems, converts, regenerates, sanctifies, empowers, and keeps."

Amen. And that's why it was so amazing to John Newton I would think.

"'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."

Grace also disciplines us. We have a Father who loves and favors His children, and he surely will use suffering to refine us for His glory and our good.

This is so very opposed to cheap-grace, and rightly so.

Thanks for the encouraging words.

FX Turk said...


It's not "gutless" grace which saves but does not sanctify -- it is gnostic grace. That is, it is a "grace" which doesn't exist in this world but only in the next.

To which all right-minded people say, "pheh!"

As always, brilliant stuff. Spot on.

Anonymous said...


thanks for this. Seriously...how do you explain a Grace that delivers you, a Grace that actively works through you, a Grace that is like "a fountain of living waters" and a Grace that preserves you?

I was stunned, and still am, when I made this connection.(It wasn't that long ago) Seriously.

Great job saying what most of us want to but can't.

James Scott Bell said...

Great acrostic, Dan. You are a terrific teacher. By grace, of course!

Tozer has a great line about the watered down message in so many churches, something to the effect that if it were poison, it would not kill anyone, and if it were medicine it would not heal anyone.

Your message here is a good antidote to such muck.

Kay said...

So, are you saying that you can't illustrate grace by giving someone a free jellybean?

I'm all disillusioned and stuff now.

Peculiar Pete said...

Great acrostic! I'm going to have to steal that from you! :o)


FX Turk said...

Only a Jelly Babies will do.

FX Turk said...

I've been watching some Ali G videos on YouTube, and I think I'm going to do a post series at TeamPyro about "Respek".

Who's with me?

DJP said...

Who's with me?

Um, if by "with me" you mean in the sense of following the train of thought that got us here....

Not so much.


Kay said...

Ali G? Wow, there just is no telling what's going to get a mention here.


(I did love the post, btw, Dan, in case that was lost in translation)

DJP said...

Yeah, Libbie; and I don't even KNOW from Ali G.

That Frank, he's so cool.

Dude's from ARKansas, yo.

David Regier said...

And I thought grace was what I said before dinner.

Does my food get saved?

Daryl said...


The salvation of your food depends on whether you give it the gift of faith and repentance as well and not just common grace.

The question is, how long must the "grace given" be before it constitutes saving grace?

Remembering of course that broccoli and bananas are not of the elect.

(Are you a supper-lapsarian...)

David Regier said...

When I'm saving my food, I'm more of a Tupper-lapsarian. It's wasteful to be a dispensationalist.

However, I condemn lima beans to be a food created for destruction.

FX Turk said...

That's "Eas'side Massiv" to you, bro.


Daryl said...

My refrigerator bears witness to the fact that I am unable to provide eternal salvation to my food.

So much for perserverance of the saints...

Stefan Ewing said...

Thanks, Dan, for this, as the Holy Spirit has been leading me in exactly the same direction: grace brings us to salvation, and bears the fruit of sanctification.

Alas, I think the (non-)perseverance of saved food is an illustration that serves Arminians better than Calvinists. The less time spent on the analogy, the better!

I saw Ali G in da House. That was just weird. And then to see Ali G and Borat having a converstation in one scene was just surreal.

Daryl said...

Sewing...agreed. I would have to be an Arminian god...fortunately I am neither God nor Arminian...just sleep deprived. (month old baby's will do that to a guy...)

Michael W. Brewer Jr. said...

"Their God-given and authoritative notion of grace is that of gutsy grace, a grace which atones, redeems, converts, regenerates, sanctifies, empowers, and keeps."

Very well said.

Strong Tower said...

A dispense-sationalist! It will be pure grace if you're not struck down for that one.

Why is jelly called jelly? Is jelly perserves, or are preserves called jam? And what about compote, and....

One definition that might help is what ML Jones said about the word blessed in Ephesians 1.6. It is sometimes rendered highly favored concerning Mary, or freely bestowed concerning the saints. It is only used twice in the NT. It means to receive the fullness of grace, or all that grace has to do with: to make graceful, charming, lovely, agreeable, to peruse with grace, compass with favour,
to honour with blessings. In short it means all the fullness of the inheritance, as Ephesians says, joint heirs with Christ who we percieve as full of grace and truth.

One way to look at grace is that of a tote sack. Inside are gifts. It is the greatest gift itself, for inside are all the riches of Christ made freely bestowed on his beloved. It is more than a static "sack" however, for the gifts come to us in none other than the giver himself. And, more than than, he does not just present himself a grabbag of favor, but comes to reside in us so that the possession of the contents of the gift become one with us.

I think that the resurrection of Lazarus is a good example of grace in motion. From the beginning of this scene, all that happens is under controll of the giver. The delays are a gift used for the very purpose of making preparation for the demonstration of the efficacy of "I am the resurrection." In Christ's prayer we hear his prayer thanking the Father that he has prepared this gift for these over whom he wept. What was said was said for them so that they might believe. Lazarus himself is a picture of this unbounded favor. He is called forth from death, brought out of the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then Christ does an interesting thing. He has those standing near remove the grave clothes. What amazing grace he has bestowed in making the family of God help meet, a means of grace, in the sanctifying of one returned from the dead. And, all this a work of grace, gifts freely given.

Pastor Steve said...

For me the problem is not that grace will produce sanctification (works), but rather, how many good works will grace produce? Obviously this is subjective, but I run into people regularly that say that a Christian can have little or no visible fruit but still be saved. That frustrates me, but is hard to argue against. The subjectivity is what gets me.

Also, how does our sanctification work into the overall plan of God's sovereignty and His ability to produce in us what He wills? We are responsible to obey, but ultimately it is God's work. I get dizzy thinking through sanctifying grace as it relates to a more calvinistic form of theology.

donsands said...

" ..a Christian can have little or no visible fruit but still be saved." -pastor steve

"But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the Word and understands, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." Matt. 13:23

I would say the Lord is giving us a principle here.
Some will have much fruit in their lives, and others won't have so much.

Those who hear, will understand and will follow the Good Shepherd. That's a promise. John 10:27-30

Jmv7000 said...

Excellent post!

It is fascinating to think that not only does grace provide salvation and work in sanctification, but also grace was given to each individual believer in the form of a gift to help build up the church, so that each of us (believers) may build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Christ... (Ephesians 4:7-16)

Grace is given for our own good, but it is also provided as a responsibility to build His church.

I am still thinking about the impact of this truth in my life as it is abundantly clear that I have a role to play in building up His church. Indeed how amazing His grace is!

brentjthomas said...

Senor Phillips, this was a beautiful, poetic, memorable post. Helpful. Thank you! !Muchas Gracias!

DJP said...

Gracias a Dios. El gusto es mio.

mark pierson said...

"The one is the necessary cause of the other. If our doctrine of grace does not include both truths, it is at best sub-Biblical, and at worst anti-Biblical."


Brendt said...

Imagine, if you will, your favorite meal, prepared exactly as you like it. No, really, think about it. Get a mental picture. If it helps, close your eyes for a second. Just be sure to open them to read on.

Now imagine something else right in the middle of the plate. It's quite small -- in fact, it's only big enough to be identifiable. You squint just a bit and realize that it's a "gift" from the poodle across the street.

How appetizing is that meal now?

The meal is this post. It's fabulous, chock full of Scripture and insight, lots of stuff to consider and (hopefully) incorporate into our lives. It even has a cool acrostic.

The "gift" is this line: We rightly oppose the Pelagian/Arminian "daisy" of "He loves me, He loves me not." The "daisy" joke is about as funny as Kerry's botched joke (and this from a Calvinist and Dr Sproul fan -- who is the person I first heard it from -- dunno if he created it).

This is not the first time that I've seem this kind of thing on this blog. Why is it deemed necessary to write a long, thoughtful and largely generic post, and then add one line that is both totally unnecessary to the point, and has the power to alienate readers? Are those who might be alienated by such a comment unworthy of learning the greater truth?

donsands said...


Didn't Pelagian believe that one who was born again could become unborn again?

This may sound harsh to you, but I think his teaching was quite harsh.

Brendt said...

If you honestly think I'm rushing to the defense of Pelagius, you've missed my point by a long ways. Besides, I don't think he reads this blog and I thought I made it clear that my concern was about readers.

donsands said...

"I thought I made it clear that my concern was about readers."

So saying harsh things about a heretic is bad for the readers?

The Apostle Paul didn't think so.

Brendt said...

You keep getting further and further from my point. I'll try to spell it out later, when I have a bit more time.

donsands said...

Looking forward to being enlightened. I can be quite a dumkofpt at times.

Brendt said...

Realized that I really needed to expand it, and that it was worth putting on my blog.

Finished up writing it, checked email before proofing it, and saw that I got this serious prayer request. So I'm leaving the prayer request at the top of my blog, and going on a posting fast for now.

Just so you don't think I totally disappeared.

donsands said...

I pray the Lord would be merciful to this family. And may He be seen through this suffering that they have to endure. Amen.

Brendt said...

OK, here's my point. Be warned. It ain't short.

As the main point of a related post and a side point of this post is the unnecessary nature of naming names, I want to secure a bit of anonymity for Dan and this blog. Given that, I'm going to split up the URL a bit so there are no trackbacks, pingbacks, pongbacks, etc. Just remove the spaces:

http:// csaproductions . com/ blog/ ?p=685