29 February 2008

Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials

by Dan Phillips

I feel a bit like Jude (v. 3), except without the inerrant inspiration. I had a long, detailed post on another topic nearly ready. A recent development pushed that out of my mind, and pushed this subject into it.

It won't be pretty; I'll be trying to keep up with my thoughts and make them intelligible. But I reserve the right to re-post this in a shinier form at a later date.

And so, without further eloquence:
  1. God's grace was given to His elect in His purposes from before times eternal (2 Timothy 1:9). It is not an afterthought.
  2. Grace answers the question Cur Deus homo? — it is why God the Son became a human being, lived among us, fulfilled all righteousness, died in the stead of the elect, and redeemed them (1 Corinthians 8:9). Nothing in us motivated the Incarnation.
  3. Grace is known in the special revelation of the Gospel (Colossians 1:6), not by natural revelation.
  4. Grace frees the elect to exercise saving faith (Acts 18:27). Slaves don't free themselves.
  5. Grace is the whole reason we are declared righteous as a free gift by grace alone, through faith alone, in and because of Christ alone (Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7); it is not merely an important factor.
  6. Grace in Christ's death is the cause of our righteous standing before God (Galatians 2:21; 5:4). Human works play no part whatever.
  7. Grace is a good reason to leave sin (Romans 6:1ff). It is not a good reason to remain in sin.
  8. Grace frees us from the Mosaic law's condemnation (Romans 6:14). It does not "free" us from God being God, nor from all that necessarily follows from that truth.
  9. Grace motivates and empowers us to do more for God than we otherwise would (1 Corinthians 15:10). It isn't our license to do less or nothing for God than we otherwise would.
  10. Grace strengthens us for service (2 Timothy 2:1). It does not "strengthen" us for indifferent, lazy lassitude.
  11. Grace motivates us to speak more boldly to professed brothers in Christ (Romans 15:15). It does not motivate us to care less about God's glory or others' spiritual health.
  12. Put another way, grace is the motivator for speaking even unwelcome truth boldly to professed Christians (Romans 15:15). Grace is not the antithesis of such plain-speaking.
  13. Grace builds us up as Christians (Acts 20:32). Grace is not for the moment of salvation only.
  14. Grace is at home with humility (1 Peter 5:5). It is the opposite of stiff-necked, arrogant rebellion against the word and will of God.
  15. Grace is the sufficient, efficient, indispensable and unerring cause for practical holy living, for obeying the written word of God (Titus 2:11-12; cf. Romans 8:12-13). It isn't our "get out of obedience" card.
  16. Grace will not be fully experienced, realized, or known until we see Christ (1 Peter 1:13). This present consciousness of grace is not "all there is."
  17. Until that day, we must grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). No man can say he is "there," yet.
  18. It is an abominable blasphemy to use pleas of "grace" as a cloak for outrageous, amoral, immoral, licentious thinking and living (Jude 4). Grace is not a pretext for sin.
Three brief reflections:

Dispensationalism. I am unapologetically a Calvinist dispensationalist (someone tell that punk Heinrich). Having said that, it shames and confounds me that so many have cause to associate dispensationalism with antinomian, libertine licentiousness. I disown that false teaching with every fiber of my being, and it in no way grows necessarily out of the heart of the dispensational approach to Scripture.

That dispensationalists as a whole haven't roundly disowned that bastard child is as fully to our shame as the failure of Moslems to denounce all terrorism.

For whatever it's worth, count me as a denouncer.

It doesn't matter. However, anyone who thinks that abuse of the rich Biblical concept of grace is confined to dispensationalism... well, you need to get out more.

Final plea. Do this for me.
  • If you're going to sin, poke God in the eye, shame His name, bring ridicule on the Gospel, and refuse to deal with your sin by repentance as God defines it — don't drag the lovely word grace into the sewer with you. Just sin, and prepare for the consequences. Well, scratch that. You can't prepare for the consequences. But at least let's not lie to ourselves and others, compound our sin, and smear the dung of our sin over the beautiful concept of grace.
  • If you're going to sin and bring heartbreak, ruin, robbery, treachery, betrayal and misery into the lives of others, and then refuse to deal with your sin by repentance as God defines it — don't drag the the lovely word grace or "the Cross" into it. Grace and the cross are the antithesis of continuance in heardhearted, unrepentant sin. What we've done to others is bad enough. No need to blaspheme the saving grace of God in the bargain.
That is all.

Dan Phillips's signature


Nash Equilibrium said...

Very nice, Dan. The parts I understood were very useful and bluntly practical. I especially liked the part about if you're going to sin, leave grace out of it. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

DJP said...

Or maybe, you can't befoul others' cake and call it "grace."

S.J. Walker said...

Amen Brother. I wouldn't call myself Dispensational, neither would I hold to Covenant 100%. But your stance here is right on track--especially the part abut Grace. How often do we and others grieve and even blaspheme the Holy Spirit because of this? God Who alone is wise knows.

I glory in His Grace over my sins--which are many--but I glory not in my sins under Grace.

A Lion Has Roared!

Mike Riccardi said...

This was great, even in it's "unpolished" form.

One thing I found funny, though, was in the reference to 1 Peter, you told us we won't fully understand until we see Christian. Heheh... that made me chuckle a little bit.

Jim Kirby said...

Thanks, Dan.

After framing Grace the way you did, I couldn't help but think of Doddridge's hymn:

Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to mine ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

I'm preaching Ephesians 2:8-10 this Lord's Day. I hope you don't mind if I use some of your thunder.


DJP said...

Oops. Darn those correctly-spelled wrong words.


DJP said...

Thanks, Jim; please feel free, and God bless you and your flock.

Anonymous said...

"Grace motivates and empowers us to do more for God than we otherwise would (1 Corinthians 15:10). It isn't our license to do less or nothing for God than we otherwise would."

Now if only I could drive that through my thick skull on a daily basis...

Drew said...

Right on.

Solameanie said...

Sola's note: Thanks to Cyberhymnal for the following:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Tom said...

Point #4 ("Grace frees the elect to exercise saving faith (Acts 18:27). Slaves don't free themselves.") made me think: prior to Grace, we were slaves to sin (Rom 6:17,19). If we cannot free ourselves from this, how much moreso can we not free ourselves from our current slavery -- to righteousness (Rom 6:18,22)? In other words, grace and righteousness are so interwoven we cannot free ourselves from it. Our lives should reflect the fact that we cannot help BUT to be righteous. Thus, it is the "cause" when you say that grace is "the sufficient, efficient, indispensable and unerring cause for practical holy living" that is so important. For without grace to cause us to live holy lives, we are still slaves to lawlessness.

Rom 6:19 contrasts being a slave to lawlessness (sinfulness) to being a slave to righteousness. It's amazing that one could think that being under Grace amounts to antinomianism when it is actually sin that is such. Verses 16-17 show us that righteousness is being a slave to godly obedience. Well... we gotta be obeying something, right!


Stefan Ewing said...

When I read Jeremiah 6:16, then read this in Gill's commentary (I can't get enough of the guy):

...ask for the old paths; of righteousness and holiness, which Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others, walked in, and follow them; and the way of salvation by Christ, which...was made known to Adam and Eve immediately after the fall...for all the Old Testament saints were saved by the same grace of Christ, and justified by his righteousness, and their sins pardoned through his blood, and expiated by his sacrifice, as New Testament saints...there is but one way of salvation; there never was any other, nor never will be; inquire therefore for this old path, which all true believers have trodden in:

And I think of Isaiah's Way of Holiness; or John the Baptist's preparing the way; or Jesus' being the Way, the Truth, and the Life; or early Christians' calling themselves "the Way"; or Christ's many travellings during His earthly ministry and after His resurrections; and above all, His walk of suffering, bearing the cross on the Via Dolorosa on the way to Calvary...

I think of all this and what it means to walk in God's "good way," and it truly seems to mean taking up our crosses and following Him...bearing the burdens He calls us to bear...answering His call as Abraham did, setting out from Ur into an unknown land...heeding His call as Moses did, leading the Israelites out of Egypt...setting out to the ends of the earth as Paul did, risking persecution and enduring imprisonment...forsaking all as we entrust everything to the Lord God.

Grace equips us to walk in that "good way." If we neglect then to walk in the ancient paths, are we not then squandering God's grace?

To put it in more contemporary terms, if someone gives us gas money to drive to a wedding banquet, and we use it to drive to the casino instead, haven't we violated that person's trust and good will?

I don't know...I'm piecing these thoughts together, too...but as much as I struggle with obeying our thrice holy God (and I do), I can't imagine a belief system that doesn't call for obedience to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Stefan Ewing said...

(By the way, I cited Gill not because of his Covenantalist interpretation—which I agree with—but because of his exposition on the meaning of the way or path of God.)

DJP said...

Stratagemvery useful and bluntly practical

Hm; might not be a bad epitaph.

Michelle said...

Wow, what a wake-up call, Dan. I feel like you threw a bucket of cold water over my head. I'm still reeling, but thank you.

Your reference to slaves reminded me of John Mac's recent message "Slaves for Christ". If only the word "doulos" was translated correctly through the entire New Testament. A slave was chosen by his master and bought with a price and it was involuntary - a bondservant voluntarily gave up his right to walk away from his master. Big difference.

Colin Maxwell said...

You're right. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty good...if you know what I mean?

DJP said...

Michelle, a while back I linked to an interview with one of the Big Guys in the CSB translation. He made that point: unlike other EVV, they translate doulos as "slave."

Terry Rayburn said...

Wow, Dan.

Each point opens up its own [good] can of worms. Enough for at least 18 more posts.

Sidenote: I am a big fan of numbering things. Clarifies, categorizes, and make for easy reference points (not the least example being the Bible -- can you imagine reading it and referring to it on a daily basis without any numerical divisions?).

Re Point #8, although I would agree with the basic statement, I don't believe it can be defended from the great Rom. 6:14, which deals with the *power* of sin over us, not its consequences.


DJP said...

Hm; thank you, Terry, I'll ponder, when I have a moment to attempt to spark some neurons. Thanks!

Nash Equilibrium said...

My epitaph would probably just be "bluntly practical", i.e., no "useful."
Either way, it's better than Cur Deus Homo. I don't want any epitaph with "homo" in it - too easily misunderstood.

DJP said...

You crack me up. Which is a good thing.

P.D. Nelson said...


If by polish you mean spell check or correct correctly spelled wrong words yes please do so. However, if by polish you mean to take the edge off please don't. Sometimes it takes the 20 pound sledge to hammer down the wall.

Preach on.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Theological mainline liberals and postmodern Emergers think that they are the ones who are truly displaying and showing the grace of Jesus to others by the orthopraxy of their social gospel.

Theo-libs and Emergers would prefer that TeamPyro and other "fundamentalist" evangelicals back off on doctrine, theology, and orthodoxy so that Jesus' loving grace could be authentically exhibited by loving, grace-filled theo-libs and postmodern Emergers to a hurting world. That's the "grace" that they affirm.

And the way that "fundamentalist" evangelicals at TeamPyro exercise grace is like smearing dung according to what theo-libs and POMO emergers think of has "true" grace.

S.J. Walker said...

p.d. nelson,

You forget. Dan is in the practice of hammering tent spikes--not walls.

ezekiel said...


Working out an argument about Phinehas and his spear(Num 25) recently I ran across this. I think it pertinent to your post. Let me know if you disagree. A brother was calling the act murder and just couldn't understand why it happened. Why Phinehas broke a commandment (thou shalt not kill) and yet was blessed.

Going back to Numbers 15 we find an apparent difference in the way intentional (vs.30) and unintentional (vs.27) sin was handled. Sacrifice for atonement of the unintentional sin and stoning for the intentional sin.

Just as the sin of gathering sticks on the Sabbath (vs.32) was an intentional sin, the immorality in the tent (Num 25:6) was intentional, both resulting in judgement and death of the sinner. Both of which were the recipients of much Grace, deliverance from Egypt and notification of the Law.

If we now look at Hebrews 10:26-29

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

And then 1 Tim 5: 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

I can't imagine anything worse than stoning or having a spear run through me but apparently there is something worse.

The ultimate sacrifice was atonement for unintentional sin. Intentional sin seems to be in a whole different ball park. If that won't peg the responsibility index meter, nothing will.

So much for the supposed difference between the OT and NT huh?

Unknown said...

Great Post but I have one question. - Did Jesus die for the whole world of just for the elect?

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I would like to say that I have been reading your blog for sometime and have enjoyed it immensely. I think I have gotten a handle on what Calvinism is but would like to learn more about dispensatinalism. Could you please recommend a febsite or two that spells out what dispensationalism is in a somewhat concise and easy to understand way. If you do not want to clutter your response space with this you can email me at aarnfarmer@gmail.com. Thank you very much.

DJP said...

Holly -- the short answer yes.

The Bible speaks of Jesus atoning for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). But I believe those texts mean men and women of all races and tribes and peoples -- not (for instance) people already dead and doomed. His death actually atoned for the sins of all for whom He died, who are variously described as "us" (Titus 2:14), "the church" (Ephesians 5:25), His sheep (John 10), His friends (John 15:13), and so forth.

Approved, this might be a start.

Michelle said...


The latter part of Isaiah 53:12 says that He bore the sins of many. There are far more learned contributors on this blog who, I'm sure, could provide thorough scriptural support for the L (limited atonement) in the acronymn TULIP.

In my simple (and hopefully not too iffy theologically) understanding, if Jesus paid in full the substitutionary penalty for the sin of those who would never "accept" Him, why would the Father punish their sin a second time by condemning them to a lost eternity? That would render Christ's atonement ineffective apart from human will. The reformed faith knows nothing of such an impotent saviour.

Christ's atonement was full and sufficient for those whom the Father gave to Him, those who were chosen before the very foundation of the earth.

Aforementioned more learned contributors, please correct me if I'm wrong.

Strong Tower said...

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.

For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Two reasons why Church vs Israel is a false dichotomy, Approved...but that is a discussion for another place and another time as is "en th esxath salpiggi"- the phrase I have yet to see a dispensationalist accurately translate... ;)

Comparison of Three Systems

Thank God that repentance is a gifting of God to believers according to his grace such that: The spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit so that you do not do as you will...should God grant it, then, as it was in the beginning of our Christian walk, so we will walk in newness of life. If it were not for the cross, there would be no life poured out and no life would spring forth from the desert where there was none but old dry bones. Thank God that by a new heart given he causes us to walk in the commandment, repent.

And if you get a chance, nav on over to Terry's and listen to his sermon on Roman 6:14. Amazingly, it was written just before this, this week.

thanks djp- as always good

"It doesn't matter. However, anyone who thinks that abuse of the rich Biblical concept of grace is confined to dispensationalism... well, you need to get out more."

You're right, this is often said of Calvinists in general, and it has been true of many. But this guilt by association is a mere shibboleth. In fact, it is simply out of the pale of any kind of Christian orthodoxy to define grace so broadly as to confuse it with freedom to sin.

James Scott Bell said...

Holly, Luther famously noted, "It is a patent fact that thou too art a part of the whole world; so that thine heart cannot deceive itself, and think, 'the Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me.' Therefore let everyone who has sin be summoned here, for He was made the expiation for the sins of the whole world and bore the sins of the whole world."

candy said...

great post Dan. I am going to print it out and give it to a couple of people who think Calvinists take the view of grace as careless license to do whatever they please.

Stefan Ewing said...


I agree with you that there is a clear delineation in the Old Testament between unintentional sin and intentional sin. I also agree that in the New Testament, there are strong warnings against intentional sin by believerse (such as the passages in Hebrews and 1 Timothy that you cited).

But both passages mention persisting in intentional sin; in other words, deliberately and repeatedly testing God's patience or spurning or mocking His grace, as it were; and there's no mention of repentance in those passages...so in other words, sinning without any remorse or conviction.

Otherwise, would most Christians not stand condemned already?

Stefan Ewing said...

I mean, if intentional sin were universally without remedy, even under the dispensation of grace?

Stefan Ewing said...

...Repentance (genuine repentance, that is) and chastisement seeming to be the remedies which God in His mercy provides....

Stefan Ewing said...

...both John Gill's Exposition (on the one hand) and the Reformation Study Bible (on the other) treat the Hebrews 10 passage as referring to a persistent, obstinate rejection of God's grace...basically a complete apostasy in the person away from God and His saving work through Jesus Christ.

And 1 Tim 5:20 is referring to elders specifically who persist in sinning, the remedy for which is to be rebuked in the presence of the assembly, which Gill interprets (I don't know the Greek) as merely rebuke, but cast them out of the church.

Stefan Ewing said...

...not merely rebuke, but cast them out of the church.

Okay, enough comments from me!

Leberwurst said...


Wow, Wow, and Wow!!!

Thank you brother!

Holly, are you just provoking? This has been addressed many times here

Marc said...

You're a dispensationalist!!!
But you have a sense of humor. Man that is wierd.


FREE SEO Site Assessment said...

djp, Thank you for the link. I found it very informative. Correctly if I am oversimplifying but dispensationalism is basically the worldview in the "Left Behind" series, correct?

Strong tower said "Two reasons why Church vs Israel is a false dichotomy, Approved...but that is a discussion for another place and another time as is "en th esxath salpiggi"- the phrase I have yet to see a dispensationalist accurately translate... ;)"

I understood exactly none of that

Strong Tower said...


Yeah I was just poking fun at dispensationalism, but I don't carry a big sword like djp does. The phrase is "the last trumpet". It is one that pre-tribbers can't stand because it means the absolute final, one, singular, discrete, unique kind, none others after it trumpet- but that is an discussion for another (end)time.

Hope you enjoyed the comparisons link. Somewhere I have a link to another chart, I couldn't find. Just a simple stool to help sort out differences.

Not trolling, honest!


ezekiel said...


"But both passages mention persisting in intentional sin; in other words, deliberately and repeatedly testing God's patience or spurning or mocking His grace, as it were; and there's no mention of repentance in those passages...so in other words, sinning without any remorse or conviction.

Otherwise, would most Christians not stand condemned already?

The way I look at it is similar to Paul's teaching in Romans 7 and 8.

7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

There is a difference between fighting or striving against sin and intentional sin. Intentional sin occurs when we know better but don't fight it. When we throw up our hands and say I am going to enjoy everything the world has to offer and consider it covered by grace or under the blood I think we do exactly what Hebrews 10 is talking about.

I mean, if intentional sin were universally without remedy, even under the dispensation of grace?

Intentional sin is never without remedy to me. If we truly are the elect, we will always have the gift of repentance. A gift Esau didn't have. Failure to exercise that repentance will result in disciplinary action though. And that can get downright ugly.

..Repentance (genuine repentance, that is) and chastisement seeming to be the remedies which God in His mercy provides....

Affliction in Grace and Mercy? Yes, I think so. How much rod does He have to apply to our backs to get us to stop sinning and be obedient servants? Grace and Mercy. Otherwise we would be rebellious, stiffnecked, hard hearted people on a collision course with Sheol.

Stefan Ewing said...

So very true.

Stefan Ewing said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Ezekiel. These are edifying and humbling things to remember as we head into the Lord's house on the Lord's day.

To God alone be all praise.

DJP said...

Aarn, you've got gmail.

All: I'm going to ask that we not pursue dispensationalism per se further here. Nobody's asked or said anything inappropriate; it's just not a Pyro focus. My blog, fine; this one, not so much.

Thanks, all.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, Dan. I wonder...did someone read my email? It seems that you do take requests.

Stefan Ewing said...

You're right, Dan: of course your affirmations and denials have application to all kinds of Christians, not just one variety. There are items that would apply to semi-Pelagians and open theists on the one hand; and items that could apply to non-discerning Calvinist neophytes on the other, if they're all brains and no heart.

...And (may I say this? Delete if you see fit) just to be clear to anyone who's reading this and doesn't know, eschatology is a secondary doctrine for this blog, with a spectrum of viewpoints among contributors and commenters.

Affy said...

Hello Dan,

You sound real angry. Hope you are alright.

I agree with you totally.. when we sin we ought not presume upon more grace but react in trembling fear that perhaps our grace has run out.

We can only hope but grace, being grace, is a never assured thing in persistent sin.

I believe that this presumption upon more grace thingy is not a problem of dispensationalists. Its a problem also of covennant theologists, charismastics and in general, all sinners. It would be awfully arrogant of that person(s) (whoever that, by his/her wilful act of presumption upon more grace, inspire you write this post)to think God would even consider to keep forgiving him while he continues in his known, wilful unrepentance.

Take care brother.