by Grover Gunn
GRACE AND SALVATION
What is the grace of God? The Greek word translated grace has as its root idea the concept of bringing joy and gladness through gifts. The Apostle Paul uses this word to refer to the unmerited and freely given favor and mercy, which God bestows upon the sinner in salvation. Through this grace, the sinner is delivered from sin and judgment. This grace, though freely given, is precious and costly, for its basis is the saving work of Jesus Christ. A salvation that is received by grace is the very opposite of a salvation that is earned by working or by obeying the law of God. A person who is saved by grace has no basis for boasting in his salvation for he has done nothing to earn or merit it. The gospel of grace is the only true gospel. Those who teach a salvation that is earned or merited through obedience of any sort have to some degree fallen from the teachings of grace into legalism.
What is the relationship of God's grace to salvation? There are three possible answers to this question. A few argue that there is no grace in salvation. Some maintain that salvation is mostly of grace. And others say that salvation is all of grace.
The position that salvation is not at all a gracious gift from God but a human achievement based on personal goodness and moral self-effort is characteristic of pagan religion and philosophy. Early in church history, a British monk named Pelagius tried to teach pagan moralism as Christian doctrine. Pelagius was condemned as a heretic, and his system was labeled Pelagianism. In Pelagianism, the saving work of Christ is not necessary; a man can save himself by leading a good and moral life. Yet even the Pelagian claims to teach a salvation by grace. According to the Pelagian, it is only by the grace of God that he was created as a man, a noble creature with the moral ability to earn heaven, and not as a frog or a rock. When the Pelagian speaks of the grace associated with salvation, he is referring to the grace of creation which is common to all men. When the orthodox Christian talks about salvation by grace, he is referring to the special grace of God which is based upon the work of Christ and which saves undeserving sinners.
There are many systems that teach that salvation is mostly of grace but not all of grace. The most common of these are semi-pelagianism and Arminianism. What is common to all these systems is the idea that the work of Christ has only made salvation a possibility for all but not a finished reality for any. God has done His part, and now those who are willing to do their part will be saved. In these systems, although God has the major role in salvation, it is the human contribution to salvation that turns the point and makes the difference between heaven and hell. Where these various systems differ is in defining the human contribution that results in salvation. It can be one or any combination of a number of spiritual acts and attitudes, such as nonresistance to the Holy Spirit, cooperation with the Holy Spirit, faith, works, obedience, perseverance, baptism, church membership, etc. In these systems, the saving work of Christ is necessary for salvation but not sufficient. The sinner must supplement the work of Christ to obtain salvation.
The doctrines of grace are the teaching that salvation is all of grace. The saving work of Christ is both necessary and sufficient to save sinners. In this system, it is the cross of Christ without compromise which makes the difference between heaven and hell. There is no room for any boasting whatsoever. The Calvinist looks at others who have rejected Jesus Christ and who remain in bondage to sin and says, "There but for the grace of God go I." The Calvinist recognizes that he did not turn the point in his salvation. He did not respond to the gospel in faith because of any natural goodness or wisdom which sets him apart from others. All the glory goes to Jesus Christ, for He has done it all. Even the ability to come to Christ in saving faith is a gift based upon the cross of Calvary. At the cross, Christ purchased for His people deliverance from the spirit of unbelief. Through His resurrection, He secured for His people the spiritual life which enables them to savingly believe. When a sinner is converted in response to the preaching of the gospel, it is because Christ has poured out His Holy Spirit upon him to apply to his heart the saving power of Christ's death and resurrection.
The doctrines of grace are the teaching that Jesus came into this world to save sinners. Jesus saves sinners. It is not that Jesus saves sinners when given the proper help. Jesus and only Jesus does the work of salvation. Jesus saves sinners. It is not that Jesus potentially saves or makes salvation possible. Jesus actually saves and completely saves. His work is a finished work that needs no rounding out or filling in. Jesus saves sinners. It is not that Jesus has made salvation a possibility for all but a finished accomplishment for no one. Jesus came to earth to make salvation a reality for specific individual sinners. The doctrines of grace are usually discussed in terms of five separate doctrines which are called the five points of Calvinism. There is independent Scriptural support for each of the five points, and the five points are logically related such than any one of them implies the other four. The five points are easily remembered with the help of the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints.
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