Grace Alone, or Grace Only?
Terry Johnson of Independent Presbyterian Church has written just an outstanding article on preaching grace, particularly in light of how the preaching and teaching of grace has been distorted by many, leading to all sorts of some subtle, and some not-so-subtle errors and misunderstandings of the doctrines of grace. Below are some snippets from that article, in hopes of whetting your whistle to hop on over and read this piece. It’s worth the time and is both Biblically edifying and instructive. Link is at the bottom.
“Distressing numbers of preachers are truncating the biblical teaching on grace, preaching not “grace alone,” but “grace only,” that is, nothing but grace. On the other hand we have the “New Perspective” and “Federal Vision” ministries that redefine “faith” as “faithfulness,” thereby turning faith into a work and compromising our doctrine of justification. The “hyper-grace” ministries seem allergic to notions of law, good works, and the gospel’s sterner stuff. The “neonomians” objectify the sacraments, reduce salvation to covenant membership, and assign to works a positive role in justification. Both are motivated by valid concerns, the former by fears of legalism, the latter by rampant carnality in the church. Yet both are distorting the doctrines of grace. What then is the historic understanding of grace that is being compromised by some and silenced by others?
The third grace principle is that of the inseparable link between faith and obedience to the moral law of God. We are not saved by obedience to God’s law. The law requires perfect obedience if we are to be saved. God doesn’t grade on a curve.
Having brought us to the Savior, Christ then leads us back to His law that we might know our duty. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15). The Apostle Paul says that the Spirit (who wrote the law and indwells us) leads us into conformity with the law of God. Christ atoned for our sin, says the Apostle, condemning sin in the flesh,
“so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
By God’s grace justification is always followed by sanctification. By God’s grace, faith is always followed by good works. By God’s grace law continues as the rule of life in the experience of the believer. “The same Holy Ghost who convinces the believer of sin by the law, and leads him to Christ for justification,” says J. C. Ryle, “Will always lead him to a spiritual use of the law, as a friendly guide, in the pursuit of sanctification.”
We do the message of grace no favors when we limit it to justification and the guilt of sin and fail to see its appreciation to sanctification and the power of sin. We do the message of grace no favors when we limit it to faith and fail to see its power to transform sinners and produce good works in them. We do the message of grace no favors when we sever it from law and fail to see the Christian’s ongoing need for guidance from God’s commands or fail to see the vitality of a life of obedience enjoyed by those led by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we do the message of grace no favors when we understand that Christ frees us from the condemnation of the law, but fail to see that He then enables conformity to the law. Our age and every age needs the whole gospel of the whole Christ, the Savior and sanctifier of sinners.
- Terry Johnson, Preaching Grace