I am a little embarrassed when I realize that ‘Grace, Part 1” was written last March. Let’s briefly review before beginning “Grace, Part 2” this month. Grace is bestowing favor on the undeserving without reference to reciprocity. In order for grace to be truly Biblical, nothing in the object of God’s grace warrants His favor. Or, to state it in another way, when I say that something I have done has caused God to be gracious to me, I have contradicted the definition of God’s grace.
For this reason, from a human perspective, grace appears to be intrinsically unfair. If neither Joe nor I deserve heaven and God gives heaven to me and not to Joe, even though I did nothing to deserve the gift, then it can be concluded that God is partial rather than impartial. He shows favoritism.
This fact causes many sensitive Christians to modify the Biblical definition of grace it is too stark and unfair. There is no greater example of this unfairness than God’s selection of Israel as His own. As God Himself said to Israel in:
The LORD did not set His love upon ye, nor choose you, became ye more in number than any people; for ye were fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved ye., and because He would keep the oath which Ho had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the land of Pharaoh
king of Egypt.
It wasn’t because Israel was nicer, more holy or more powerful than other nations that God chose her. Rather, it was simply because He wanted to.
THE UNIQUENESS OF GRACE
Grace is a concept foreign to the unregenerate mind. Nothing in all of human experience can cause a person to understand grace. People do not relate to one another on the basis of grace. All understand that in inter-personal relationships reciprocity is essential.
For example, if in my relationship with my wife I am consistently abusive, to her, committing adultery, beating her, failing to provide for her and the children, abandoning her for months on end, no one would expect her to maintain her commitment to me. Even the Bible, allows for her to separate from me under such circumstances. There has to be a mutual commitment.
The Judeo-Christian religion is the only religion in the world that is the product of REVELATION and therefore teaches grace. You wilt not find grace present in any other religion in the world. Only in Jesus Christ does a person not have to worry about his or her relationship with God being jeopardized by performance.
Only in my relationship with the Lord Jesus do I learn anything at all about grace. Before I became His, I knew something of love. My parents loved me and I knew what it was like to love others. It may have been an imperfect love, but when I was introduced to the love of Christ, it was not a foreign concept.
So also faith was a concept I was familiar with before meeting God. Like everyone else, I knew what it was like to commit before seeing the results. Risk taking is an essential element in life for believer and non-believer alike.
The same can be said for mercy. Before Christ, when a person said, “Have mercy,” I knew what that meant. But grace is different. In human experience, it is unique to the household of faith, and even we have difficulty keeping it in focus.
GRACE AND ELECTION
The Bible links grace and election. Romans 9 is a great chapter on election. In demonstrating election, Paul uses the following four examples: Not all the seed of Abraham go to heaven (verses 6-9); of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, only Jacob was elect (verses 10-13); God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (verses 15-18); the potter, from the same lump of clay, makes one honorable vessel and one dishonorable vessel (verses 19-24). The word “grace” is absent in Romans 9.
It doesn’t appear again in Romans until chapter 11, verses 5-8:
Even so than at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace then it is no more of works: otherwise is no more grace. But if it is of works, than it is no more, otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According an it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.
In this passage Paul demonstrates that even during Israel’s darkest hour of apostasy, them, was a remnant of saved people. In Romans 9:14 he uses Elijah’s despair over his isolation and God’s answer to him in I Kings 19:18, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”
In essence, Paul is saying. You can always count on a remnant of faithful believers, no matter how bleak the circumstances, because the remnant is the product of grace.”
As he develops his argument in Romans 11, Paul says that this is the reason there Is a future for the nation of Israel “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall came out of Sion, the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For them my covenant unto them, who. I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes but as touching the election they are beloved for the fathers sakes” (verses 26.28).
Grace and election sine the head and tail of the same coin. You cannot have grace without election. If my relationship with God is not based on my performance, if it has nothing to do with how good or bad I am, then why do I go to heaven and not Joe? Paul says in Romans 11:5, “It is the election of grace
This may seem stark, harsh and even unfair. This is why people have an antipathy towards grace. One Christian leader said in my presence, “I have been to Israel and watched how they treat the Arabs, and I can report, they are not the chosen of God.” Another famous Christian writer said to me, “Grace has its limits.”
If these statements are true, then grace is no longer grace, but works. If my performance enters the picture of my relationship with God, then ultimately it is what I do or don’t do that determines whether I have a relationship with Him.
Election means that God chose me for reasons all His own: This is what makes the illustration of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9~10-13 so hard to accept: “ And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth) It was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Iran have I hated.” It is verse 11 (in parentheses) In particular that makes the doctrine of election seem so unpalatable.
But you cannot have grace without election. If my relationship with God is based on my performance, then that relationship is in perpetual jeopardy and I can have no assurance of salvation. Election makes grace the beautiful thing that it is.
It may be helpful to point out that the relationship between grace and election is a “one-way street.” That is, it is not possible to have grace without election (as already seen), but it is possible to have election without grace. It is possible God could have decided to elect all of the human race to hell. Election would be present; grace would be absent.
When grace and election are established so emphatically, and they must be in order to understand our relationship with God, it is easy to all into question the role of human responsibility. If is all of God and none of man, then how can man be held accountable for his eternal destiny, especially if that destiny is alienation from God?
We must remember that as limited creatures we are forced to think sequentially. It is impossible to think of two events without putting them in their proper order. This is not true of God. As the “Alpha and the Omega” He is able to see able to see all as a single event. A billion years ago and a billion years hence are but the same moment in His mind.
Thus, when we think of the sovereign election of grace and the personal responsibility of man, we want to put them in their proper sequence. Which comes first? With God, this is a non-issue. In His mind they blend perfectly.
This forces us to live with the tension of believing both without asking for the proper sequence. Because we think sequentially, our tendency is to sacrifice or modify one truth to accommodate the other. Failure to maintain this tension will cause you to lose sight of what it means to be a recipient of His grace.
Grateful for His grace,