April 23, 2017

No Such “Thing” As Grace

news_ferguson_207x270.jpgThere is no such “thing” as grace, by Sinclair Ferguson

“There is nothing between the person of the Lord Jesus and the person of the believer as that union and communion develops and grows. I think this is a very important thing for us to grasp. Let me put it the way I sometimes put it: The union with Christ we have is not that we somehow or another share His grace. Because — follow me carefully — there actually is no “thing” as grace. That actually is a Medieval Roman Catholic teaching. There is a “thing” called grace that can be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. It is something Jesus Christ won on the Cross and He can bestow it on you. And there are at least seven ways it can be bestowed on you and they all, as it happens, turn out to be in the hands of the church. And you can have this kind of grace, and this kind of grace, and this kind of grace. There is no such “thing” as grace! Grace is not some appendage to His being. Nor is it some substance that flows from us: ‘Let me give you grace.’ All there is is the Lord Jesus Himself. And so when Jesus speaks about us abiding in Him and He abiding in us — however mysterious it may be, mystical in that sense — it is a personal union. Do not let us fail because of the abuse of expressions. Do not let us fail to understand that, at the end of the day, actually Christianity is Christ because there isn’t anything else. There is no atonement that somehow can be detached from who the Lord Jesus is. There is no grace that can be attached to you transferred from Him. All there is is Christ and your soul.”

– Sinclair Ferguson on John 15 at the Banner of Truth Ministers Conference in Grantham, PA 2007.

Comments

  1. Yea and Amen! That rocks.

  2. i hear him and agree, but then what does Paul mean when he begins and ends almost every epistle with “Grace to you” or “Grace be with you”? And how about James 4:6 when it says “He gives more grace”? Did he say anything else that would explain those texts? I’m not saying the guy is wrong, just wishing he’d flesh out his answers and explain some other texts that would seem to indicate otherwise.

  3. It’s a matter of language. Is love a substance that you separate from persons? Do we ever speak as if it is? “I’m sending you my love.”

    It’s a way of speaking that needs the occasional reminder that the rules of language apply. Some things do not exist apart from persons.

    Jesus=God’s grace and God’s salvation.

  4. This is just great preaching!

    I agree, Michael, about the issue of language. I believe it was Nicholas Lash who said, “A theologian is one who watches her/his language in the presence of God.” Besides, I am uncomfortable with a metaphysics of substance to begin with. I think something was lost in translation between homoousios and consubstantial. That is why I love preaching like this: “And so when Jesus speaks about us abiding in Him and He abiding in us – however mysterious it may be, mystical in that sense – it is a personal union.” I also like your shorthand at the end of your post.

  5. Ultimately I think this view leaves us humans “down here” and God “up there” and we are merely believing in something and have no substantive connection to it, to Him.

    He mentions is being some kind of Roman Catholic teaching from medieval times. That seems to me only a sort of tactic used to discredit another view. It doesn’t really deal with the meat of what he’s talking about I don’t think.

    A couple of Scripture passages come to mind, both of which reflect an even larger concept found in Scripture and also in Christian thinking all along. First is 1 Corinthians 6:17 – “But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”
    That’s no small statement, and not easily dismissed. I’m not sure why someone would have a problem with this notion. If we are made one spirit with the Lord, it is done BY the Lord and has nothing to do with something we bring to ourselves. It is, though, significantly more than just belief.

    The other one I think of here is 2 Peter 1:4 which speaks of how we come to “share in the divine nature.” Of course these are only two Scripture quotes. I’m sure I could hunt up quite a few more that would show a little different way of looking at our union with God in Christ. It’s mystical, yes, but that doesn’t mean ethereal, non-substantial. Christians have been talking about how we have a real “metaphysical” union with God in Christ for a long time. Again, I don’t see why it should alarm anyone. Talk about “good news” – that’s good news. Real union – one which certainly comes from God and not from us.

    Grace being a “thing” – yeah, I guess not really, not like other things, as something separate from God’s very life essence – I would definitely agree with that. Grace is the pouring forth of His Life essence into us. It’s a big deal for sure. OK, that’s enough from me. I got carried away there. Peace.

  6. I had to read the post a second time to follow exactly what Mr. Ferguson meant–interesting play with the semantics. Your comments post clarified it even more. I would liken the subject of his criticism to how I used to hear people abuse the expression in Hebrews 11, “Faith is the ‘substance’ of things hoped for…” by forcing it into an analogy of plugging-in to electricity or “tapping-in” to God’s power. Even the word “faith” is meaningless without an object.

    I can see why Wright talks about the gospel call to faith is a summons to allegiance to Christ and not merely a call to believe perfectly in the doctrine of justification by faith.

    If salvation is by grace (a gift) it is the giving of the person of Jesus himself. I love it!

  7. So Many Stones says:

    This is the kind of reminder that I need, again and again. Too often my time with God is really not “time with God,” but time trying to understand the concept of God with ever-increasing accuracy and clarity. This comes up short of genuine “abiding.” Thanks for the post, you’re nudging me in the direction in which I ought to be moving.