Five Smooth Stones – Grace

I’ve begun looking at the story of David and Goliath as a lens through which to view five different doctrines:

  1. Preaching
  2. Grace
  3. Faith
  4. Election
  5. Reward

In my last post we saw that preaching is not like a military briefing to troops on the front line.  It’s the war correspondent heralding the victory of Another to an otherwise hopeless people.  It’s about His victory for us, not ours for Him – this should be the heart-beat of our preaching.

Now I want to think a little bit about grace.

It’s interesting in 1 Samuel 17 that David brings bread to his brothers from his father’s house, Bethlehem – the house of bread (v17).  Now if this constituted our whole conception of grace then what would we have?  We’d have, typologically, Christ bringing His people heavenly provisions so that they can win their battles.  Grace would be construed as the sovereign gift that empowers our efforts to achieve the victory.  Yet, this conception of ‘grace’ is seriously deficient:

  • it makes David’s victory at best incidental
  • it throws all the emphasis onto our battles (no matter how much David’s bread is praised!)
  • without David’s victory, David’s bread may as well have been poison.

David’s bread only makes any difference in the light of David’s victory.  Once their Champion has won, then the bread is useful, empowering them to plunder the Philistines.  But grace is first and foremost the victory of David on behalf of his people.  His provision is a secondary grace that only gains efficacy from his vicarious triumph.

Yet how often do we operate with a basic conception of ‘grace’ as, effectively, providence that empowers our efforts.  I remember when I first became a Christian writing out a short gospel presentation on a sheet of A5.  It ran something like this:

  • God is sovereign and all sufficient
  • Therefore no one can give Him anything
  • Therefore we can’t earn our salvation
  • Therefore He must give it to us
  • Therefore what God requires of us He also provides in us
  • In this way He sovereignly works salvation in us
  • This is what we mean by ‘grace’

Is it?

What’s missing from my presentation?  How about Jesus?  How about the whole darned gospel? 

If this presentation were true then God could save us by working anything in us . As long as He empowered it, salvation could be a matter of pilgrimmages to Bognor Regis, life-long abstinence from toast and self-flagellation with rancid eels.  So long as you claimed that such acts were ’empowered from on high’, it would still be ‘all of grace.’ Apparently.  Even if the pilgrimmages were required daily – you could still claim that such activities were the work of God in us to achieve what He also required. 

But I hope we can recognize that this is far from what the bible means by ‘grace.’  ‘Grace’ is not simply another way of describing some abstract ‘sovereignty’.  Grace is another way of declaring the victory of Christ to which we contribute nothing.  The two are very different.

How about we fix the last three bullet points from the above presentation:

  • Therefore what God requires of us He also provides in Christ
  • In this way He sovereignly works salvation in Christ
  • This is what we mean by ‘grace’
  • Grace is the victory of our Anointed King on behalf of a people who are fainting with fear and about to desert.  It’s not bread to help you win the day.  Not first and foremost.  It’s something entirely outside yourself and it happened on a hill called Golgotha.  Living by grace is not first and foremost looking to sovereign provisions.  First and foremost it’s looking to the cross.

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    Posted on by Glen in faith, grace

    About Glen

    I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

    22 Responses to Five Smooth Stones – Grace

    1. kc

      Outstanding!

      Does this understanding settle the “Great Debate” for you? ;-)

    2. Marc Lloyd

      Could preaching be the servant giving the Commanding Officer’s speech?

    3. glenscriv

      Hi KC, great to hear from you. ‘The Great Debate’? I’m guessing this refers to Calvinist/Arminian? I think either side could be in danger of majoring on grace as the ‘provision of bread’ rather than ‘the victory of the Champion’. Is that what you were refering to?

    4. glenscriv

      Hi Marc,
      On preaching – if a servant giving the Commanding Officer’s speech is our model, couldn’t the impression be easily given that the victory is a) in doubt, b) ours to effect? But, I guess if it’s the servant telling the troops that the Commanding Officer *has* won and this is how we’re going to raid the Philistines in response, that would be great. But what I want to hold onto is the once-for-all vicarious victory of the Champion. Whatever manouvres we take part in on the field of battle are on the basis of that secured victory. (It’s raiding a defeated enemy). Joy and confidence in His victory should be the bedrock of anything else we do.

    5. kc

      Glen I never miss an article and though I haven’t yet made time to listen to all of your fine sermons I fully intend to. Sorry I haven’t commented more.

      Yes I was referring to the C/A debate and in particular election. Given your corrected soteriology it becomes evident that election is in Christ alone and there are none elect apart from Christ.

    6. glenscriv

      KC, just glad to hear from you. Here’s a quote straight from ‘the horses mouth’ on just that issue:

      “When Paul declares that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, (Eph. 1: 4,) he certainly shows that no regard is had to our own worth; for it is just as if he had said, Since in the whole seed of Adam our heavenly Father found nothing worthy of his election, he turned his eye upon his own Anointed, that he might select as members of his body those whom he was to assume into the fellowship of life.” (Calvin’s Institutes: III.xxii.1).

      Note: ‘that He might select as members of Christ’s body’…

      I’ll speak about election more in the fourth post of the series.

    7. kc

      I’m looking forward to your thoughts. I’ve found that the “horse” and the “ism” that bears his name doesn’t always align. ;-)

    8. Jacky

      I’m looking forward to your post on election. Quoting much from Barth?

    9. Marc Lloyd

      Glen. Agreed. Marc

    10. Will

      Glory!

      Sadly though, simply adding “in Christ” doesn’t always solve the problem. If we are convinced that Jesus is, at heart, a law giver, we may continue to see the gospel in terms of his sovereignly empowering us to enter salvation by following his commands. Regrettably this is often how the “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” passage in Philippians is often explained.

      I find this very difficult – like Luther I feel the notion of Christ as law giver has sunk so deeply into my bones that it will never come out! I have to keep reminding mysef that Jesus is not, at heart, a lawgiver, but a God who sovereignly draws me into the same fellowship that he himself enjoys with his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is only after that fellowship is freely granted, and eternally secured, that we can begin to think about following any of Jesus commands.

    11. Marc Lloyd

      Glen,

      Maybe I’m an old softie, but I wouldn’t be so hard on your one-time presentation of the gospel. It still sounds like good news to me. Indeed, properly understood it implies the Lord Jesus Christ, when we understand what God requires of us and how he provides it. But, yes, its good to make it explicit.

      Its striking that even your one-time presentation is still distinctive to Christianity as the religion of grace against all other religions of works.

      Best,

      Marc

    12. Marc Lloyd

      Oh, and what about the fact that its bread: Jesus is the Bread of Life and he is offered to us in the eucharist. Maybe you should post your thoughts over at Edible Words.

    13. glenscriv

      Sorry to be tardy in responses.

      KC, I think there’s always great potential for disjunction b/w any theologian and their followers (and probably the greater the following the greater the potential). There’s also always the potential for disjunction *within* the views of the theologian (which followers tend to want to ‘harmonize’ as though its the word of God). I don’t think there’s especially a Calvinism *versus* Calvin issue any more than there’s a Barthianism *versus* Barth issue etc etc. But yes what differences there may be are worth flagging up.

      Jacky, why quote Barth when I can quote Calvin? ;-) Or why quote either when I can quote Irenaeus? Or John? Or Psalms?

      Also, don’t forget these posts are just little reflections prompted by David and Goliath, not full blown treatises.

      Will, great to hear from you. Yes the point of saying ‘in Christ’ is to make us see ‘NOT IN ME!’ Where is my salvation? As Luther would say – it is entirely above and beyond me. Christ is my Champion before He ever intructs me in raiding the defeated enemy, and all of that is only ever on the basis of His victory.

      Marc, I don’t know. I just don’t think my one-time gospel presentation could be right whilever Christ is only ‘implicit’. If it just needs me saying ‘and the mechanism by which this sovereign grace is effected/offered is called Jesus’ I don’t think I’ve actually let Jesus shape my conception of ‘sovereign grace’ (or anything else).

      I also think there is a significant difference between a salvation provided as a done deal in Christ and a salvation provided as a done deal in me. Faith should be directed outwardly no?

      Also ‘grace’ in general is not a distinctive of Christianity. Francis Xavier remarked of ‘Amida Buddhism’ when he discovered it in the 16th century: “The cursed Lutheran heresy is already here.” I fear CS Lewis’s quip about what is distinctive about Christianity (“Grace of course”) is a bit misleading. I think there is a difference between looking at Christ and His work and concluding ’tis all of grace’ and assuming from some presupposed conception of ‘sovereignty’ what a gracious salvation must by necessity involve. I may post in the future about sovereignty being the fruit rather than root of the gospel.

      On bread being Christ – Amen, Amen. In this way it’s extremely similar to Passover. The Lamb’s blood is what saves but the Lamb’s meat is what sustains as you flee out of Egypt. David’s Victory is what saves but David’s Bread sustains as you raid the enemy.

    14. Marc Lloyd

      That’s a pity about grace! Wonder where they nicked the idea from?! :)

      Now that’s a new thought to me about the blood saving & the meat sustaining.

      Glad a dropped by.

    15. glenscriv

      Got the Passover point from an old preacher years ago – good isn’t it?

      Glad you dropped by too!

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