Proof of God’s Grace #1: Planned Grace

The Bible shows us over and over again proof of God’s abundant grace. Here we are going to look at the acronym PROOF[1] to look at God’s grace. We are going to look at: Planned grace, Resurrecting grace, Outrageous grace, Overcoming grace, and Forever grace.

Why is it important that we consider the proof of grace? First, because when we understand all the proof of God’s grace we praise and glorify God for His abundant grace. Second, anything that is the teaching of Scripture is important and profitable for us to understand (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Third, when we understand the extent of God’s grace it humbles us. Fourth, when we understand more of the extent of our desperation we will (or should) love God more (Lk. 7:47). 

Before we look at proof of God’s grace, however, it’s important that we remember six things…

1. We must remember the meaning of grace.

As we consider proof of God’s grace, we are going to consider some pretty hard and heavy things. It will help us to have an understanding of the meaning of grace and mercy  from the outset.

So, what does “grace” mean? Grace means “unmerited favor.” Grace means we get something good that we don’t deserve. What about “mercy”? Mercy means “that we don’t get something bad that we do deserve.” Mercy is unmerited compassion. 

It’s important that we understand that by definition we do not deserve and should not expect grace or mercy. 

2. We must keep the main thing the main thing.

The good news about Jesus the Messiah is what is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3ff). That is the main thing. We can and will disagree on other things. The good news of Jesus Christ is of absolute importance. We don’t want to get caught up in other important issues and miss Jesus! 

3. We must never forget about Christian practice when we discuss Christian doctrine.

Orthodoxy is vital but it must always result in orthopraxy and doxology! Christian doctrine is not an end in itself.[2] As Thomas à Kempis has said, “The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy.”[3]

J. I. Packer has said, in his classic book Knowing God, “there can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose.” He further says, “if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited.” Rather “our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.” 


4. We must remember to be humble.[4]

Humility is very important as we think about and discuss doctrine. Why? Because we are fallible, we make mistakes. God, however, does not.

I appreciate what Jonathan Edwards says:

“What are we? and what do we make of ourselves, when we expect that God and his ways should be upon a level with our understandings? We are infinitely unequal to any such thing as comprehending God. We may less unreasonably expect that a nut-shell should contain the ocean.”[5]

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God always does what is just and right (Deut. 32:4; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:12; Ps. 9:7-8; 99:4; Is. 30:18; 61:8; Rom. 3:26; Col. 3:25; James 1:13ff; Rev. 20:12-13). We, however, do not. So, we should be humble.

5. We must practice correct hermeneutics.[6]

6. We must remember mystery.

It is important to remember mystery; we cannot expect to know all things. We are… fallible. So, we should keep Deuteronomy 29:29 in mind: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” There are certain things that are revealed and certain things that are not revealed.

The Bible teaches us what we ought to believe. It teaches us all that we need to know so that “we may do all the words of the law.” But we don’t necessarily have enough Scripture revelation to tell us how everything works and fits together. There are many things that will be left mysteries, at least, until we see the Lord face to face.

With those six things in mind let’s consider… 

Planned Grace

God’s grace is not precarious. God’s grace is planned. He accomplishes what He sets out to accomplish.

As Job 42:2 says, no purpose of God’s can be thwarted. In Isaiah 46 we see that the LORD declares “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (v. 9-11).

Because God’s grace is planned all that the Father gives to Jesus come to Him (Jn. 6:37). Jesus lays down His life for His sheep (Jn. 10:11), not for all without exception.[7] Scripture teaches that there is planned grace for God’s people. There are certain people that God the Father has given to God the Son (Jn. 17:2, 9, 20).

Jesus purchased with His own blood and obtained a definite[8] flock, the church of God (Acts 20:28). Those for whom Jesus gave Himself are indeed made holy and saved (Eph. 5:25). He accomplished what He set out to accomplish.[9] Jesus died for His people (Matt. 1:21), His sheep (Jn. 10:11,14), His church (Acts 20:28), His elect (Rom. 8:32-34), and His children (Heb. 2:13ff). Jesus did not die for all people without exception. The Bible teaches that there are two humanities, the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. God has “chosen ones” (Col. 3:12).[10]

Thus we see Jesus saves “His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Those for whom Christ died are those who are redeemed (Gal. 3:13). Jesus is effective in what He accomplishes. The people He set out to save are truly saved and redeemed.[11]

“Are you saying then, that God is like a Mountie, He always gets His man?” Um, yes in a matter of words, I guess that’s what I’m saying. Or rather, I believe that’s what Scripture says. The LORD’s purposes can never be thwarted (Ps. 33:11; Is. 14:27 cf. 46:10; Job 42:2; Ps. 115:3; 139:16; Eph. 1:11).

God accomplishes what He seeks to accomplish. The calling of God to save people is effective. “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).

It is the chosen elect (see e.g. Deut. 7:7-8; Jn. 15:16; Acts 13:48[12]; Rom. 11:5-6, 7; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13), people from all over the whole world, every tribe, language, and tongue, who have their names written in the book of life, not all without exception. There is an unbreakable chain of those who are chosen, redeemed, and finally saved and glorified.

What about passages that seem to say that Jesus died for all? 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Is it not the case then that Jesus died for the whole world? This is a good question and also an emotionally heated topic. There are also other similar texts that we could look at.[13]

I appreciate what S. M. Baugh says of this verse:

“The work of Christ is not restricted to Jews, Greeks, or to any ethnic, social, or racial group. And God’s saving activity now is no longer restricted to a tiny nation in Palestine as it was under the old covenant. It extends throughout the whole world, wherever Christ’s people are to be found (Acts 18:10) and gathered in his one flock (John 10:16). That is John’s point, not that every individual who has ever lived or who will ever live has complete (or potential) propitiation of all their sins.”[14]

Jesus did not die in a saving way for all people.[15] However, all types of people are saved from all over the world. Jesus died “not for the nation [of Israel] only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn. 11:52). Jesus is the wrath absorbing sacrifice for “the sins of the whole world” in that sense. Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins not just of Israelites but of the whole world (Jn. 1:29), to whosoever believes in Him (Jn. 3:16).[16]

So, we have seen that God’s grace is premeditated, before the foundation of the world, and it is also resurrecting grace. Because apart from God’s grace we, being dead in sin, only ever chose sin. 

In the next post we will look at God’s Resurrecting Grace. 

_____________

[1] This acronym is taken from Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones’ book, Proof.

[2]See The Practical Importance of Doctrine.

[3] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. He also says, “On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not 
how well we have spoken but how well we have lived” (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ).

[4] See Our Questions and Arriving at Answers.

[5] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 108.

[6] See e.g. The Importance of Correct Hermeneutics.

[7] Jesus says, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (Jn. 17:9). Jesus is not praying for all people without exception but for all types of people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, whom the LORD had given to Him.

[8] God had a definite group in mind for salvation “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). There are certain people who are written in the “book of life” and certain people who are not written in it (Rev. 17:8; 21:27). There are even certain things that God prepared in advance for Christians to do (Eph. 2:10).

[9] Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. All who the Father have given to the Son do in fact go to Him. God’s grace is planned and effective to bring salvation. The gates of hell do not prevail.

[10] In fact, some are chosen for destruction (Rom. 9:22; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude 4) and some for salvation (Rom. 9:23; 1 Pet. 2:9). God’s planned grace was also the case for Israel (Ex. 6:7; Deut. 7:6-7). In the OT, it is clear that God did not chose every nation… He chose Israel. So, we see planned grace in the OT and in the NT.

[11] As John Owen demonstrates in his formidable work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Jesus died for the sins of particular people. So, what did Christ accomplish in the atonement? If He died for all the sins of all people then why do people suffer in hell at all, for any period of time? Isn’t their sin paid for? How is it just for God to take double payment? Or did Christ die for all of the sins of the particular people that God set His affections on to save? J. I. Packer says that the doctrine of particular redemption says, “Without doubting the infinite worth of Christ’s sacrifice or the genuineness of God’s ‘whoever will’ invitation to all who hear the gospel (Rev. 22:17),… that the death of Christ actually put away the sins of all God’s elect and ensured that they would be brought to faith through regeneration and kept in faith for glory, and that this is what it was intended to achieve. From this definiteness and effectiveness follows its limitedness: Christ did not die in this efficacious sense for everyone” (J. I. Packer, Concise Theology). If Jesus died for all people without exception, as some people understand it, then why would anyone ever have to suffer in hell, isn’t their sin paid for? Didn’t Jesus bare it, pay for it? Wasn’t His sacrifice effective? Didn’t He say, “It is finished”? Didn’t He bare the wrath of God in place of all those from every tribe, language, and tongue that would trust in Him for salvation? If Jesus died for all people then why would anyone ever suffer in hell at all? If Christ bore their punishment (Is. 53) than why do they have to bare it? What did Christ’s death accomplish, was it “finished” or not? So, it seems, we are left with a few options. 1) Christ’s death was effective for all of His elect so they can escape hell. 2) Jesus’ death wasn’t finally effective. Jesus died for all people without exception yet failed to free them from the flames of hell. His atoning death was lacking in some way and thus we have to question the sufficiency of the atonement. 3) All people will finally be saved. If this option were true then Scripture and especially Jesus are deceiving. I clearly believe, however, that the first option is the only biblical option. I believe the only way to retain the effectiveness of Jesus’ death and keep the authority of Scripture is to say that Jesus died efficaciously for particular people.

[12] Acts 13:48 says “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” and yet the responsibility for disbelief still lays on people who thrust the word of God aside (v. 46).

[13] We, however, sadly don’t have space to look at them here. But it’s important to understand that to Jews all the rest of the world, the whole world, were basically just Gentiles. There were two sets up people in their mind, God’s people and everyone else. So as we think of the use of the words “all” and “world” we must be conscious of how Jews thought about the world and other people groups. Remember, the Jews are the people of promise. No other people in the whole world were. So Thomas R. Schreiner says, “We are apt to forget how shocking the inclusion of the Gentiles was to many in the first century because of our historical distance from the text” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory: A Pauline Theology, 185. Hedrick explains Paul’s use of “all” in Romans 5:18 by saying that “among other things Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles” [Romans, 183]). Notice that Galatians 3:8 says that the OT Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles (τα εϑνη). When Paul uses Gentiles here he means not all Gentiles without exception but rather all Gentiles without distinction. That is, Paul is saying that it’s not just Jews that can be justified. It’s not just one other group that can be justified. It’s not just Samaritans and Romans that can be justified but Babylonians, Egyptians, and everyone (i.e. “all,” “world”) can be justified. So, all people (παντα τα εϑνη), that is, all types of people can be justified. That is how Paul is using “all” (παντα). People may also consider whether or not God loves all people. There seems to be a sense in which God loves all people. In another sense, however, it seems He does not love all people (Prov. 16:4; Acts 1:25; Rom. 9:11-13; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 4), at least not the same. “God loves every person in some sense and some people in every sense” (Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones, Proof, 44). See also: https://newcreationinx.com/2019/04/26/does-god-love-all-humanity-every-single-person.

[14] S. M Baugh, A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1999), 18.

[15] Semantically, perhaps it is right to say that Jesus died for all people. We, for example, could imagine a king who in an act of love and concern for his subjects dug a well for all of his people to freely enjoy. I believe it would be right to say that the king provided and freely gave water to all the people in the kingdom. We can rightly say that even if not all of the kingdom actually drank of the water. The king did give it; it was there for the drinking. If people refused to drink water it is not because the king did not give it. In this way, Jesus died for all people. He died to make salvation possible for all people. Whosoever will repent of their sins and trust Him for salvation will indeed be saved. Jesus’ death, in that sense, is for all people. The Spirit’s regenerating grace is what is not for all people. Not all people chose to “drink” from the well of living water that is freely given. Not all people are enlivened by the Spirit to trust Jesus, so not all people have the saving effect of Jesus’ death.

[16] If people do not believe, however, Jesus could not have died for them in any meaningful sense since they have the wrath of God upon them (Jn. 3:36).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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