Sunday, May 17, 2009

5/17- Grace Alone and Calvin

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God not works lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:1,8,9

Calvin: Now we have from Augustine’s own lips the testimony that we especially wish to obtain: not only is grace offered by the Lord, which by anyone’s free choice may be accepted or rejected; but it is this very grace which forms both choice and will in the heart, so that whatever good works then follow are the fruit and effect of grace; and it has no other will obeying it except the will that it has made. There are also
Augustine’s words from another place: “Grace alone brings about every good work in us.” (II.3.13)

Grace has been defined in different ways. I remember hearing Billy Graham define it as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” A more classical definition is “unmerited favor.” Grace is one of the three (sometimes four) watchwords of the Reformation (Grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone). Calvin especially emphasized grace. I believe his emphasis on providence, predestination, and giving glory to God all came from his understanding of God’s grace. For Calvin life is a gift, and the gifts, talents, and abilities we have are all from Him as well.
The concept of grace in the church before the Reformation was that you do all you can to save yourself and then God’s grace helps you up the rest of the way. In a crass way it was like a point system. If you needed a 100 grade to get into heaven, and you only make a 70, you ask for God’s grace to help you up the rest of the way. This evolved somewhat into asking the really good saints (like Mary, Joseph, the disciples, and other saints) to give us a little bit of their extra credit (Mary may have made a 1,000 on her test so she had more grace to give). So praying to the saints evolved. For Calvin, we do not need to pray for the saints- and he did not see that example in scripture. Instead we are saved by grace alone- and all our works are as Isaiah says, “filthy rags.” Anything good we do is also caused by God’s Spirit, so we can’t boast of what we have done.
The old way of grace was you climbed as far as you could up the ladder and the saints (or the prayers of others after you died) helped you the rest of the way. Calvin would look at Ephesians 2:1 and say we can’t climb any ladder. We are dead in our sins. Dead men to climb. We don’t reach up to the lifeguard to save us. The lifeguard comes into the water, pulls us out when we had no life in us, resuscitates us and we are saved. This is the concept of grace alone. It is a wonderful concept in that God gets the glory He deserves. It is a humbling concept for us in that it takes away human pride (the root of all sin). It is an amazing concept that reminds us that we were lost but God found us.

Prayer: Thank you God, for your amazing grace that helps us, guides us, saves us. Amen.

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