Friday, October 26, 2007

The Grace of God: From Salvation to Suffering

Usually when the term “grace” is thrown around in Christian circles, we are primarily referring to the way in which God saves sinful men from death and hell and saves them unto Himself. I believe that this is one of the single greatest and most foundational things that must be understood about the Bible and Christ’s ministry. Furthermore, I believe that there are four different classes of grace (that I can think of now) that are God bestows on people for various reasons with various outcomes. This first one is saving grace that God only bestows on those people, the elect, who believe in Christ and the gospel for salvation.

The second means of grace is the general grace of God. Simply, this refers to the fact that God is patient as He endures the ongoing rebellion of humanity allowing billions of people life and breath that they only use to sin against Him. God is not obligated to give anyone any time on this earth at all. I think that Jonathon Edwards put it best when he said that it is by noting but the “mere pleasure of God” that allows wicked men, any man, to live to take one more breath.

“’There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.’ —By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.”1

The third type of grace, as I understand it, is that material blessing from God that He bestows upon people as He chooses. And more than that, He does so without regard as to whether the recipients love and cherish the Giver, or use the gift as a way to rebel against the Giver. So when God gives a reprobate or a believer health, a good job, a nice home, and other things, it is a display of God’s grace toward them. However, in the case of the reprobate, it is usually also a means of condemnation, because they end up loving the things and hating God more and more.

The final type of God’s grace is one that is virtually never seen as grace by reprobates, and Christians need to be reminded of the gracious nature of it as well at times. This is the grace of God in calamity or suffering. In these types of events, God’s grace is displayed in a number of ways. In calamity on a grand and global scale that doesn’t affect you personally (i.e. your home, livelihood, and family were not harmed), God’s grace is displayed in the most obvious way, both to the Christian and the reprobate, because this “didn’t happen to me,” but it could have. When tragedy strikes closer to home, whether that is in the death of a loved one or your own personal health crisis, this displays God’s grace in very different ways depending on that person’s standing before Christ.

If, as a born-again believer in Christ Jesus, I lose a child (as I have) or have a diagnosis come back from the doctor that is terminal, my final reaction should be one that longs to be free from sin and the agony of the repercussions of sin and desire to be with my Lord. This helps us to loosen our tentative hold on the things of the world and strive be faithful and steadfast in our running of the Christian race. These experiences are trying and painful, and I do not diminish that part, but the final cry of our hearts is that of Job when he cried out to God and said,
“Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

When the reprobate loses a child or a loved one, or when they receive a life altering diagnosis from their physician, God is actually being gracious to this person. He is not just being gracious because their life was spared, but in the case of the terminal disease or close call with death, but because their life was spared while giving them a definite reminder of their mortality. This begs the question in the lives of those who are lost, “What’s next?” God’s grace here is that he allows them both the time and the personal initiative to humble themselves before God and be responsive to the saving gospel.

It is a means of grace for anyone, especially the unbeliever, when they must face their own mortality. Because it is when someone experiences the beginning of another life, when someone experience the ending of another life, or when someone experience the hastening approach of the end of their own life, all of the worldly offerings seem to sour and the eternal things can come into sharper focus.

God is the one who draws the unbelieving sinner unto Himself. And if He does this, the unbeliever will be changed into a believer. But, even if God does not grant faith and repentance to the unbeliever, he is still condemned because of his own sin and hardening of his heart toward the kindness of God displayed to him in so many different forms of grace.

1 Jonathon Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741,

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