Problems with Adjectives in Front of the Word “Grace”
I did a quick word study in the Bible, to survey the adjectives in front of the word “grace.” What I discovered was that there was only one type of adjective, and it was descriptive of a measurement in every case. It translates as abundant, greater, more, and sufficient. In other words, God is showing us that we are prone to error without a proper definition of the noun “grace.” Adding non-measurement adjectives to grace can distort the meaning.
In short, we know that grace is the work of God, resulting in the salvation of His chosen people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Eph 2:8–9; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:9; 7:9). When we add words, adjectives, we run the risk of skewing the right definition of grace. A battle ensues to support our eisegetically imposed systems of theology onto the biblical text. We have common grace versus saving grace, prevenient grace versus sovereign grace.
Let us consider the doctrine of salvation. Everyone agrees that if one is saved, it is by God’s grace (Eph 2:8–9). Everyone also agrees that believers in Jesus are saved (Jn 3:16; 6:29). We also agree that, “He saved us (Titus 3:5),” not we ourselves (2 Cor 4:7), which is why we preach Christ and not ourselves (2 Cor 4:5). It is only by His doing that we are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30), who alone is adequate for these things (2 Cor 3:5), which is why all glory and honor belong to Him (1 Tim 1:17; Rev 5:12–13).
If one is the recipient of grace, then he is saved. The argument should end there, but we know that it does not end. Instead, it multiplies. One may say, “Well, there is a kind of grace for everyone, you know, ‘rain on the righteous and unrighteous,’” or he may say, “Well, there was a type of grace in the Old Testament for Israel and now another type of grace for the church in the New Testament.”
This man is making up theology as he goes along, and then seasoning it with undefined grace. Someone else comes along and says, “O, well, we can call the first idea “common grace” and the second, “grace as opposed to Law.” There is yet another invention of man that puts man in the driver’s seat regarding salvation. Again, an adjective is added to grace. In this case, it is called “prevenient grace.”
In this unbiblical construction, God forsakes His own sovereignty in favor of turning salvation over to unregenerate, unbelieving humanity. It is erroneously interpreted from 2 Peter 3:9 that God wishes for no one to perish (exegetical error #1) because He loves the whole world (exegetical error #2). As a result, God sets up a game of chess, where He makes a move, and then makes those apart from Christ (Jn 15:5), who are not seeking God (Rom 3:11), to make a willing decision that is not theirs to make (Jn 1:12–13; Rom 9:16).
The mythical free will decision to “accept” Jesus, who is presented as the one possible way of salvation, is done through the well meant offer of the gospel. Jesus is sold, and He must be bought. It means God’s eternal election is nullified; Christ’s death on the cross does not actually redeem anyone (salvation is a mere possibility); and it twists the Holy Spirit’s work into a response to man, instead of being the catalyst that He is in truth. This is the essence of man-centered, man-glorifying theology.
Redefining grace into something it is not, by adding unbiblical terms as adjectives, is not helpful. Properly defined nouns are essential for Christians doing theology. The errors are legion when we cannot do this, as is the case with “Israel.” The Apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 9–11. The Israel of God is the church of Jesus Christ (Gal 6:16). This is no replacement (another misnomer). There is only one Israel, Jesus Christ (Is 49:3), and His gathered body of people (Is 49:6), both Jew and Gentile (Acts 26:23; 1 Cor 1:23), from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 5:9; 7:9). The error is to miss the typology of ethnic Israel in the Old Testament, as a picture of the true Israel, the Apostle references in Romans 9:6.
God’s grace is His unmerited favor, bestowed on those He chose to have mercy on (Rom 9:15). Christ is God’s elect vessel from eternity (Lk 23:35), in which the covenant of grace was willed and decreed by God. Corporately, God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4–5), gave us to His Son (Jn 6:37), having written each one of our names in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 13:8). Jesus came into the world to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21), dying for His own sheep (Jn 10:11, 15), and He calls each of us by name, because we belong to Him, as our Good Shepherd (Jn 10:26; 1 Cor 3:23).
Distorting grace, like distorting Israel, by changing the meaning of the word, can only lead to confusion and false doctrine. Sadly, this false teaching is historical in both the Pelagian and Arminian heresies. It has compounded in recent years with new inventions like: common grace; prevenient grace; leading to the well meant offer of the gospel — a gospel requiring the work of acceptance, by means of a free will choice — the determinative decision of a man to let Jesus save him or not.
Friend, the God of the Bible is sovereign (Ps 115:3; 135:6). His predetermined plan is from eternity (Acts 2:23). This plan is a redemption drama that glorifies our Triune God, even more than His creation of the universe. The Redeemer of Israel cannot fail in election, redemption, or in regeneration (application of salvation).
The Father has predestined His elect to adoption as sons (Rom 8:15, 23, 30; Eph 1:4–5). The Son has bought these chosen ones with the price of His precious blood on the cross (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet 1:19). The Spirit has been sent, as a token of love from the Father and Son, having been poured out in our hearts (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 5:5). He who began this good work in Christ’s holy nation (1 Pet 2:9), being the author and perfecter of their faith (Rom 12:2), will never leave nor forsake His bride, who He loves (Eph 5:23, 25; Heb 13:5), and He will finish His work in her (Phil 1:6).
The plan is for Christ to present His church, the Israel of God, holy and blameless before the Father on the last day (Eph 1:4; Eph 5:27; Col 1:22). Every mouth that boasted of free wills, choices, decisions, and acceptance will be shut up. The believers, saints for eternity, will have one confession, “It was all God’s grace.” There is no dividing or diluting this word. Grace is simply God’s work to save His people. It is sufficient and abundant by itself.
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 1, 2022