—Thomas Aquinas, In Rom. 1.6.108; trans. Fr. Fabian Richard Larcher, OP (Lander, WY: The Aquinas Institute, 2012).
Augustine points poignantly to the necessity of grace both to the sinner and to the one who avoids sinning:
—Augustine, Confessions II.15.
Perhaps there is a small adumbration here of the restraint-of-sin aspect of the much later Protestant conceptions of gratia communis.
The Protestants therefore argued for the necessity of Scripture because man, the creature, has sinned against God. He has broken the covenant. Salvation is an ethical matter. Man was created perfect. He needed no grace as a creature. To be sure, he needed and received God’s favor. Sometimes Reformed theologians have called this grace. But then the word is used in a broader sense. So Bavinck speaks of it. Then too, man as a creature, though perfect, needed supernatural revelation. God’s revelation to him in nature was supplemented by God with his supernatural word communication. This was to tell man of his destiny and to make him self-conscious as a covenant being. But all this betokens no defect in the creature as such. The ideas of creation and covenant are supplemental one to another.
Books by Van Til
How can Christians truly sing Psalm 1:2, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord,” when it still feels like the law condemns, shames, and accuses us? The answer is by understanding the Christian’s new relationship God’s law (or the law’s third use, as Reformed speak would put it.) Listen to Steve Brown explain the Christian’s new relationship to God’s Law in “rubber meets the road” terms on his recent broadcast: The Law and Success.
To understand the distinction between believers’ relation to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace it is necessary to first grasp Jesus’ relation to both. The following quote from Herman Bavinck explains well the former aspect of this question–how the Christ relates to the covenant of works:
Even more, as a human being Christ was certainly subject to the law of God as the rule of life; even believers are never exempted from the law in that sense. But Christ related himself to the law in still a very different way, namely, as the law of the covenant of works. Adam was not only obligated to keep the law but was confronted in the covenant of works with that law as the way to eternal life, a life he did not yet possess. But Christ, in virtue of his union with the divine nature, already had this eternal and blessed life. This life he voluntarily relinquished. He submitted himself to the law of the covenant of works as the way to eternal life for himself and his own.
The obedience that Christ accorded to the law, therefore, was totally voluntary. Not his death alone, as Anselm said, but his entire life was an act of self-denial, a self-offering presented by him as head in the place of his own. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III: 379; emphases mine.)
Let’s face it, American Christianity is so strongly addicted to various form of Pelagianism that to speak of grace the way the Bible does is to put one at odds with most Christians. Long gone are the days, or so it seems, when sola gratia had teeth in a large part of the church. A grace-soaked letter such as the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (see below) has become repugnant to the Pelagian-soaked people to whom Paul wrote: Christ’s body. For this reason, the church needs more “dentists of grace” like The Old White Guy, Steve Brown, who are willing to perform root canal jobs on Pelagian rot.
Steve understands the thick Pelagian veneer covering much of the church, and he skillfully uses tongue-in-cheek, shocking metaphors and double-take-inducing rhetoric to make Christians angry enough to stop and think like Christians (i.e. according to Scripture). For example, listen to him cut through the Pelagian crust in the area of sanctification as he tells Christians they get three free sins:
Every Christian I know wants to be better than he or she is. There may be an exception to that, but I haven’t found one. In other words, most Christians aren’t getting any better and sometimes are getting worse…but they really want to be better.
Do you know why most Christians don’t get any better or why you don’t get any better? It’s because you’re doing it wrong, dummy! You are obsessed with sin and your faith has become another “system of laws” whereby you feel guilty and try and try and try to do better. It doesn’t work, never has worked, and never will work. Only really shallow people keep doing the same thing over and over again with the same result, thinking that the next time the result will be different.
So stop it.
Why such shocking rhetoric? Many Christians think God saves them from hell, but they themselves have to work up to heaven, so to speak, effectively heaping a covenant of works upon themselves (i.e. living as if they can earn salvation merit with God by trying hard to keep His commandments even though Jesus has already kept God’s law perfectly in their stead).
But how could we ever earn (heaven and sanctification) what Christ has already won for us? Aren’t we who are united to Chrsit already “seated … with [Christ] in the heavenly places”? Only when we first understand our new identity in Christ are we then able to understand how to please God with our works, as a covenant of grace (i.e. living as if I am already a perfect law-keeper because I am one in Christ, and thus obeying God’s law not because I have to earn salvation, but because I have been freed by Christ to obey God’s law out of love!). In Paul’s words from Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV; emhpasis and line breaks mine).
Christian, quit trying so hard to impress God with your obedience. Jesus has already pleased the Father; put your faith in Him. Who are you to think you could one up Jesus!?
I believe that preaching the Word of God is to be highly valued. Thus Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching (ISBN: 0801027985) delights and challenges my heart to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of grace from the whole of Scripture.
Chapell’s work is an entry-level introduction to preaching aimed at faithfully unfolding and applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the whole Bible. This book focuses on the expository method, but not in a rigid, lifeless manner. Chapel explains the basic mechanics of expository preaching, demonstrates a basic framework for how to create and evaluate an expository sermon, and presents arguments that reveal why Christ-centered preaching is biblical and vital for the church. The book’s scope is limited to preaching, but much of the content can be helpful for the purpose of introducing someone to biblical theology (how to read the Bible the way it is written: Christ-centered).
Coming from a non-Reformed background, I deeply appreciated this refreshing and insightful book. Much of the theological content may be novice level for more mature Reformed believers. However, for me the simple concept that the central message of both the OT and NT Scriptures is the Gospel of Jesus Christ opens my eyes in a radical way to how important the whole Bible is, not just the NT. In my former tradition, the”Gospel” is simply that 3 minute tack-it-on-at-the-end altar call for all of those pagans out there. Thus, to hear from Chapel (and Keller, and the others we’ve looked at in this course) that proclaiming the Gospel from the whole Bible is the central role of the preacher is a revolution to me.
I also appreciated Chapell’s balanced approach to “Christo-centrism.” I have heard others say things about this issue that makes it appear that Jesus is hiding behind every bush in the OT. This is simply not true, and I think Keller does well at explaining what biblical Christo-centrism entails.
I had never dreamed of going to seminary, and I have no idea if I’ll ever be a preacher. But the message in this book is still apropos. First, if God does call me to preach, I have a resource to turn to in order to start building my message on a time-tested foundation. I especially desire to develop the skill of making Christ-centered applications to Scriptural truths, whether I am a preacher, a Sunday school teacher, an elder, a father, or a husband. Second, I hope to begin to read the Bible in a new way, looking especially to how the OT relates to the NT, and how the grand narrative of Scripture relates to the specific passage that I am reading. It is no small thing that every passage has something to do with the Gospel (i.e. preparation, explanation, prophesying, etc.). Third, this book gives me categories by which to evaluate the preaching I hear. I am more equipped to discern between mere moralism and true Gospel. This is especially helpful to me since I come from a legalistic, fundamentalist background.
“You must know grace to preach it. No matter how great your skill or accolades, you are unlikely to lead others closer to God if your heart does not reflect the continuing work of the Savior in your life. A testimony that reinforces the message of the gospel is not merely a matter of public conduct. It is a product of consistent private meditation on the gospel that character daily requires” (39).