Grace, Gentiles, and the OT (Davis)

 God’s plan of salvation always included both Jews and Gentiles.  Including the Gentiles as recipients of grace was not God’s plan B, but part of his original plan.  This is clearly seen already in the Old Testament.  Dale Ralph Davis has a helpful commentary on 1 Kings 17:8-12 that talks about God’s grace shown to a foreigner.  Specifically, this is the story where Elijah goes to the widow in Zarephath during the famine brought on by Ahab’s idolatry.

Let us look more closely at this widow. What really fascinates us is her mailing address: ‘Rise, go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon’ (v. 9). Zarephath stood about eight miles south of Sidon and thirteen miles north of Tyre (and about 80 miles north of Samaria), in the domain of Jezebel’s daddy Ethbaal (16:31). So Elijah is headed for Baalsville in Gentileland. Here one of Baal’s subjects will trust in Yahweh’s word (vv. 14, 15) and will find that Yahweh daily sustains her (v. 16), though Baal had left her in the pit of hopelessness and on the verge of death (v. 12). Yahweh will press her into his service for the benefit of his prophet and yet in the process give her far more than he demands of her. Here is a gentile widow awash in the wideness of God’s mercy; here is grace that moves beyond the boundaries of the covenant people and embraces one of Baal’s most hopeless pawns. We know her address but not her name, and yet this nameless widow joins the likes of Melchizedek (Gen. 14), Jethro (Exod. 18), Rahab (Josh. 2, 6), Ruth, Naaman (2 Kings 5), and Ebedmelech (Jer. 38) as one of those standing within the circle of Yahweh’s grace long before the glad day when Peter preached Jesus in Cornelius’ house and the Holy Spirit fell upon all the riff-raff (Acts 10–11). What happens in the street and house in Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 is but a foregleam of that day when God would grant ‘even to the gentiles repentance that leads to life’ (Acts 11:18).

 Davis, D. R. (2002). 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (pp. 211–212). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


Am I A Christian? Doubts and Grace (Brooks)

 One normal but difficult part of the Christian life is when doubts arise and a person wonders whether he or she is truly a Christian.  When Christians struggle with sin, lack strong feelings for the things of God, or find it difficult to pray and read Scripture, doubts creep up.  “Am I really a Christian?”  There are many good biblical themes to discuss at this point, but one of them I’d like to bring up for now is a wise word from Thomas Brooks about God’s work of grace in the hearts of his people.  Brooks’ argument in the following selection basically goes like this: “If a person has even the smallest work of grace in his or her heart, he or she is most definitely a Christian.”  Here’s how Brooks put it (I edited it slightly to make it easier to read):

Consider that the least degree of grace—if it is true grace—is sufficient to salvation; for the promises of life and glory, of forgiveness and salvation, of everlasting happiness and blessedness, are not made to high degrees of grace—but to the reality and truth of grace in the heart.  The promises are not made to faith in a person’s triumph—but to faith in God’s truth. Therefore the sense and evidence of the least grace, yes, of the least degree of the least grace, may afford some measure of assurance. Grace is the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. And the tree is known by his fruit, Mat. 12:33; Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 36; Mat. 5:1; John 6:40.

I do not say that weak grace will afford a strong assurance, or a full assurance, for strong assurance rather arises from strength of grace than from truth of grace in the heart—but I do say, weak grace may give some assurance.  An eminent minister, who was a famous instrument of converting many to God, was accustomed to say, that for his own part, he had no other evidence in himself of being in the state of grace, than that he was sensible of his spiritual deadness!  Oh, that all weak Christians would seriously lay this to heart, for it may serve to relieve them against many fears, doubts, discouragements, and jealousies, which do much disturb the peace and comfort of their precious souls.

Though the least measures of grace cannot satisfy a sincere Christian—yet they ought to quiet his conscience, and cheer his heart, and confirm his judgment of his saving interest in Christ. The least measure of grace is like a diamond, very little in bulk—but of high price and mighty value.  Therefore we are to improve it for our comfort and encouragement. A goldsmith makes reckoning of the least filings of gold, and so should we of the least measures of grace in our hearts. A man may read the king’s image upon a silver penny, as well as upon a larger piece of coin. The least grain of grace bears the image of God upon it; and why then should it not evidence the goodness and happiness of a Christian’s estate? Slight not the lowest evidences of grace!

Again, and in other words, just like a tiny faith is true and saving faith, so a “small” work of grace in the heart is true grace, and proof that a person is a Christian.

You can find the above section in its entirety here: Thomas Brooks, A Cabinet of Jewels, chapter I.VI.  It’s also found in volume three of Brooks’ Works (p. 259-60).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

All of Grace, From Beginning to the End (Kuyper)

 It is true that when God sovereignly changes our hearts and gives life to what is dead, we ourselves repent, believe, and begin to obey him (see Eph. 2:1-10).  We are passive in regeneration but are active in sanctification.  True faith always shows up in truly good works.  However, it’s all of grace.  Abraham Kuyper put it well in his book on the work of the Holy Spirit.  He noted that the regenerate Christian is not passive, but active in the Christian life.  Then Kuyper wrote this:

But it is not implied that the elect and regenerate sinner is now able to do anything without God; or that if God should cease working in him, conversion and sanctification would follow of themselves.  Both these representations are untrue, un-Reformed, and unchristian, because they detract from the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect.

No; all spiritual good is of grace to the end; grace not only in regeneration, but at every step of the way of life.  From the beginning to the end and throughout eternity the Holy Spirit is the Worker, of regeneration and conversion, of justification and every part of sanctification, of glorification, and of all the bliss of the redeemed.  Nothing may be subtracted from this.

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 339.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Grace: More Than Unmerited Favor!

 Since I read this around ten years ago, I’ve really been helped and even comforted by Meredith Kline’s explanation of saving grace.  He noted that “in the biblical proclamation of the gospel, grace is the antithesis of the works principle.”  Later he wrote,

“The distinctive meaning of [saving] grace in its biblical-theological usage is a divine response of favor and blessing in the face of human violation of obligation.  Gospel grace takes account of man in his responsibility under the demands of the covenant and specifically as a covenant breaker….  Accordingly, the grace of Christ comes to expression in his active and passive obedience, together constituting a vicarious satisfaction for the obligations and liabilities of his people, who through failure and transgression are debtors before the covenant Lord, the Judge of all the earth.  Gospel grace emerges in a forensic framework as a response of mercy to demerit.

In other words, because we transgressed the law, we rightly deserve its curses and punishments.  But God shows grace and mercy in sending Christ to save us – to both obey the law and suffer the curse in our place.  We deserve death, by grace alone he gives life!

Theologically it is of the greatest importance to recognize that the idea of demerit is an essential element in the definition of grace.  In its proper theological sense as the opposite of law-works, grace is more than unmerited favor.  That is, divine grace directs itself not merely to the absence of merit but to the presence of demerit.  …It is a granting of blessing, as an act of mercy, in spite of previous covenant breaking by which man has forfeited all claims to participation in the kingdom and has incurred God’s disfavor and righteous wrath.  It bestows the good offered in the covenant’s blessing sanctions rather than the evil of the threatened curse even though man has done evil rather than good in terms of the covenant stipulations.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, pages 112-113.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Assurance, Good Works, and Sovereign Grace (Berkhof)

Assurance of Faith The Heidelberg Catechism says that the Christian’s good works help in the assurance of faith: “we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits” (Q/A 86).  The Westminster Larger Catechism notes under assurance that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to “discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made” (Q/A 80).  Biblically speaking, James said that true faith is shown to be true by works (James 2:18) and John wrote that we can tell we have new life when we love other Christians (1 John 3:14).

I appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanation of how assurance of faith is related to good works in the Christian’s life:

…Reformed Confessional Standards also clearly indicate that assurance is based in part on the so-called syllogism of faith, in which the believer consciously and deliberately compares the graces that adorn his life and his general conduct, with the biblical description of the virtues and the godly conversation of those who are born of the Spirit, and on their relative correspondence bases the conclusion that he is indeed a child of God.

Berkhof ended the section this way – by emphasizing sovereign grace:

…Some object to this method of seeking assurance altogether. They claim that it directs believers to seek the ground of assurance within themselves, and thus encourages them to build on a self-righteous foundation. But this is clearly a mistake. Believers are not taught to regard their good works as the meritorious cause of their salvation, but only as the divinely wrought evidences of a faith that is itself a gift of God. Their conclusion is based exactly on the assumption that the qualities and works which they discover in their life, could never have been wrought by themselves, but can only be regarded as the products of sovereign grace.

 Louis Berkhof, The Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), chapter 6.

(As a side, The Assurance of Faith is only $5.99 on Logos.  It’s very much worth that!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Grace: Free, Sovereign, Undeserved Love (Berkhof)

Louis Berkhof Collection (15 vols.) I always appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanations of various biblical doctrines.  He had a good way of summarizing various parts of Scripture in a concise yet clear way.  I’ve put part of his discussion on grace below.  This is helpful to think about when considering that we’re saved by grace:

A. In the first place grace is an attribute of God, one of the divine perfections. It is God’s free, sovereign, undeserved favor or love to man, in his state of sin and guilt, which manifests itself in the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its penalty. It is connected with the mercy of God as distinguished from His justice. This is redemptive grace in the most fundamental sense of the word. It is the ultimate cause of God’s elective purpose, of the sinner’s justification, and of his spiritual renewal; and the prolific source of all spiritual and eternal blessings.

B. In the second place the term “grace” is used as a designation of the objective provision which God made in Christ for the salvation of man. Christ as the Mediator is the living embodiment of the grace of God. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth,” John 1:14. Paul has the appearance of Christ in mind, when he says: “For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men,” Tit. 2:11. But the term is applied not only to what Christ is, but also to what He merited for sinners. When the apostle speaks repeatedly in the closing salutations of his Epistles of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he has in mind the grace of which Christ is the meritorious cause. John says: “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” John 1:17. Cf. also Eph. 2:7.

C. In the third place the word “grace” is used to designate the favor of God as it is manifested in the application of the work of redemption by the Holy Spirit. It is applied to the pardon which we receive in justification, a pardon freely given by God, Rom. 3:24; 5:2, 21; Tit. 3:15. But in addition to that it is also a comprehensive name for all the gifts of the grace of God, the blessings of salvation, and the spiritual graces which are wrought in the hearts and lives of believers through the operation of the Holy Spirit, Acts 11:23; 18:27; Rom. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 9:14; Eph. 4:7; Jas. 4:5, 6; 1 Pet. 3:7. Moreover, there are clear indications of the fact that it is not a mere passive quality, but also an active force, a power, something that labors, 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:1. In this sense of the word it is something like a synonym for the Holy Spirit, so that there is little difference between “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of grace and power” in Acts 6:5 and 8. The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” in Heb. 10:29. It is especially in connection with the teachings of Scripture respecting the application of the grace of God to the sinner by the Holy Spirit, that the doctrine of grace was developed in the Church.

 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 427–428.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Living By Grace (Bridges)

Packaging Martin Lloyd-Jones once famously said that the loud and clear preaching of salvation by grace alone will lead to a misunderstanding.  The misunderstanding is this: if we are saved by grace alone, then it doesn’t matter how we live.  Jerry Bridges comments on this topic:

That charge was brought against Martin Luther and all the other great preachers of the Reformation when they preached salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ.  The charge was brought against the apostle Paul himself: ‘Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say – “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved’ (Romans 3:8).

The grace of salvation is the same grace by which we live the Christian life.  Paul said in Romans 5:2, ‘We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  We are not only justified by grace through faith, we stand every day in this same grace.  And just as the preaching of justification by grace is open to misunderstanding, so is the teaching of living by grace.

The solution to the problem is not to add legalism to grace.  Rather, the solution is to be so gripped by the magnificence and boundless generosity of God’s grace that we respond out of gratitude rather than out of a sense of duty….

We have loaded down the gospel of the grace of God in Christ with a lot of ‘oughts.’ ‘I ought to do this,’ and ‘I ought to do that.’  I ought to be more committed, more disciplined, more obedient.’  When we think or teach this way, we are substituting duty and obligation for a loving response to God’s grace.

Let me be very clear at this point.  I firmly believe in and seek to practice commitment, discipline, and obedience.  I am thoroughly committed to submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of my life.  And I believe in and seek to practice other commitments that flow out of that basic commitment….  But I am committed in these areas out of a grateful response to God’s grace, not to try to earn God’s blessings.

Bridges makes some helpful comments in this book on what it means to live by grace.  For example, in one chapter he talks about how holiness is a gift of God’s grace and in another chapter he describes the sufficiency of God’s grace for living the Christian life.  He nicely steers clear of both legalism and antinomianism in these pages by explaining the fact that both justification and sanctification are by grace:

We are brought into God’s Kingdom by grace; we are sanctified by grace; we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we are called to serve and enabled to serve by grace; we receive strength to endure trials by grace; and finally, we are glorified by grace.  The entire Christian life is lived under the reign of God’s grace.

The above quotes are found in  Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, p. 21 & 74.

(Note: I was given this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI