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.
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