A Defense of the Doctrines of Grace from Evangelical Theology

The point of this essay is to demonstrate that the doctrines of grace, popularly known as the five points of Calvinism, are not opposed to evangelical theology, but rather safeguard and support our mutual evangelical confession that God saves sinners by grace alone.  We rejoice together that God is free and powerful to save us not for anything we’ve done, but solely on the basis of His grace towards us in Christ.  The doctrines of grace do not serve to say something fundamentally different than that.  When they are rightly understood, the doctrines of grace simply are the biblical, theological, and logical outworkings of our confession that salvation is sola gratia, by grace alone.

As Protestant and evangelical Christians, we all confess with one mouth that there is only one God (cf. Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4), and that this one God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:18).  We all confess that God created all things for His glory (cf. Genesis 1:11; Romans 11:36), and that He sustains (cf. Matthew 10:29), upholds (Hebrews 1:1-3), guides (Romans 8:28), and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

We all confess that God is absolute (cf. Exodus 3:14), standing in need of nothing since “He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).  We all confess that God owns the entirety of His creation (cf. Job 41:11) and therefore no one can put God into their debt (cf. Job 35:7; Romans 11:35).  Moreover, we all confess that God is completely sovereign over His creation, reigning from His throne in heaven and doing “whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3; cf. Psalm 135:6).  Indeed, Scripture tells us “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35).

As Protestants and evangelicals, we all also confess that God alone is our Savior (cf. Isaiah 43:11; 45:21; Hosea 13:4; Jonah 2:9; Revelation 7:10).  Furthermore, we all confess that God saves us by grace alone through faith alone (cf. Ephesians 2:5, 8; 2 Timothy 1:9) and not according to our works (cf. Romans 3:28; 4:4-6; 11:6; Galatians 2:15-16).  Nevertheless, genuine saving faith necessarily produces good works in those who believe (cf. Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:6; James 2:17, 20, 26).  This is our mutual confession.  We are a people who are passionate about the gospel, the good news that God saves sinners.

And while there may be great controversy surrounding the doctrines of grace, they actually safeguard and support our mutual confession concerning God and His freedom and power to save His people.  When we all confess that God alone is our Savior, the doctrines of grace uphold that truth by teaching us three other related truths: 1) God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” not because we were holy and blameless but in order “that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4); 2) Jesus accomplishes the Father’s will in that he will “lose nothing of all that the Father” has given him, “but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39; cf. Matthew 1:21); 3) the Holy Spirit “gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).  Our salvation, from beginning to end, is all of God’s glorious grace.  He alone is our Savior (cf. Psalm 3:8; Isaiah 43:11), and from Him alone comes our salvation (cf. Psalm 62:1).

When we confess that God saves us by grace alone through faith alone, the doctrines of grace teach us that, for grace to truly be grace, even our faith must be a gift from God.  Paul says that our whole salvation, including our faith in Christ, “is not our own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  Elsewhere he tells the Philippians that “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should…believe in him” (Philippians 1:29, emphasis added), and he tells the Colossians that he and Timothy always thank God “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:4).  The reason that Paul and Timothy thank God is because God granted the Colossian Christians faith in Christ.

That faith is a gift means no one can boast in the presence of God, since it is “because of Him [we] are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30).  If faith were something that we worked up by our own strength, apart from or even in cooperation with God’s grace, then we would have legitimate grounds for boasting.  We could say, “Look!  I believed.  That is why God saved me.”  What would set us apart from unbelievers would not be grace, but rather our own spiritual intelligence.  The reason that we would be saved and not others would not be due to God and His freedom to be merciful to whom He will (cf. Romans 9:14, 18), but rather it would come down to the fact that we somehow made ourselves more worthy to be saved than them.  In effect, the gospel message would turn into something like this: “God helps those who help themselves,” even if the “help themselves” is a veiled reference to faith.

But the truth is, for grace to truly be grace, it must be given without reference to our ability to “help” ourselves, be it by our nature, works, or even faith.  By definition, grace is God’s unmerited favor in Christ to those who deserve judgment.  Therefore, faith cannot be the efficient cause behind God’s grace, precisely because if it were then grace would no longer be grace.  The efficient cause behind God’s grace cannot be anything in us, be it who we are or what we can do; rather, it must be God’s own saving love for us in Christ.  Only in that way can we truly say that we are saved by God’s grace alone.  The gospel is not that God helps those who help themselves, but that God helps those who cannot and do not want to help themselves: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

As Protestants and evangelicals, we are gospel people.  We love the good news of God’s saving grace for sinners in Jesus Christ.  We proclaim it.  We give our lives to teach it.  If it came to it, we would be willing to die for it.  There is nothing more central, nothing more comforting, nothing more crucial to our lives than the truth that God saves sinners because of the person and work of Jesus Christ for us.  And it is the doctrines of grace, far from being mere points for conversation or debate, that safeguard and support this truth.  The doctrines of grace begin with God: it is God, and God alone, who saves sinners (cf. Psalm 3:8; Isaiah 43:11).  The doctrines of grace continue by saying that God does not only make salvation possible, but that He actually saves His people (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 5:9).  And the doctrines of grace conclude by saying that God will not suffer the loss of any one of His redeemed people (cf. John 10:28-30; Philippians 1:6; Jude 1:24-25).  Oh, the depth and the beauty and the supremacy of the glorious grace of the God who saves sinners!

Thanks for reading.  Have a comment or question?  Leave it below.

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