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The Shocking Nature of Grace?

Grace is shocking, if you think about it, because by definition someone gets something unearned.

But in Calvinism, it seems, grace becomes even more shocking. Adrian Warnock posts a quote from Jonathan Edwards that expresses predestination quite well. You are saved by grace, someone else isn’t. Edwards notes that “although all things are exactly equal in both cases” one person has success which is denied to another.

Edwards’ statement is fairly straightforward as a statement of predestination. But Adrian’s comment is what caught my attention. He says:

…If this notion does not make you grateful to God that YOU should be so blessed by him, I don’t know what will.

Now this is what gets me. What’s shocking to me is the level of narcissism that I see in that statement. I’m headed for heaven, and I’m terribly grateful to God, and it doesn’t bother me at all that many other people have been equally arbitrarily consigned to hell. Because, of course, that is what being “denied success” means in this case.

I recall having this discussion with a Hebrew student who simply told me that it bothered him as well, but he believed it was the truth. Whether he liked it or not was immaterial. And indeed whether I like something or not is quite immaterial. I could easily understand that student’s view.

What I don’t understand is the frequently heard expressions of great joy. It is almost as though one is living under a tyrant, and arbitrarily the secret police will arrest some, but not others. The ones who haven’t been arrested can express great thankfulness for the fact that they are allowed to live, due to no actions of their own. But somewhere out there others are suffering, also through no fault of their own.

Under either set of circumstances, I hope I would not be indifferent. I hope that the joy of my escape would be tempered by my knowledge of those who did not. If I believed that God was arbitrarily sending me to heaven, but at the same time was going to arbitrarily send others to hell, I believe I would find it would drive me insane, and I would find it impossible to love such a God or to regard such a God as loving.

I have found over the years that Calvinists don’t fit my stereotypes of them. Just as they do not sit down and neglect Christ-like living because they have already been predestined, nor do they neglect evangelism because God has already made his choice, so they are not, in fact narcissists, whatever may seem to be implied by their doctrine.

Nonetheless I cannot fit this doctrine with any notion of a loving God. And yes, I do mean using a scriptural definition of love. It is, in fact, the description of a tyrant, and not even a benevolent despot.

I guess it’s a good thing I also see little scriptural or logical reason to believe it!

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  1. I whole heartedly agree that the way in which Calvinists talk about “predestination” is very hard to swallow, even offensive. There is no apperance of humility whatsoever. The Apostle Paul said that he would give his own soul away, his own salvation, if his Jewish brothers would receive Christ and be saved!!

    Think about that. That, of course, also bothered me from the other angle of thinking on this subject. All I know is this, I think a lot of my Christian joy is rather subdued at this time, not knowing if one of my children is saved (and I doubt it to the extent of what I can observe in some of his behaviors and speech), but I cannot know his heart, so I do not judge him; that is, I do not, and cannot, condemn him because man cannot say who is going to heaven or who is not. Even the thief on the cross did not have time to witness to many others, although, perhaps he did to the other thief.

    At any rate, he acknowledged that he was guilty and deserved this punishment, he acknowledged that Jesus was not guilty, he acknowledged Him as Lord, and asked Him to remember him in paradise.

    My understanding of predestination is that God knows all things, the beginning from the end, and he therefore knows who will and who won’t say yes to Him; But, he wants us to pray and do all we can to win those whom we know are lost to the family of faith in Christ. We may cry, and lament their lostness, and beseech God on their behalf to save them, and I believe He will because, “God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of Christ Jesus”! Predestination seems to suggest that God IS willing that some should perish. So, which verses of scripture will we base our lives on? I will base mine on the knowledge that Christ died once for all, and that He said we should go into all the world and preach His Gospel and teach others those things that He taught his disciples, and they us. Jesus also prayed for us in John 17, He said, “I do not pray for these alone (the disciples)but for those who will believe their testimony…”. That includes all believers today.

    So, I trus the Savior to give me the bread I pray for, not a stone !!

  2. Good post and good response from Glenda. I am in a New Frontiers church as is Adrian Warnock but this quote from him does not fit my doctrine or that of many I know. I believe that God’s grace is there for everyone and my loving Father wants everyone to be saved. I don’t think there is any contradiction in a God who knows who will be saved and gives us all the choice and freedom. Calvinism is a set of doctrines which can be useful to look at but only as a part of us attempting as humans to pin down our understanding of God. We can’t live our lives in such a narrow set of beliefs because if we limit God by having a small view of him we limit what he can do.

  3. I think the story of the workers in the vineyard who are all paid the same at then end of the day, however long they have laboured is the most wonderful (and shocking?) description of grace. The daily wage would have been enough to live on, to pay anyone less than the daily wage would have been to condemn them to poverty – even death. God as the vineyard owner – gives everyone life – never less then life.

    Also – we often read the text with some sympathy for those who worked harder but only received ‘basic pay’ with no bonus (bankers beware). But who would be the last to be ‘chosen’? The widow, the stranger, the alien, the disabled person, the prisoner. God’s grace is generous beyond a simple human understanding of justice and God’s kingdom is one in which all are welcome – do we model this grace in the Church and in our own lives?

    Grace is most comfortable when we see that God loves us just as much as those who are holy and who we admire. It is less comfortable when we see that God loves those we fear, look down on, despise or misunderstand just as much as God loves us!

  4. I must have missed this post the first time around. My experience is that Calvinism has the exact opposite effect. The idea that there’s nothing that you do to earn God’s favor but that he bestows it anyway is a thread that runs throughout the Bible, and Calvinists are pretty big on emphasizing it in my experience even more strongly than other Christians do. Calvinists are much more likely to see themselves as worms not deserving any favor than to be narcissists or even to think that there’s something special that caused God to choose them. That is in fact what is flatly denied by any Calvinism worthy of the name. If anything, the practical danger of Calvinist theology is not self-focus but rather the denial of anything valuable in humanity at all, including in oneself.

  5. Yup!

    Consider this moreover; the idea of grace, unearned reward … is almost totally and directly contradictory to the predominent theology and assumptions of the rest of the Bible.

    Everywhere else, the Bible sets up something different and more commonsensical: it tells us that punishments and rewards are earned. Be good, and God rewards us. Be bad, God punishes us. But Grace goes against that.

    So what is the second thing bad about Grace, that we noticed here? It not only 1) contradicts our normal sense of justice as you noted here; it 2) totally goes against the rest of the Bible too.

    1. You misunderstand Grace.

      Scripture says, “By Grace are you saved, throught faith…underscore “though faith”…not of works, unless some would boast…”.

      Faith in Christ is the key to obtaining Grace. Faith in Christ requires obedience to Christ and His teachings. It is not something we automatically do, or that God does for us. Faith is applying that which we profess to believe to our lives…everything we think, say and do. Lack of faith, true saving faith, is to be judged by the fruit of the Spirit that becomes evident in us when we do apply our faith in Christ to our daily lives, “…yield not your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God…”…”…we are born in Christ Jesus unto Good Works… underscore “Good Works”. These are works of obedience unto God in Christ Jesus…for His sake…by the power of the Holy Spirit in us is the evidence that we have become “new creatures” in Christ. As Paul said, “…I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”. By His Grace and with His power in us we learn to obey and yield our lives to doing those things that are Good…by definition…Godly…Christ honoring. When we don’t we are miserable because we are convicted of our sin…and, as James teaches, we then become contrite before God; we admit our failure to live up to His expections and we are humbled back to the position that we are weak and can do nothing Good without His…His power in us, the Holy Spirit. This is why we cannot boast in our works…even in our Good Works. This is the way way we know we have true faith in Him, when we realize He is our all in all…our Saviour, Redeemer, Friend and Lord; the One who indeed, “accomplishes all things for us…”. Of course, we have to choose Him, and when we fail to do this, there are ramifications of our choices; but, we do not come under condemnation unto eternal punishment. Our punishment is when we separate ourselves, or distance ourselves from Him by our choices…either what we do or do not do.

      In I Corinthians it says, ” 9For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

      10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

      11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

      12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

      13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

      14If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

      15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

      16Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

      17If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

      18Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

      19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

      20And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

      21Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s;

      22Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s;

      23And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

      Our salvation through faith in Christ is our foundation; how we live our lives depends on whether we will have rewards or not. These rewards can be in our lives in this world, because we know when we are living unto God or not and this brings us joy; and they will also be in heaven, and only God knows what that will be, but we better believe it will be wonderful…and this is worth, as Paul says, keeping our bodies under the control of the Holy Spirit…always yielding to Him in the smallest things; will we tell this little white lie? will we think this pleasureable thougth, just for a little bit? or will be ask God to forgive us immediately and yield to Him by confession, as James says, and find our restoration both physically and spiritually? These things are all a part of what scripture means when it says, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”; there will be no fear or trembling for those who obey and yield to God in Christ Jesus.

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