Daily Archives: May 27, 2007


Grace Alone.

A look at "GRACE ALONE, An Evangelical Problem?" by Kim Riddlebarger. This is a fairly short article that asks (and answers) these questions:

(1) What do we mean by the phrase "grace alone?"

(2) What is the human condition according to the Scriptures?

(3) What do the Scriptures say about Sola Gratia?

(4) Why do American Evangelicals have such a difficult time with this doctrine?

(5) How do we respond when these issues are at stake?

1 - What do we mean by the phrase "grace alone"?
Riddlebarger says, "When we use the term "grace alone," what we mean is that our salvation from the wrath of God - our deliverance from hell - is because of something good in God, and not because of anything good in us."

Our works do not - cannot - save us. There is nothing in us, fallen human beings, that brings us to choose God. Sin has touched every part of our lives.

It is only by God's grace that we are brought to faith.

2 - What is the human condition according to the Scriptures?

We are born in sin. Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Even from the moment we are conceived, we are sinful. It is in our very nature - our flesh nature. We are born DEAD in sin. Not sick, not disabled, not "naughty". We are every bit as dead in our sin as Lazarus was in his tomb.

We live in sin. I Kings 8:46 tells us that "there is no one who does not sin" and Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, `I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin'? None of us can say that. We live in sin.

Even if we physically keep the commandments, our heart is wicked. Jesus was clear: adultery can be lust of the heart and harboring hate and anger is as bad as physical murder. For this reason, the accusation of hatred is a very serious accusation.

We are sinners. In Romans 3:10-12 Paul writes; "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."

3 - What do the Scriptures say about Sola Gratia?

In Riddlebarger's words,

Simply stated, if the Scriptures are clear that men and women are sinful by nature and cannot do anything to save themselves or even prepare themselves to be saved, the Scriptures are equally clear that it is God who saves by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone. This means that it is God who acts first, upon the sinner, while the sinner is dead in sin. For as we have seen, the sinner is enslaved to the sinful nature and its passions, and will not come to God, as Paul declares. But the good news is that while sinners do not seek God, God seeks sinners. And this is what we mean by the phrase, grace alone

In my words - if it depends on me, on my self, to follow Christ - it's all over.

4 - Why do American Evangelicals have such a difficult time with this doctrine?

In one word - pride. Especially in the United States - the land of independence. We are taught from the day we are born that we can do anything, be anything. We are able.

Hard work is its own reward.

Again, Riddlebarger:

This rejection of sola gratia is not new, in fact, it is an ancient heresy known as Pelagianism. Named for the monk Pelagius (who lived in the fourth century) and who was the arch-foe of St. Augustine, Pelagianism is that teaching which emphasizes the human freedom, sees original sin not as corruption and guilt inherited from our first father but simply the bad example introduced by into the world by Adam. Pelagianism sees grace as simply an influence enticing us to act upon proper information. And it is only natural that rugged, self-made, independent, frontier Americans would naturally gravitate to a theology that emphasized human ability and natural freedom to act. It is from Pelagius and not Holy Scripture that we derive the idea that children are born innocent, not sinful, and it is from Pelagius that we learn that sin is simply that which we do, not what we are. In the words of one historian, "America is very much in favor of this Pelagian idea that every individual can always make a new beginning, that he is able by his individual freedom to make decisions for or against the divine."

5 - How do we respond when these issues are at stake?

There are many people who claim Christ, but who also claim their works, their choice.

First, the Bible does not approach this subject from the perspective that everyone is entitled to a chance at heaven, as do most Americans. This is "election" vs. "free will". And it is a very volatile subject.

Second, the degree to which we argue that we contribute something to our salvation is the degree to which we deny sola gratia. If we say, yes, we are saved by grace alone...BUT...we have to...(insert whatever you believe you need to do to add to (or keep) your salvation here) then we take away from God's grace in order to insert our own power and choice.

Third, sola gratia is the basis for our comfort and assurance as sinners before a Holy God. Every part of me is touched by sinful nature and total depravity. Every action that I take has an undercurrent of sin. If salvation depends on my faith, what about when my faith is weak? If it depends on my keeping the commandments, what happens if I falter?
Lastly, Riddlebarger:

We look to a savior who calls the dead from the tomb when they still reek of their sins; a savior who promises never to leave or forsake us, even when we go astray. We look to a good shepherd who will lose none of his sheep and who declares; "all that the Father gives to me will come to me, and I will lose none of them, but raise them all up on the last day." We look to a savior who died for all of our sins and who kept God's Law perfectly every minute of his life, so that his perfect righteousness could be given to cover our unrighteousness. We look to a savior who was crucified, but who conquered death and the grave and who rose again who ascended into heaven, and who even now is ruling and reigning, all the while praying for us, as our advocate and defender. Sola gratia is most clearly seen in the fact that Jesus Christ came to do for us they very thing that we could no do for ourselves. For he came to seek and to save that which was lost. This beloved is sola gratia, the sinless Son of God, dying upon a Roman cross for the sins of the world, rising from the dead for our justification, and making us alive, through his word, when we were still dead in our sins. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

This is Sola Gratia.