Theme: The Doctrines of Grace
This week’s lessons bring these studies on the glorious doctrine of God’s grace to a fitting conclusion, looking at the last benediction of grace in the Bible.
Scripture: Revelation 22:21
Yesterday we introduced the expression “doctrines of grace.” Today we want to briefly describe each one.
Total depravity. The first of these doctrines is not an expression of grace itself so much as an explanation of why the grace of God is so necessary. Total depravity means that we are unable to do anything to help ourselves, unable even to respond to the preaching of the gospel when we hear it unless God first works in us to make our response possible. The doctrine is better expressed as “radical depravity,” meaning that evil lies at the center of our fallen natures and that it affects every part of our being. The importance of the first doctrine of grace is that it is our depravity that makes “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” necessary.
Unconditional election. These words mean that the determining factor in our salvation is not our choice of God but rather his choice of us, and that he chose us long before we even knew of him, in fact, before we were even created or anything was created. The Bible teaches that in that time before time, when only God existed, God determined to create a race of human beings, who would fall into sin and come under his wrath through the disobedience of their first parents, and that God determined to save a specific number of them by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who would die for them.
And here is the interesting thing. The Bible says that God “chose us in him [that is, in Jesus Christ] before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). In other words, God’s electing grace was not exercised apart from Jesus. If the doctrine of total depravity means that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” is necessary if we are to be saved, then the doctrine of unconditional election means that it is only in Jesus that we have this election.
Limited Atonement. This is a terrible phrase for describing what is meant by this point of the TULIP, for the intent is not to limit the value of the atoning work of Jesus but rather to show that it is efficacious in the sense that it actually saves those for whom Jesus specifically came to die. It would be much better to call this “definite atonement” or “particular redemption,” as reformed people today generally do. It means that Jesus’ death did not merely make salvation possible for people but that he actually saved those for whom he died. He did not merely make redemption possible; he redeemed those whom the Father had given him from before the creation of the world. He did not merely make reconciliation between God and sinners possible, but he actually reconciled the elect to God, “making peace through his blood” (Col. 1:20). To use still another term, the death of Jesus Christ secured their justification (Rom. 5:9). Since Jesus’ atonement stands at the center of the work of God in saving us from sin, we can say that it alone procures “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” for us or makes grace possible.
Irresistible grace. This phrase refers to the way God calls us to faith in Jesus Christ. Or rather, it is the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus who calls. Left to ourselves, we might hear the call in a superficial manner. That is, we might understand the gospel intellectually. But we would certainly reject it. However, when the Spirit of Jesus calls we are awakened to spiritual life from spiritual death and are thus irresistibly drawn to believe on and follow after Jesus. A good way of expressing this is to say that the Holy Spirit regenerates us, giving us a new nature, as a result of which we do what the new nature naturally does, which is to believe the gospel and trust Christ. Irresistible grace means that Jesus calls us effectively. Without this “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” we would reject him.
Perseverance of the saints. The final grace doctrine is the one we explored in the last study, which was perseverance. It has two aspects. On the one hand, it means that the redeemed will persevere in faith until the very end, when Jesus returns for them or they die. On the other hand, it means that the only reason they are able to do this is because God, for his part, also perseveres with them. First Peter 5:10 expressed this by promising that “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Even this is a “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is because, as we saw in the case of Peter’s failure in denying that he knew Jesus, it was only because Jesus prayed for Peter that Peter’s denial did not cause him to fall away completely and instead became an experience that strengthened his faith and enabled him to strengthen others later.
So there is every reason why the Bible ends by emphasizing “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” specifically. It is because we have been chosen in him before the creation of the world, saved by his death for us in time, called to faith by the Holy Spirit of Christ, and are being preserved in this life by his prayers for us and by his favor.
List the five doctrines of grace and define each one in your own words.
What Scripture references could you use to support each one?
Do you know of any objections some people have against them? How would you answer those objections?
Application: Give thanks to God for the salvation he has accomplished in your life, because it is all of his grace bestowed upon you in the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.