What’s Grace Got to Do with It?
But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20b-21 nkjv)
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 nkjv)I guess I’ve been a Free Grace kind of person since I first believed (circa 1978). Three years later Zane Hodges came out with Gospel Under Siege, while I was an MA student at Dallas Seminary, and I readily embraced Zane’s argument: Grace is truly free; I had freely accepted it for my own “salvation.” But since then (for the most part) I have been a pretty miserable person to live with - just ask Peggy, or any of my co-workers before I retired - that is, until I began taking Prozac® in 2005. What’s up with that? If Jesus couldn’t make me more like him in 28 years, how could a chemical do it now? Do I actually reveal God’s righteousness in Christ or is it just a drug-induced “high”? What, if anything, does grace have to do with it?
Now that I’ve bated you with intriguing questions - which I will not answer :-) would like to explore how two familiar verses may have huge implications for the future of FG. Do FG advocates generally look or sound all that “gracious”? (That’s rhetorical for all of us, who plead the 5th). While none of us denies the essential role of grace in justification, what role should it play in our further development as a theological “system”? Do we sell FG short in our theology of sanctification?
The gospel was meant to reveal the righteousness of God (Rom 1:17) and I would submit that God intended for those who are “saved” to then participate with Him in “revealing” it to the world. How do we do that? The word “grace” occurs only five times in Romans 1-4 (the “justification” section) but then five times in chapter 5 - four in 5:15-21 alone—the so-called “sanctification” section. Were we meant to receive grace freely - after being justified (5:17), so that his abundant grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life, revealing it in us now (5:21)? And a bonus question for the Calvinists in our “mixed multitude”: Can we “resist” his free grace after we have been regenerated and justified?
In 2 Cor 5:21 the verb is “become” (ginomai) though it can certainly be read as “be,” depending on context. Why am I getting in our faces about this? Because a vast majority of evangelicals have just assumed, along with Luther, that this transaction refers only to justification and not to sanctification. Then I asked myself why the key verses for my blog handle “agent4him” (“agent” of reconciliation, 2 Cor 5:18-20) occur after 5:17 but before 5:21? (see the entire passage posted at bottom of this post). Are we in FG really in the business of reconciliation? Was I “saved” to then be formed into a really righteous agent—not just declared—that I might reconcile others to Christ? Do I really appropriate free grace now to make that happen in me (Rom 5:17)? Could it be that is how I “reign through righteousness to eternal life”?
…Nah, I think I’ll just stick with Prozac®. :-) (see how happy I am?)
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (nkjv)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.