THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD
Some subjects that are supposed to bring peace and comfort wind up being twisted into controversy. One such subject is grace. There is one extreme involving a hyper-grace predestination that informs God about the limits of His sovereignty. In this humans are but pawns in a predetermined game. I find this lacking in biblical reason and ultimately self-defeating. At the other end of the discussion is a checklist proudly paraded while grace becomes but a perfunctory whisper. In this the attention comes to be focused on our actions rather than on God’s goodness. This, too, has no Scriptural support.
I seriously suspect an unbiased Bible student would find neither of these extreme positions a fair representation of the complete discussion. Extremes are easy; they demand little thinking and require a closed mind. Unbiased searchers would find such prerequisites insulting and unsatisfying.
Consider the following combination of grace, faith and works as a balanced alternative to the extremes just mentioned. A seasonal illustration may help.
Your shopping has finally located the much sought after gift. The gift, wrapping paper, tag, ribbon, and stickers have all been purchased. The gift is positioned under the tree until the day for unwrapping arrives. But, what if the gift remains unwrapped? The answer is simple; the gift cannot be enjoyed.
Now consider a variation of the story. All the details remain the same, but this time the gift is opened and enjoyed. Did the person who unwrapped the gift supply a penny of its cost? This also allows for an easy answer, no.
Another illustration may also contribute to the point I wish to make. Blinds are opened in a dark room on a sunny day. The room is filled with light. The same blinds are opened at midnight. The room remains dark.
In both illustrations, the work of enjoying either the present or the light did in no way purchase or create the thing enjoyed. Presents unopened are not enjoyed. Light blocked does not light a room. For that matter, opening the blinds if there is no light is useless. The sun gives the light, not the blinds.
I suggest a balanced, biblical view allows for the gift of grace apart from any human merit while providing a place for human reception. Therefore, any work that seeks to earn salvation cannot succeed. Grace is a gift. However, a work of faith is to be understood in a different context. The positive, biblical context of works is merely receptive in nature, never deserving.
Therefore, rather than seeing Romans 4 and James 2 in conflict or developing convoluted “harmonizations” may we not see them as expressing different aspects or contexts of the place of faith and works. The faith that saves puts no trust in the purchasing power of our works. The faith that does not act, however, is dead.
Let us glory in grace, God’s incomprehensible gift! Let us also appreciate that the obedience of faith, though always flawed and never deserving, is nevertheless part of the conversation (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Jn. 1:7).