Grace as a thing, a talisman, a fluffy pillow…

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:12b).

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus… (Rom. 1:1).

I don’t normally go for celebrity conferences and seminars, but I had good reason to attend a recent panel discussion hosted by Ligonier at the PCA’s 41st General Assembly—dinner was served and I had a good friend with me. One comment by Sinclair Ferguson was very helpful. He said something along these lines: Contemporary Christians have a tendency to think of grace as a thing rather than as the person of Jesus Christ. It didn’t strike me at the moment, but it came back to me as I reflected on the incessant incantations in PCA preaching and teaching and lecturing of grace, grace, grace, brokenness, grace, grace, grace, grace, the grace of God, grace, grace, brokenness, gracious, grace. Grace. We get much grace and very little Jesus Christ, the lover of our souls. The point Ferguson was making is a part of his book By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. In an interview about the book on Ligonier’s website, he writes about what he means by grace as a thing:

In the preface of the book, you write that grace is not a “thing.” What do you mean by this statement?

It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misusing this language) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a significant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some people might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes a similar point in his book Authority. Evangelicals are guilty of, as he puts it, “missing the wood because of the trees,” by focusing on secondary matters rather than the AUTHORITY of Jesus Christ:

We assert Him, we proclaim Him, we start with Him, because He is the ultimate and the final Authority. We start with the fact of Jesus Christ, because He is really at the centre of the whole of our position and the whole of our case rests upon Him.

It is to me interesting and rather extraordinary that we ourselves as Evangelicals should ever seem to forget this. I suppose that one reason may be our familiarity with the Scriptures. We are guilty of ‘missing the wood because of the trees’. I am convinced that most of our troubles today are due to the fact that we have become so immersed in secondary details that we have lost the main picture. We are missing the whole, because of our interest in the parts. If we could but stand back and just look at the New Testament and the whole Bible with fresh eyes, I believe we would be rather amazed at the fact that the really big claim which is made in the whole of the New Testament, is for the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. If what they say about Jesus Christ is not true then they have nothing much at all to offer us.

We’ve replaced the authority of the Son of God for a thing called grace. That thing called grace is much cuddlier than the person Jesus Christ. That thing called grace loves brokenness while the Son of God demands holiness. That thing called grace says your trying is the problem while the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ says take up your cross and die daily. That thing called grace is cheap grace…which leads me to my final quote, a favorite of mine from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Cost of DiscipleshipCheap grace is…

“…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

And that brings it all together. May we worship the Lord Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

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