During the building of the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay, construction fell badly behind schedule because several workers had accidentally fallen from the scaffolding to their deaths. Engineers and administrators could find no solution to the costly delays. Finally, someone suggested a gigantic net be hung under the bridge to catch any who fell. Finally, in spite of the enormous cost, the engineers opted for the net. After it was installed, progress was hardly interrupted. A worker or two fell into the net but were saved. Ultimately, all the time lost to fear was regained by replacing fear with faith in the net. God has given us a net of protection. His net is called salvation. One of the attributes of God that emanate from his loving nature is that of grace. God’s grace is defined as “God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.”[i] God is never obligated to show such grace. Rather, it is an act completely done of his own free will.
I am a congruist, meaning that I believe that God’s sovereignty and human freedom completely work in harmony. Thus, I accept terms concerning God’s grace that come from both the Calvinist and Arminian. I have a friend on social media from New Jersey, named Jose Nieves. He calls this “Calminianism.” There may be something to his claim. Millard J. Erickson says that congruism “holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice that God intends.”[ii] Congruism “gives primary place to God’s sovereignty, while seeking to relate it in a positive way to human freedom and individuality. This theology is a dualism in which the second element is contingent on or derived from the first.”[iii]
Side Note: The system of congruism, in my opinion, is not so much found in Calvinism or Arminianism. Rather, it is the admonition that God’s sovereignty and human freedom work in harmony. I think I noted this in a previous article. I had a professor who once said that salvation was like walking through a door. When one entered the door, they would notice over the door frame the words “Whosoever will, let him enter.” After one has passed through the door and looks back upon the frame, one would find the words written “Only the elect will enter.” I think this sums up the system quite well. Nevertheless, I digress. This article is about the graces of God, not congruism.
1. God’s PREVENIENT grace (15:10b; Romans 5:6, 8; Matthew 5:45; Heb. 1:2-3).
In the second section of 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul notes that “his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10b).[iv] Paul has just given an ancient creed dating from the time of the earliest church (1 Cor. 15:3-7). Some scholars believe that this creed may have found its root just from a few weeks to year after the actual resurrection took place. Gary Habermas notes that the early creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “links the historical life of Jesus, and the central Christian message of the gospel, in particular (vv. 3-4), with those eyewitnesses who testified to his resurrection appearances, beginning on the third day after his death (vv. 5-7). In addition, Paul had not only met some of these witnesses personally (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9), but he explains that his message concerning these facts is identical with their eyewitness testimony (1 Cor. 15:11; cf. 15:14, 15).”[v] Paul explains that this historical event made him who he was and that God’s reaching work to save was not in vain.
Prevenient grace is “God’s grace given to all humans indiscriminately.”[vi] Some refer to prevenient grace as common grace. Some identify prevenient grace in differing ways. Prevenient grace holds the idea that God knows what free people would do in particular circumstances. Erickson argues that “God has a foreknowledge of possibilities. God foresees what possible beings will do if placed in a particular situation with all the influences that will be present at that point in time and space.”[vii] In other words, God issues grace to all people. Jesus said that the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). The writer of Hebrews states that Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). All of us have experienced God’s grace in one way or another. Our existence is an example of God’s great grace.
We often have a tendency to look for the negative. However, we all have reasons to be positive. Regardless of where we are in life, God has bestowed his grace upon us. Just being here to listen to this little message demonstrates the great grace of God that is upon us.
2. God’s EFFECTUAL grace (15:11; John 6:37, 39).
Paul shows that God’s effectual grace, or persuasive grace, is often brought forth through the preaching of the gospel. Paul notes that “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (15:11). Thiselton notes that “whether we are talking about how God’s grace became operative through other apostles…or we are considering Paul as an example of one who received grace and witnessed Christ’s appearance, the apostolic keryma retains the common basis to which the common tradition (vv. 3b-5…) bears united witness.”[viii] In other words, God persuades us to faith much as he did the apostles.
Effectual, or effective, grace indicates that it is “efficacious, that is, effective, to those to whom it is given.”[ix] Norman Geisler compares this to a courtship. “God will woo and court so persuasively that those willing to respond will be overwhelmed by His love.”[x] This is the compelling of the Holy Spirit that we experience when we come to faith. In fact, the entire process of God’s wooing us is a matter of grace. God could have left us as we were. However, God loved us so much that he wanted us to have life eternal. The atonement is brought through the work on the cross, but is applied by the wooing of the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
When you courted your spouse, you were in the process of trying to woo that person. God demonstrates his effectual grace by persuading, but not forcing, you into a covenantal relationship with himself.
3. God’s SUFFICIENT grace (15:10a; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:22).
In the first part of verse 10, Paul says that “by the grace of God I am what I am” (15:10a). He has been made what he is by the salvific grace that he experienced through Christ Jesus. Christ’s grace made him both a child of God as well as an apostle.
Sufficient grace, or saving grace, is “God’s grace extended to us to establish a spiritual relationship with God and to grow believers in that relationship.”[xi] God brings us into this relationship. This relationship is sufficient to do the task. You see, salvation is not about a one-time prayer. Many hold the idea that you come to Christ, say a little prayer, and that’s all she wrote. That’s not the case. God regenerates us by this faith. He makes us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He also justifies us in the faith. This means he claims us as forgiven (Rom. 2:24). God also sanctifies us. This means God works in our lives to make us more into the image of Christ (Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11). Eventually, this salvation also means that we will be glorified by God’s grace (Rev. 21:2-3). God does not give us a partial salvation. He goes all the way with his grace.
The writer of Hebrews states, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus said, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40). Jesus also says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30). God will save us and he will keep us in the faith.
Craig Groeschel tells the story of being pulled over for an expired tag. He was taken in front of the judge in traffic court. Before him, there were several individuals who would say, “It’s not my fault. I shouldn’t be required to pay the fine.” The judge called Groeschel in front of the court. He said, “What’s your story?” Groeschel responded, “I was driving without a tag.” The judge asked, “What did you say?!?” Groeschel said, “Yes, Your Honor. You heard me correctly. I…am…guilty…I am an idiot.” Groeschel goes on to say, “The judge announced mockingly, loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘We’ve got this guilty person standing in a room full of innocent people. I’ve got to quickly get this idiot out of here before he corrupts the rest of you innocent people. Craig Groeschel, you are free to go. You don’t have to pay the fine. It’s all forgiven.”[xii] We often accuse God of being unfair. However, we really don’t want God to be completely fair. I repeat, we do not want God to be completely fair. Because if he were completely fair, we would not be going to heaven. Grace is a gift given to those who are undeserving. We did not deserve heaven. But God, being gracious as he is, gave heaven to us of his own free will!!! Praise God for his grace today!!!
Copyright, April, 29, 2016. Brian Chilton.
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 200.
[ii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 385.
[iii] Ibid., 448.
[iv] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
[v] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.
[vi] Erickson, Christian Theology, 933.
[vii] Ibid., 387.
[viii] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1213.
[ix] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2008), 346.
[x] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 104.
[xi] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 355.
[xii] Ibid., 103-104.