How Big Is Your Understanding of Grace?

I am continuing to enjoy my studies in the early church this Fall in my course with Carl Trueman. Today I have been reading, and reading about, St Augustine. Augustine has been called the “doctor of grace.” Grace was the common thread that was found to fill and inform all of his writing, and he did a lot of writing. Albert C. Outler summarizes this theme in the following way:

“The central theme in all Augustine’s writings is the sovereign God of grace and the sovereign grace of God. Grace, for Augustine, is God’s freedom to act without any external necessity whatsoever–to act in love beyond human understanding or control; to act in creation, judgment, and redemption; to give his Son freely as Mediator and Redeemer; to endue the Church with the indwelling power and guidance of the Holy Spirit; to shape the destinies of all creatures and the ends of the two human societies, the ‘city of earth’ and the ‘city of God.’ Grace is God’s unmerited love and favor, prevenient and occurent. It touches man’s inmost heart and will. It guides and impels the pilgrimage of those called to be faithful. It draws and raises the soul to repentance, faith, and praise. It transforms the human will so that it is capable of doing good. It relieves man’s religious anxiety by forgiveness and the gift of hope. It establishes the groud of Christian humility by abolishing the ground of human pride. God’s grace became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and it remains immanent in the Holy Spirit in the Church.” Quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), p. 294.

Much of Augustine’s thought was shaped as he interacted with the Pelagian heresy that emerged in his day. If you would like some help thinking about how the Pelagian heresy is still around and affecting the church and its understanding of grace today, I would recommend you read this article By R. C. Sproul, The Pelagian Captivity of the Church

Although Augustine is one of the most significant figures in the history of the church, many Christians know very little about him. If you are interested in learning more, check out Peter Brown’s recent bio: Augustine of Hippo: A Biography.


2 responses to “How Big Is Your Understanding of Grace?

  1. Open your Bible to Acts 5:29-32… But Peter and the Apostles answered and said, “We must obey GOD rather than men…(32) and we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom GOD has given to all who obey him.”

    Those verses are unmistakable that we have to do our part by obeying the commandments of GOD.

    Then there is the dreaded (by Protestants) James 2:14-26 which starts with (14) “What will it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but does not have Works?

    Can the faith save him?…(17) So faith too, unless it has Works, is dead in itself…(20) Faith without Works is useless…(21)

    Was not Abraham our father justified by Works when he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? (22) Do you not see that Faith worked along with his Works, and by the Works the faith was made perfect?…(24)

    You see that by Works a man is justified, and not by faith only….(26) For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so, Faith also without Works is Dead.” ‘Subjective Salvation’ in action, is shown for that whole section written by St. James.

    I could go on and on with verses like this, and could ask questions such as, why is there a need for the ten commandments, since we are ‘automatically saved’? I think you get the message from what I have shown.

    Read Matthew 25:31:46. It is all about doing good works in this life. Then there is Revelation 14:13, “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying, ‘Write: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. Yes, says the Spirit, let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them.'”

    Is that clear enough that works are needed in addition to faith? Still not convinced? Then how about another crystal clear verse? Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I come quickly! And My reward is with Me, to render to each one according to his works.”

    I must call it to your attention that the Bible mentions Faith Only, once and only once, in one verse, and in that verse it says NOT by Faith Only. (James 2:24)

  2. tractsandtreatises


    Friend, you would be right to say that works are necessary for Christians. But it is also very important to see that good works are an evidence of God’s saving grace (cf. Rom. 11:6).

    “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me is not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)

    That is why good works are necessary AND salvation is still all of grace. God’s sovereign grace produces good works in the lives of his elect. As Martin Luther said, we are saved through faith alone, but not a faith that is alone. The kind of faith that justifies always comes with works.

    As far as “the dreaded (by Protestants) James 2:14-26,” I confess I have to chuckle at that comment. I look forward to preaching on it in a few weeks as I continue my exposition of the book of James. No dread here. Only joy in a gospel that truly changes lives.

    May God richly bless you with his grace.

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