Grace is a Person
There has been no small debate in recent years over the nature of saving grace and the role that it plays in the believer’s life–both in the role that it plays when individual Christians fall and fail as well as in what role it plays in motivating and animating the Christian’s obedience. I have found so much of what has been written to be extremely confusing at best and damaging at worst.
To be sure, we need to make careful categorical distinctions between what we might call “grace” before the fall and what the Scriptures refer to as “grace” after the fall. We want to make refined distinctions about the nature of grace in producing faith in our souls as the instrument of our justification and grace enabling us to work faith through love in the realm of our sanctification. Additionally, we certainly ought to emphasize the nature of redeeming, restraining, repenting and restoring grace–as well as the way in which grace shapes all of the other experiences of the believer’s life. However, one dichotomy that we do not want to draw is that of “grace” and the Person in whom grace becomes ours.
Sinclair Ferguson, in his 2007 Banner of Truth Minister’s Conference lecture, “Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love,” made the bold assertion that “There is no such thing as grace. There is only the Lord Jesus. Grace is not some appendage to His being; nor is it some substance that flows from Him. All there is is the Lord Jesus.” Under his exposition of the believer’s personal union with Christ, Ferguson explained:
The union that we have with the Lord Jesus Christ is a union with His Person…There is something about the nature of the Gospel that demands a different use of grammar in order to express it. [It is spoken of as] “believing into the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is to say, this union which we have with him is a union of persons. Most nobly illustrated, as far as the Scripture is concerned, by the union of persons in marriage. So that we have one name and we become one flesh. Or to put it negatively, this is not an impersonal union. This is not the ‘fruits’ of Christ’s atoning work affecting my life. This is the very Person of the Son of God, in my flesh, dwelling in my by His Spirit and I dwelling in Him through the power of His Holy Spirit. There is nothing between the Person of the Lord Jesus and the person and the believer as that union and communion develops and grows. This is a very important thing for us to grasp.
Let me put it this way: The union with Christ that we have is not that we somehow or another share His grace–because, there actually is no such “thing” as grace. That is Medieval Roman Catholic teaching [which says] “there is a thing called grace that can be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. It’s something that Jesus Christ won on the cross and He can bestow it on you. There are at least seven ways that grace can be bestowed on you…and they all, it turns out, happens to be in the hands of the church. And you can have this kind of grace, and you can have this kind of grace and this kind of grace.” There is no such thing as grace. There is only the Lord Jesus. Grace is not some appendage to His being; nor is it some substance that flows from Him. All there is is the Lord Jesus…Do not let us fail to understand, because of the abuse of expressions, that at the end of the day, Christianity is Christ because there isn’t anything else. There isn’t an atonement that somehow can be detached from who the Lord Jesus is. There isn’t grace that can be attached to you, transferred to you. All there is is Christ and your soul. The union that we have with the Lord Jesus is a personal union.1
While grace may be said to be the Person of Christ it must be explained in other ways as well. In the next post in this short series we’ll consider “Grace as a Gift.”
1. An excerpt from Sinclair Ferguson’s 2007 Banner of Truth Minister’s Conference lecture, “Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love.”
Hi Nick – great article! Thanks for the clear presentation.
I’ve always struggled slightly with this idea of identifying grace and Jesus so closely. To be clear, I do not want to be a Medieval Roman Catholic, nor do I want to deny that we receive any grace apart from what Christ accomplished and what the Spirit applies.
What about “grace” that the Son receives? In both Luke 2:52 and Philippians 2:9 there is suggestion of Jesus being on the receiving end of “grace” from the Father. Perhaps both of those verses are an example of the word/concept fallacy in this discussion, which I would be happy to hear arguments for. I certainly agree that these verses are using “grace” in a different way from other verses.
Is there any grace that is unique to the Father or the Spirit, in distinction from the Son? When Paul says he works harder than all, because of God’s grace working within him (I Cor 15:10), is that just another way of saying he worked harder than all because Jesus was working within him? Can we read Titus 2:11-12 in the same way, when it says that “grace… trains us”?
Last question: if we can univocate “grace” with the Son, are there other spiritual blessings that we can do this with also? For example, could I say there is no such thing as hope, there is just Jesus? He is after all our only hope. If this is the case, is there any danger of swallowing the actual biblical language of “grace,” “hope,” “blessing,” etc and simply replacing it all with “Jesus?”
Thanks for listening to my questions. If you have any suggestions, or can see where my thinking is going off track, I’d love to hear it! Also, interested in if other earlier divines made similar arguments – Owen, Turretin, Voetius, etc. Thanks!
I’ve been eagerly awaiting Part II. Is it still coming?
In case you have not found it, it is here: http://feedingonchrist.com/grace-is-a-gift/