Free Grace, Much Forgotten in Modern Evangelicalism

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Matthew G. Bianco, Apr 29, 2017.

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  1. Matthew G. Bianco

    Matthew G. Bianco Puritan Board Freshman

    This is an article I submitted to The Record, which is Wheaton College's student-run newspaper (I am a student there). They put it on and it was published and distributed on March 23, 2017:

    "I write this article with concern and with love for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ here at Wheaton College. I believe that in our academic setting — which gives a sense of robotic repetition with everyday work, classes, et cetera — the true meaning of free grace has been covered in exchange for our constant everyday worries and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. This is not unique to academia; I also see this happening within the evangelical world at large.

    This is a concern for our work ethics, but more importantly, a concern for how we think and teach concerning the salvation of fallen sinners. I am concerned that the heavy influence of modern evangelicalism on Christianity has caused some problems with how Christians think concerning the effects of the Fall, the effectual atonement of Christ, the nature of grace and the eternal security of all believers who were unconditionally elected. These problems affect the way we understand ourselves and God and create the false sense that we’ve contributed anything to our salvation. I believe we need a renewed understanding of verses such as Colossians 2:13-14 and Ephesians 2:1, which tell us we are spiritually dead in sin. This deadness in sin is imputed from conception (Psalm 51:5) and we cannot by our own fallen flesh accept Christ except through the working of God’s spirit in us by monergistic regeneration (1 Corinthians 2). Again, we cannot accept or do the things of God (Romans 8:1-7), nor can we please Him (v. 8) without the Holy Spirit first raising us up from spiritual deadness (v. 11).

    By “free grace” I do not mean we can do whatever we want, knowing our salvation is not of ourselves (I reject antinomianism). As the Puritan theologian John Owen said, “I do not understand how a man can be a true believer, in whom sin is not the greatest burden, sorrow and trouble.” However, by “free grace” I mean our salvation is wholly wrought by God and is evidenced by our faith which also is not of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9). Everyone who believes γεγέννηται “has been born” of God (1 John 5:1). “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). We believe in His name and so are adopted children, but we believe because we've been born of God and our being born of God was not by our will but His. Faith cannot be naturally stirred up in us without the Spirit first giving us life. As John 3:8 beautifully describes, the wind blows where it pleases, and none can tell where it comes from and where it goes, and “so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Should we think we chose to be spiritually begotten of Him? Did we choose to be physically begotten of our earthly parents?

    One may object that this is a confusing doctrine. Why would God require of us something that is not even within ourselves to do, and then hold people accountable for not having what they cannot by themselves have? Why does the Bible teach that God works all things that come to pass, including our salvation beforehand (Ephesians 1:11), and that he is the potter that does as he wills with the clay (Romans 9) — making some prepared for destruction and some for glory, and also teach that people are responsible (Ezekiel 18, Matthew 12:36-37, etc)? This is indeed somewhat a mystery that we may never fully comprehend, but we cannot reject either side of the coin. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). That being said, we are slaves to sin and only Jesus can break the chains, and, as Jesus taught in John 8:33-36 and 47, the natural man does not have the free will in himself to set himself free, because the will is in bondage and “a slave” to sin. Just as we would not expect a dog to read a book, for that is outside the bounds of a dog’s nature, so we cannot expect man in his natural unregenerate state to freely choose Christ. Martin Luther eloquently expressed this in his argument against Erasmus, Bondage of the Will, which was mentioned in chapel before spring break.

    The objections that will arise may be from the verses where God or another Biblical figure commands people to choose (such as Joshua 24:15). However, Christ effectually purchased the salvation of His Church (Acts 20:28) and all those whom the Father gave Him beforehand will come to Him and never be lost (Ephesians 1:4, John 6:37-39). This New Covenant atonement is for all kinds of people, and thus purchases a multicultural Church. A command to choose God does not dismiss the fact that God must first choose us and draw us to Himself in order to enable us to choose Him (John 6:28-29, 44, 65, Philippians 1:29). Another common objection by many Christians will be based on fairness, but I say the fair thing would be God choosing to save no one and letting us all perish under His just wrath. Why do we cringe and protest at the notion that God chose out, or predestined, His sheep? Why does the clay answer back to the potter who made it (Romans 9)? Let us instead rejoice that God would have mercy to save a single soul.


    Without such knowledge of my dependence on Christ and my utter depravity without Him, I would not be who I am today. If you were to ask me how I chose to follow Christ, and what convinced me to surrender to Him, I would answer: “I did not so much as even lift a finger unto the converting of my soul. In my miserable state of chronic depression years back, Christ steered my attention on Him. He miraculously healed me spiritually and emotionally after trying everything I could on my own, not because I asked Him to, but because He chose to. Now, if my own will did not even heal my fleshly ailments, what form of madness would make me think my own will could have anything to do with saving my very soul? I chose Him because He chose me.”


    And please, stop me from my own robotic life at college and engage me with any questions or concerns. I would love to hear from you and answer to the best of my abilities, God willing. If you can’t find me on campus, you can always find me on Facebook as Matthew G. Bianco. It is my desire to see Christians able to civilly and lovingly discuss hard topics like this without name-calling, false or unnecessary assumptions or ad hominem."


    * Note: this article was originally twice as long when it was sent in to be published, but the editors had me shorten it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2017
  2. Silas22

    Silas22 Puritan Board Freshman

    Very well writ. What were your intentions in writing this article-discuss soteriology, define grace, or confront arminianism prevalent within evangelicalism? Also, would you consider your view a minority at Wheaton?
     
  3. Matthew G. Bianco

    Matthew G. Bianco Puritan Board Freshman

    It does seem to me we are a minority at Wheaton. However, I have found there to be a decent amount that go to my church, and some others who still agree. My intentions of this article was both those things you mentioned: to define what grace is, and to confront the arminianism that is prevalent in evangelicalism. Wheaton College is a very evangelical school (e.g. Billy Graham).
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2017
  4. Warren

    Warren Puritan Board Freshman

    The command to choose (synonyms: seek, taste, approve, etc.) God is binding through the entire realm, regardless of our personal freedom. The spirit of the law is "seek me while I'm still to be found", seek also having an interesting etymology. To seek is more to beg or beseech, than how we understand the word today. Implied in the old sense is that the one we seek has power over us, while the modern sense makes God a subject of curiosity.
     
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