The Humbling Power of God’s Grace

July 23, 2015
"Grand Canyon" by John Fowler. Available at Flickr  (license)

“Grand Canyon” by John Fowler. Available at Flickr (license)

Monday at SBC Today Dr. Michael Cox asked the question, “Is Calvinism Spiritual Racism?”. (http://sbctoday.com/is-calvinism-spiritual-racism/) If you are unfamiliar with the terms, Calvinism is the nickname for a theological position which exalts the sovereignty of God in the process of man’s salvation. At its heart, the Calvinistic position understands God created the world and made human beings in his image. While the first humans were holy and happy, they fell from their original innocence through breaking God’s command and all humanity was plunged into sin through their transgression. Left to ourselves, no person would come back to God because we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Thankfully, God determined before the world began to save a people for himself by sending his son to die in the place of sinners. Those whom he chose will hear the Gospel and respond in faith, being justified before God, forgiven by God, adopted into God’s family, filled with God’s Spirit, and given an everlasting inheritance with Christ.

Dr. Cox believes these doctrines share more in common with Hinduism and Racism than Christianity. His most basic point seems to be showing how these doctrines create a spiritual caste system where one group of people is superior to another because they have been chosen by God. Then he says those who embrace the Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace, embrace “spiritual racism” because they view one group of people superior to another. In addition he says this view is fueled by pride which he sees as a necessary byproduct of believing you have been chosen by God for salvation.

While many things could be said about Dr. Cox’s post, I want to focus on his contention that Calvinism produces spiritual pride. My reading of Scripture and personal experience have led me to the opposite conclusion. Nothing has humbled me more than knowing my salvation did not originate with me. In fact, there are three distinct ways the doctrines of grace have impacted me personally which stand in stark contrast to what Dr. Cox says.

The Doctrines of Grace Smash our Pride

Romans 9 stands as one of the classic texts for discussing the truth of election. Dr. Cox maintains the person who believes they have been chosen by God for salvation will promote prejudice, pride, and elitism. While discussing how Christians can be confident God’s promises have not failed, Paul alludes to Jacob and Esau to show God’s purpose of election stands, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Notice an important line, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad.” God’s choice of Jacob was not based on anything he had done but by God’s mercy alone.

Paul follows this with the example of Moses and Pharaoh, applying it to our own salvation. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Human salvation is not an act which depends merely on an act of the human will. It ultimately depends on God who shows mercy. When we understand humanity in its depravity, we know no one would come to Christ on their own. God, in his mercy chooses to show mercy to a multitude of people and pursues them by his grace.
Rather than increasing human pride because the person received a “spiritual elite” status, the sovereignty of God’s mercy smashes our pride and increases our humility. No Christian can stand up and say, “I am a Christian because of the things I have done” or “I am a Christian because God foresaw something good in me,” but every Christian from every age in every place joins in a chorus and sings, “I am a debtor to mercy alone.”

Are there many who believe the doctrines of grace who become arrogant and look down on those who believe this truth? This is absolutely true and I went through this the first few years I believed these truths. However, this pride was not produced by the doctrines themselves but by my sinful heart believing I had found a reason to boast about knowledge I learned. Those who believe the doctrines of grace must continually think about how these truths must shape the attitude of our hearts. If we believe we are saved by grace and mercy alone apart from our goodness, how can we respond in arrogance to those who disagree with us? When we believe these truths and are shaped by them, we will show profound humility, gentleness, and patience to the people around us.

The Doctrines of Grace Increase our Love

This point is closely related to the previous one. One of the greatest evidences of a person’s spiritual maturity is the way they treat other people. The Apostle John says if we claim to love God whom we have not seen we will love our brothers we have seen. The doctrines of grace help a person grow in this because they reveal God’s overwhelming love for us. The person who has grasped these doctrines knows he has not earned the favor of God by his good works or by conjuring up the good sense to believe in the Gospel. Instead the doctrines of grace remind us we have been saved by God’s grace alone. Paul reminds us of this truth in 2 Timothy 1:9 when he says God, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

Knowing we have not earned earned our salvation, but instead received it by faith through God’s grace changes the way we feel about and act toward others. The person who believes the doctrines of grace should show greater grace to the people around him. He knows he is saved by grace, so he should be becoming more gracious as he comes to a greater understanding of grace. In the same way the doctrines of grace help a person to be patient with the failings of others. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints teaches us that God remains faithful to his promises and keeps us to the end. He continues to be faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to him. How can a person who has experienced God’s perfect patience be impatient with the weakness, sins, and ignorance of others?

Many people who say they believe these doctrines become arrogant and treat other believers with contempt. This kind of attitude is not produced by the doctrines of grace, but by our sinful hearts twisting God’s word for our own purposes. If you hold to the doctrines of grace and find yourself constantly running other Christians in the ground, please take a few minutes and remind yourself of the things you claim to believe. Then ask yourself if they way you treat your brothers is in line with the truths you confess.

The Doctrines of Grace Destroy Racism

Far from creating a group of people who see themselves as a spiritual elite, the doctrines of grace open a person’s heart to love across lines of ethnicity, language, and social status. The Calvinist understands all people are made in the image of God, so there is no hierarchy built into creation. He also understands all people are born in sin and spiritual bondage. Each person experiences the gripping effects of sin in every aspect of their lives. No person and no ethnic group is free from this curse and no group experiences the sting of sin more deeply than another. Finally he knows the full benefits of salvation are available to every person who believes and there will be people who believe from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth. Therefore the person who believes the doctrines of grace knows the family of God encompasses people who may be from different ethnicities but are being built into one new man through the Lord Jesus Christ. Before the world began, the Father set apart a people from every ethnic and linguistic group who would be trophies of his grace and would gather around the throne to sing “worthy is the Lamb.”

Because the person who believes in the doctrines of grace knows what he does about the image of God, the fall, and salvation through grace alone he seeks to put to death every vestige of racial superiority in his heart. He knows every person has dignity and worth in the eyes of God. He lives with the realization that no ethnic group is more or less sinful than another. He is gripped by the Bible’s picture of God building a worldwide people whom he will redeem for his glory to forever belong to him. Because he knows these things the Calvinist loves and pursues brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups. He does not look toward them with an eye of suspicion, but welcomes them in as brothers and sisters.

Related Posts:
The Gospel is Better Than ‘God Gives Second Chances’
How I Learned about Forgiveness

For Further Reading:
Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul

Scott Slayton

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Scott Slayton is the Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, AL. He and Beth have been married since 2003 and have four children.

One response to The Humbling Power of God’s Grace

  1. Scott, excellent answer (and gracious, more so than I might have been) to a utterly ridiculous article. Some people just can’t abide by clear teaching of scripture, and choose to put their own ideas (pride?) ahead of what God has spoken.