Can We Earn Grace?

Josh Buice

The grace of God is truly amazing.  To think about the fact that God – infinitely holy, wise, righteous, and just – would mastermind a rescue mission for fallen, wretched, and guilty sinners before the foundations of the earth were laid is beyond comprehension.  Who is man that our God is mindful of him?

Sadly, too much of our modern day evangelicalism is filled with superficial talk about cooperating with God to earn grace.  If your ears are tuned in properly, you will hear language such as “baptized into Christ” to receive the Holy Spirit.  Some people believe that we’re saved in the waters of baptism as we cooperate with God in the process of salvation.  Still others try to impress God with their work and service as if God will look upon them on the day of judgment and give them a free pass because they served.

Grace, as Jerry Bridges rightly describes, is “God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.  It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.” [1]  To put it bluntly, if we earn it – it’s not grace.  A proper view of grace changes the heart of worship and Christian service.

I was recently interviewed by Covenant Spotlight Magazine on the issue of grace.  Below is part of the interview that will appear in their upcoming publication.

Do we receive grace because of our act of repentance? Or do we repent because of the grace granted by God? Could you elaborate?

Buice: Tragically, in many evangelical circles, grace has been reduced to three easy steps at the end of a church service. The fact is, we don’t earn grace or cooperate with God to receive grace. By its very definition provided in holy Scripture, that would nullify grace. Grace is granted to fallen sinners by His mercy alone, not by foreseen favor or merit in sinful man. In Ephesians 2:8-9, we read Paul’s explanation and I can’t provide a better explanation in my own words. He writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV).

Much debate has ensued over these two verses. Is faith or grace God’s gift? It could be argued that faith is God’s gift because that’s what Paul seems to suggest as he speaks about repentance as being a gift of God in another letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:25). We would readily admit that grace – the salvation of our soul and the forgiveness of sins is indeed a gift of God, but what about faith? Is faith something we have at our disposal and is it something that is capable of being employed by our human will? According to God’s Word, the fall of man had devastating results upon humanity. Human depravity has affected the totality of humanity. Not only do we have the stain of sin upon our soul, but we have its effects upon our mind, will, and body. We have no ability to raise our spiritually dead soul from its spiritual grave (Eph. 2:1-10). That is a work of God. We are born from above – not from the power of our will or because of the dignity of our works (John 1:11-13). Therefore, I would argue that the totality of grace – faith, repentance, and grace are all gifts from God.

In the words of John Newton, grace is amazing.  He penned the words to the famous hymn from a heart that had truly experienced the unmerited favor of God’s grace.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

1.  Transforming Grace, NavPress, 21-22.

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Author Can We Earn Grace?

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.