God’s Grace Should Amaze
What is the grace of God, and what does it mean to you? These are the questions that Packer answers in the next chapter of Knowing God. We speak often about grace, but, Packer says, we do not seem to actually believe in or understand grace according to Scripture. As evidence of this deficiency, he points to those throughout church history who have made grace their constant theme, speaking and praying of grace, writing hymns about it, and fighting to defend its teaching. On the other hand, today, “many church people…pay lip service to the idea of grace, but there they stop….Talk to them about the church’s heating, or last year’s accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness.” It is not that Christians think grace is nonsense, but that we do not really understand it, and we feel that whatever it is, we have gotten by alright without it so far and do not really need it.
Packer argues that the reason many Christians are not passionate about the subject of grace is they have misunderstood the basic relationship between men and God in 4 key areas:
The moral ill-desert of man. What is the general condition and makeup of man? Is he generally good, or at least morally neutral? Consciously or not, even many Christians fail to grasp the Bible’s teaching on this subject. Packer concludes that, “The thought of themselves as creatures fallen from God’s image, rebels against God’s rule, guilty and unclean in God’s sight, fit only for God’s condemnation, never enters their heads.”
The retributive justice of God. Does wrongdoing need to be punished? Can it be safely ignored, as long as it is not too disruptive or “serious”? Packer says that “the accepted maxim seems to be that as long as evil can be ignored, it should be.” But the Bible says otherwise, insisting that “this world which God in his goodness has made is a moral world, one in which retribution is as basic a fact as breathing.” God must either punish sin or deny his own nature and that of the world he has made.
The spiritual impotence of man. As a race, we have come to the conclusion that “we can repair our own relationship with God by putting God in a position where he cannot say no anymore.” Ancient pagans sought to do this by offering gifts and sacrifices to puts the gods in their debt. Modern pagans do this by focusing on their morality and respectability. But the Bible teaches something very different, namely, that “to mend our own relationship with God, regaining God’s favor after having once lost it, is beyond the power of any one of us.”
The sovereign freedom of God. It is reported that German freethinker Heinriche Heine said on his deathbed, “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job.” But is God obligated to show favor to his creatures? Packer makes it clear that it is not. “We can only claim from him justice – and justice, for us, means certain condemnation. God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice taking its course. He is obligated to pity and pardon; if he does so it is an act done, as we say, ‘of his own free will,’ and nobody forces his hand.”
Correcting these misconceptions about our relationship to God readies us to fully appreciate what the Bible teaches about his grace.