To think upon grace is to think upon God. In its deepest meaning, grace is beauty. In Preverbs 1:9, instruction in the law of God is called “an ornament of grace.” According to James 1:11, when the sun burns a flower, the “grace of the fashion of it perisheth.” Spiritually speaking, God is Himself gracious, beautiful. The Scriptures speak frequently of the grace of God as beauty that flows from God Who is the source of beauty. Hence in I Peter 5:10 He is called the “God of all grace.” This beauty He conveys to us through His Son Jesus Christ: “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). In view of all this it is said of Noah, “he found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).
How amazing it is that this beauty of God is evident in this world. Indeed, we look about us and see the ravages of sin and death. The sentence of God upon the sin of Adam and Eve has worked through all of history. Wars continue to rock the nations. By greed, man rapes the earth of its precious substances and upsets the delicate balances God placed in nature. The laboring man rises up against the corporate world, while big business represses the need of the workers. Week after week man flocks to the stadium to satisfy his drive for conquest while steel meets steel. If that escape is not sufficient, he enhances it with liquor or drugs all in the name of “fun.” Meanwhile, the poor of the cities waste away, deprived of the necessity of life, and the unwanted unborn are ripped from the womb in untimely birth. Oh, the evil of our generation rises unto God as a testimony of His judgment. Yet in the midst of all this, the people of God, who by nature are no different, offer unto God their hearts, their hands, their very lives in service unto the one true God. This is the evidence that God transforms the sinner by sovereign grace!
GOD IS GLORIFIED THROUGH SANCTIFICATION
Sanctification glorifies God!
By this we do not mean that God lacks glory in Himself. The glory of God is the sum total of all the beauty that He is as God. The Revelation of God indicates to us that He is the eternal, infinite, unchangeable, one only true God. His beauty includes His wisdom, love, holiness, and righteousness, and much more. Surely, nothing that man has can add something to that glory of God.
God sanctifies us nevertheless, in order that we may glorify Him. We are made spiritually alive so that we may acknowledge before God that He is beautiful. This is the high purpose that God has in salvation. As the angels do this now before His presence so we from the earth must return to God the glory due unto His most holy name. We do this with our lips when we praise Him, we do this with our hands when we obey Him, we do this with our will when we submit unto Him, we do this with our minds when we acknowledge that the truth is in Him.
It dazzles our minds to imagine what heaven will be like. What a day that will be when all creatures will bow before Christ, the Perfect Revelation of God, and praise God for all His goodness. At that time we will be made perfect, sin will be no more, and our whole being will be brought into subjection unto Him. Holiness will be expressed in perfect consecration unto God, we will be separated from all sin in order that we may offer unto God the sacrifices of thankfulness.
Already now, our life of sanctification glorifies God. Out of this sin-cursed world there arises unto God good works performed by His people who acknowledge that He is God and gratefully serve Him.
SANCTIFICATION AND SOVEREIGN GRACE
Only sovereign grace is able to accomplish such a transformation. The more we do justice to the Scriptural truth of our natural total depravity, the more we will rejoice in sovereign grace as the only way unto sanctification. In the measure that many in the church tamper with the doctrine of total depravity and claim that man still has some good, even the ability to choose the good, in that measure they deny the need for sovereign grace. We believe that the Bible teaches that man is dead in trespasses and sins. Only a spiritual resurrection will bring him out of his spiritual grave. “Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14). This is accomplished by grace. In our Reformed tradition we speak of irresistible grace. This is true from the point of view of the sinner’s inability to interfere with its operation. Man, the natural man, cannot resist God’s grace when God wills to work that grace in Him. No one can shake his fist in God’s face and say no. When God wills to work grace, the power to make the ugly sinner beautiful in His sight, the sinner cannot stop God in His intent and purpose. The reason is that grace is not only irresistible, it is efficacious, all powerful. Grace flows forth from God Himself. The Holy Spirit uses this grace as the powerful means whereby He applies the salvation which Christ merited on the cross for all the elect. It is divine power, power that sanctifies.
Thus we read in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Our Netherland’s Confession states that faith is active and produces good works which, “works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace” (Art. 24). How can that be? Listen to the Canons of Dordt explain: “by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, He pervades the inmost recesses of man, he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions” (Canons III and IV, Art. 11).
You see, God guarantees His glory by working in our hearts and lives by means of this sovereign grace.
THE BLESSING OF SANCTIFICATION
When the Holy Spirit works grace in us the result of this is that we walk in sanctification, that is, we do good works. Our Heidelberg Catechism properly warns us that we must have a correct understanding of what good works really are. “Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men” (Lord’s Day 33, Q. 91). How tempted we are to determine “good” on the basis of human morality. A church corrupted by situation ethics instructs the members that fornication is not sin if sexual intercourse serves to prepare a young couple for marriage. The supreme court of our land has sanctified abortion; yet that does not make it right in God’s sight. Good is determined by God alone, for He has set forth the standard of good in His Holy Word. When the grace of God is in us, we look at the Word and believe in God and give Him the honor to determine what is good for us and what He wills us to do for His sake. Then we are motivated by God’s glory and not our own ambitions. That is indeed sanctification, a making holy, a separating from sin and drawing near unto God.
That work of grace in us is not of such a nature that we resist it and deplore it, but we receive it graciously. God’s irresistible and efficacious grace does not drag us by the nape of our neck into the kingdom of heaven. Rather, the Holy Spirit works within our nature in such a way that we consciously enjoy the benefits of grace and are thankful to God for them. This is accomplished in two ways.
First, we become spiritually conscious of the blessing of the new life in Christ Jesus. This takes place when we are able to contrast the life of sanctification and depravity. Our spiritual judgment enables us to see the deplorable consequence of sin and to hate and flee from it. An example of this is Moses, referred to inHebrews 11:24, 25: “By faith Moses when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” The advantages of being “son of Pharaoh’s daughter”, which included being Pharaoh, the treasures in Egypt, the pleasures of sin weighed but little compared to being numbered among the people of God, though it meant the reproach of Christ. He considered the duration and the reward: Egypt was for a season and ended in the judgment of God; the people of God had the riches of God’s friendship which was for eternity. The world may eat, drink, dance, and have their pleasure, but it brings untold misery, broken marriages, broken homes, and ruined bodies. Obedience to God and service of God may afford a small place in the world, but it produces covenant homes, peace with God and with one another, joyful service of God and meaningful lives.
Secondly, we are thankful to God for these blessings and we show this to Him by walking in sanctification and good works. Thankfulness is not forced upon us, it arises from within us. We count our blessings for God’s goodness in saving us. We are thankful to God that this is our own, not only personally, but also for our families, our loved ones, and the church of the living God. How thankful we are to God, for from Him alone come all these blessings of salvation. We do not feel sorry for being saved by sovereign grace, we rejoice and are glad in that salvation.
Hence, our doing good works are not to merit with God. That is not only impossible, but also spiritually forbidden. Paul by the Holy Spirit warns us in Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more of grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Our Heidelberg Catechism correctly teaches, “But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God? Because, that the righteousness which can be approved of before the tribunal of God must be absolutely perfect and in all respects conformable to the divine law and also that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.”
The motivation for doing good and living a holy life is to glorify God. We are thankful to Him for His wonderful work and we desire that the praise and glory be God’s alone.
GRACE FOR GRACE
In conclusion we can see that the glorious grace of God that transforms the sin-enslaved-sinner returns unto God. It begins in God, it fills us to overflowing, and returns to God in the form of thankful obedience and service.
The beauty that God has in Himself is reflected in us by the working of grace and radiates unto Him eternally. “For all things are for your sakes that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God” (II Cor. 4:15).