FAITH, GRACE AND THE LOVE OF GOD
By Ian Potts
In the Bible we read of the love of God, the grace of God and also of faith in God. These three things are all involved in the work of God in the salvation of sinners.
God’s word tells us that God’s elect people are saved entirely by God because He loved them with an everlasting LOVE which He set upon them, as seen in Christ, from all eternity. God loved His people whilst they were yet sinners. This love is particular to the elect and is not shown to the reprobate.
The elect are saved entirely because of God’s saving GRACE towards them. Grace is Unmerited Favour and Mercy and it is because of God’s grace towards His elect that Christ died for them and saved them, blotting out all their sins. Again this grace, shown through Christ’s saving work for sinners, and the application of that work to them in time by the Holy Spirit (“the grace of God which brings salvation” – Titus 2:11) is particular to the elect and is not shown to the reprobate.
Also, the work of the Spirit in the elect is to quicken them into life, eternal life, granting them faith (saving faith) that they might believe the Gospel and rest in Christ’s finished work for their salvation. The elect are dead in trespasses and sins by nature and have no true faith by nature. They may have some sort of ‘natural’ faith whereby they trust in certain things and hope in certain things and believe certain things, but by nature they DO NOT and CANNOT trust in Christ’s blood alone for salvation. By nature they don’t truly believe the Gospel, nor their own particular interest in it (ie. that Christ’s blood was shed for them particularly), neither do they trust in God alone for salvation, or even believe the truth, for such things are spiritually discerned and cannot be seen or believed by the carnal mind – such things are only revealed to the eye of faith. Yet FAITH, saving FAITH, is a fruit of the Spirit brought forth in all those elect children of God who are born again by God the Holy Spirit. Hence faith is given by God PARTICULARLY to the elect and not to reprobates.
So we see that these three things, love, grace and faith are particular to the elect and not shown to, or given to, the reprobate.
However some ‘theologians’ and preachers today, whilst acknowledging by word the particular nature of these things with regard to those elect sinners who are saved by God, nevertheless see a general aspect to God’s love, God’s grace and also faith which they feel applies to all, both elect and reprobate. They feel that scripture speaks of a general love of God to all men, of God’s ‘common’ grace to all men, and of a duty of all men to exercise faith.
But are these ‘theologians’ rightly dividing the word of God in making such claims? Does God’s word really use these terms, love, grace and faith, to describe the concepts which these theologians attach them to?
Passages are brought forward to show that God grants certain blessings to all men, such as rain and sunshine, food and water. But does scripture use the words ‘love’ and ‘grace’ with respect to these ‘blessings’ to all? Is it right to use the same words (love, grace) for these things as are used to describe those particular blessings granted to God’s elect people only? Or does this just breed confusion?
Certainly scripture DOES tell us that God grants rain and sunshine to all. See Matthew 5:43-48. There is no dispute about that. Certainly God IS good. He has shown goodness to all His creation, whether elect or reprobate. Any anger or wrath shown to man is a response of God’s perfect justice and anger at man’s rebellion and sin against Him. Yet man cannot point the finger at God and claim that God has been anything but good and fair towards him. No, the judgement which God will exact upon the reprobate is entirely merited by their own sin and wickedness. The law of God condemns them. Their own consciences condemn them yet they continue to sin and God judges them accordingly. But nevertheless God is longsuffering to the ‘vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’ (Romans ) and shows them much good during their lifetimes on earth, giving them health, food, water, sun, rain and so forth.
All of this is true, but none of these temporal blessings granted to the reprobate compares at all with that eternal salvation, eternal life, eternal rest which is freely granted to God’s elect people whom He has loved with an everlasting love since before the world was created. Such eternal love brings everlasting blessing and everlasting forgiveness for their sins, which God blotted out by the blood of His own Son who died in that people’s place at the cross. This love is unique and particular to God’s people. Their salvation is an act of pure mercy, unmerited favour. In a word - GRACE.
But does the Bible ever refer to that temporal goodness shown unto ALL men (reprobate included) as GRACE or God’s LOVE towards them?
I think not. Certainly the word GRACE is used in passages regarding the elect and their salvation, but is not used in passages such as Matthew 5:45 regarding all men and common blessings to all.
But are such blessings an evidence of some love of God towards the reprobate? Again, I’d say no, for it certainly isn’t the same meaning of ‘love’ as is used elsewhere with regard to the elect. When God speaks of loving His people with an everlasting love, that love is shown by saving that people with an eternal salvation. Whatever temporal blessings are granted to the reprobate during their short sojourn upon this earth, they cannot be compared to these eternal blessings shown to God’s people whom He LOVES. God’s love is SET upon His people always, but not upon the reprobate. The reprobate may receive good things for a short time in this world but their eventual destiny is an eternity of suffering under God’s wrath because of their wickedness and rebellion towards Him. There is no ‘love’ shown to the reprobate in their eternal suffering, so whatever goodness is shown to them during their short time on earth should not be taken to mean that God ‘loves’ them.
It is true that God shows acts of love, of goodness, of loving-kindness towards the reprobate. But performing a loving act towards someone is NOT the same as saying that you love them. It is to SHOW them love, but not to set one’s love upon them. There is a distinction. It is better to speak of God’s longsuffering or loving-kindness towards all his creation (reprobate included) and of His electing, saving love and grace towards His own people.
Believers are, however, called upon to ‘love’ their enemies. This fact causes some to conclude that God must also ‘love’ His enemies (all of them). Well God does love the elect who are His enemies before they are brought to saving faith. But does God love ‘all’ His enemies? Can that be concluded from the teaching of Jesus to His disciples to love their enemies? This exhortation is immediately expounded by teaching that we should do good to them that hate us. Romans 12:17-21 also speaks of returning good for evil. The result of which is what? The salvation of our enemies? No, not always, Romans 12 tells us that in so doing we heap coals of fire upon their heads, because despite our goodness towards them they are still evil towards us and God and are judged for that evil.
Hence the meaning of ‘love your enemies’ in scripture is really related towards SHOWING them loving acts; doing them good turns; returning love for evil; turning the other cheek. It does not mean that we ‘love’ them as we would love our brethren. The love the believer has for Christ and His people is far different from any love he ‘shows’ to his enemies. Likewise God ‘shows’ love to all men in that He shows His goodness and loving-kindness to all, and yet all rebel against Him. In the case of the reprobate this rebellion leads to their everlasting destruction because they are never washed in the blood of the Lamb of God in order to be saved. But this display of loving-kindness to the reprobate is NOT the same as the love of God shown to and set upon the elect, and really the use of the word ‘love’ should be watched carefully for the two things are distinct. Scripture clearly speaks of God loving His elect, and in John’s Gospel we clearly read that Christ loved His sheep but not the goats - not the world. He prayed not for the world (John 17:9). So whatever goodness and kindness He showed to others was not the ‘love’ shown to His own.
I freely grant that there may be some discussion about the usage of the word ‘love’ in relation to God’s general goodness to all. However I believe that if scripture is read carefully that one will see that the wording used for God’s love to His elect is generally different and is more clear than that wording used with respect to all men. Generally scripture speaks of ‘longsuffering’ and ‘loving-kindness’ with respect to all. Also scripture should be compared with scripture. Passages such as the Psalms which speak of God’s hatred of the wicked, or Romans 9:13 where we read that God loved Jacob but hated Esau, or exhortations elsewhere in scripture to not love the world, must be weighed against any impression of a general ‘love’ to all which may be given by the fact that God is long-suffering and good to all men. We must note the distinction. One may show love to those one does not ‘love’. One can be good to one’s enemies whom one hates.
As far as the word GRACE goes I think scripture is even clearer. Grace or ‘common grace’ is never used with respect to those general ‘blessings’ granted to all men. GRACE is used with particular reference to God’s undeserved favour shown to His people in SAVING them eternally. Matthew 5 does not use the word grace with regard to the rain and the sunshine given to all. So we should refrain from using the term in that context as it merely confuses it with SAVING grace shown to the elect.
Likewise scripture invariably uses the word FAITH with regard to the faith of God’s elect and that faith which is wrought in them by the Spirit through which they believe on Christ and rest in His finished work of salvation. Whilst there IS a general call to all men to repent and believe the gospel, that belief is not a particular belief in Christ’s blood being shed for the individual but a belief in the facts, the truth of the Gospel. All men SHOULD believe the gospel for it is TRUE, it is God’s word, and God is true. It is men’s duty to believe that, just as it is their duty to repent of their sin and turn from it, but only the elect are granted saving FAITH to believe that Christ died for THEM particularly. Scripture speaks of faith invariably with reference to this saving faith, a fruit of the Spirit in those born of God. Hence it is wise not to use the word ‘faith’ with respect to that general belief in the truth of the Gospel which is expected of all who hear it. All men have a duty to believe God’s word as being true. Even the devils believe and tremble. Yet not all men have a duty to believe SAVINGLY and to exercise saving faith. The devils can’t believe that way as Christ never died in their place and neither can the reprobate for saving faith is a gift of God, a fruit of the Spirit, granted freely to the elect and to them only.
So, I believe we should be careful to be guided by the language of scripture and speak of faith as being that saving faith, that fruit of the Spirit in the believer, and of there also being a general call to all men to believe, demanding a natural ‘belief’ or consent to the truth. But it is best to use ‘faith’ in relation to that faith which is given to the elect which gives them spiritual sight and understanding and enables them to believe on Christ, to trust in Him alone for salvation, to rest in His finished work. Hence I disagree with the usage of the term ‘duty faith’ as real faith is a gift of God, not a duty (…of course there is also the faith which Christ had and the truth of the Gospel is summarised objectively as THE Faith).
Also, grace is a word used in scripture with regard to God’s salvation of sinners. We read of “the grace of God which bringeth salvation”. That grace has nothing to do with the common goodness shown to all men as spoken of in Matthew 5. For that we should use other terms such as God’s loving-kindness or goodness to all. But grace, true grace, is shown to God’s elect only.
The same goes for ‘love’. Scripture clearly speaks of God's love being set upon His people whilst they were yet sinners (Romans 5:8); and that saved people are called to love the brethren and not the world. Christ says He loves His sheep and prays not for the world. God says He loves His people and hates the wicked – He loves Jacob and hates Esau. So whatever goodness or loving-kindness is shown to others should not be confused with the love of God to His elect, and it is best to avoid the use of the word ‘love’. ‘Loving’ your enemies means you show love towards them, knowing that if they are reprobate then you heap coals upon their head by so doing, but if they are the elect then God will eventually reveal His salvation to them. But such ‘loving’ is not to say that you ‘set your love upon them’. You don’t love them as you love the brethren. Such true love is only set upon Christ and His sheep. One can hate the wicked whilst showing love to them by good deeds towards them, just as one can love a son whilst chastising him for his waywardness. If one chastises his son he does not cease to love him as his son. Likewise if you ‘love’ your enemy by doing them good that does not mean that you have set your love upon the wicked. The righteous man will rightly hate the wicked, but may nevertheless show them love by good deeds.
Another point about God’s love is this. God hates the sins of His elect people, so much so that He judged those sins in the person of His own Son by pouring out all His righteous anger, fury and wrath upon Him at the cross. Yet God always loved His elect people. He loves them, but hates their sin. Likewise God hates the reprobate and will condemn them for eternity because of their sin and rebellion. Yet God has shown goodness towards them during their lifetimes which they don’t deserve, and which only heightens their condemnation as ungrateful creatures of the Creator. Nevertheless such acts of goodness towards all His creation does not mean that God’s love is set upon all, including the wicked – for we read that “Esau have I hated”.
So, in conclusion, I ask why then do some ‘theologians’ choose to use the words love, grace and faith with respect to all men? Why not be more distinct in their language? Why not draw a clear distinction between God’s dealings with His own children and His dealings with the wicked?
Why not? I believe because such ‘theologians’ wish by ambiguity to blur the line between God’s love of His own people and His hatred of the wicked in order to make their ‘gospel’ more ‘palatable’ to men. They wish to set forth a view of an all-loving God and dampen down the clear teaching of His hatred of the reprobate. They wish to be able to preach the ‘gospel’ in a manner which allows them to blur the distinctions between God’s particular love and grace shown to His elect, and the faith granted to them by the Spirit, and those general blessings shown to all men. By speaking of those general things (rain, sunshine etc) and using the terms ‘grace’, ‘love’ and a general duty to exercise ‘faith’, the clarity of the Gospel is lost, the separation in the Gospel of sheep and goats, precious and vile, good and evil, light and darkness, elect and reprobate is blurred.
Hence a ‘gospel’ is presented which sets forth an all-loving God who shows ‘love’ to all, ‘grace’ to all, and demands ‘faith’ of all. It presents a God who ‘desires’ the salvation of all. By using the SAME WORDS as those things which are particular to the elect (love, grace and faith), the hearer does not comprehend what is only for the elect and what is for the reprobate. He is left thinking that God just loves all, shows grace to all, and expects faith of all. The hearer is not left knowing a clear distinction between that love and grace shown to the elect and that wrath which is set upon the reprobate. The alarm is not sounded clearly to warn the hearer to flee from the wrath to come because he is given the impression that God’s love is upon all men – the hearer is not clearly brought to the point of crying out to God for MERCY. Neither does he clearly realise that he can only exercise faith to believe savingly if GOD GRANTS HIM FAITH as a result of God’s causing him to be BORN AGAIN. No, such a ‘gospel’ leaves the hearer thinking that God just generally loves all men, shows all men grace and expects all men to exercise faith. Thus salvation simply lies in man’s ‘receiving’ a Jesus freely offered to all, an act of believing supposedly desired of all, expected of all, and apparently achievable by all if THEY but will. Hence under such a scheme who is truly sovereign in salvation? God or man? ...Surely man?
This is a false gospel. I believe its presentation is a real danger and a real undermining of the true Gospel. Hence I believe we should keep to Biblical words and the correct usage of those words, in order to avoid the slippery slope which leads to an erosion of the truth, and we should seek to be LED BY THE SPIRIT in how to rightly DIVIDE the word of God.
“Common Grace”, “Universal Love”, the “Free Offer of the Gospel” and “Duty Faith” all are interrelated teachings which centre upon taking particular words of scripture which have particular application and meaning to God’s elect, and applying them to all men. These teachings blur the ‘gospel’ in such a way that it no longer divides. Rather than presenting the word of God clearly, as that sharp two-edged sword which divides asunder, even dividing bone from marrow and spirit from soul, instead a ‘gospel’ is presented by many today which muddies everything together, which presents an uncertain sound, gives the impression that blessings unique to the elect are offered freely to all and can be apprehended by all, and ultimately such a ‘gospel’ promises salvation to all but actually saves none.
But as for me I’ll say this – “I am NOT ashamed of the Gospel of CHRIST for it is the power of God unto salvation” Romans 1:16. Why? “Because therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” THAT is what gives the Gospel its power – the revelation of the righteousness of God, from faith to faith. Such a righteousness, such justice draws a clear distinction between the elect and the reprobate. The Gospel reveals grace unto the elect, and the wrath of God (Romans ) to others. A division is made. The elect are saved because that Gospel reveals the righteousness of God unto their FAITH. What faith is this? A duty demanded of all? No the faith granted to them by the Spirit after He has caused them to be born again, as an act of God’s grace. For the Spirit’s work is to bring salvation, through the Gospel, unto the elect - to make known God’s everlasting love for them unto them in particular. It is the “grace of God which BRINGETH salvation”. Yes, SALVATION! That is what true grace brings - not simply the ‘common’ things of life such as food, water, sun and rain…..
Oh, may we pay heed to such a Gospel – the Gospel of CHRIST. The power of God unto SALVATION.