Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


God’s grace is gratuitous and undomesticated.

God’s grace is gratuitous and undomesticated.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2022

/ Programs / Key Life / God’s grace is gratuitous and undomesticated.

Justin Holcomb: God’s grace is gratuitous and undomesticated. Let’s talk about it, on Key Life.

Matthew Porter:
This is Key Life. We’re here to let you know that because of what Jesus has done, God will never be angry at you again. Steve invited our friend Justin Holcomb to do the teaching this week. Justin is an Episcopal Priest, an author, and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Justin Holcomb: Thank you Matthew. My name is Justin Holcomb, and I have the joy of teaching this week. At Key Life, the focus is on you guessed it, the grace of God. And this week, we’re focusing on a Biblical and theological exploration into this idea of grace. And this is important because grace isn’t just a nice concept for the people who feel like they’re bad Christians. It’s the central message of the Bible in the Christian tradition. And it is not just something that makes us feel better because it’s sentimental. It’s the most important concept. It is the reason that Jesus Christ, the God man is who he is and did what he did in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. It changes everything. The outrageousness of God’s indiscriminating grace always gets people stirred up and hopefully this will stir us up. Grace is most clearly expressed in the promise of God revealed in Scripture and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Grace isn’t just some nice, floating, warm concept. It is secured by Jesus Christ. God made flesh who died in our place for our sins, rose to conquer Satan’s sin, held death in the grave, ascended to the right hand of the Father and is coming again to get his people. About grace, Cathleen Falsani writes this.

You can call it whatever you like, categorize it, qualify, quantify, dismiss it. None of it will make grace anything other than precisely what grace is, audacious, unwarranted, and unlimited.

In English, the word grace has to do with charm, elegance, beauty, or attractiveness as a characteristic of humans. The word grace as used in the Bible has very little to do with what is commonly understood as grace in the English language. In fact, scripture tells us that grace isn’t a personal virtue at all, rather, it’s the undeserved favor lavished on us, the inferior, by God, the superior. Grace is unmerited favor or a kindly disposition that leads to acts of kindness. This is the grace of God that has given to us. Theologian J. Gresham Machen says this about the theological and Biblical centrality of grace.

The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God. The grace of God, which depends not one wit upon anything that is in us, but is absolutely undeserved, resistless, and sovereign. Christian experience depends for its depth and for its power, upon the way in which that blessed doctrine is cherished in the depths of the heart. The center of the Bible and the center of Christianity is found in the grace of God. And the necessary corollary of the grace of God is the salvation through faith alone.

That’s the end of Machen’s quote. Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely, the peace of God given to the restless, the unmerited favor of our Lord. Some other theologians have given some shorter reflections on grace. Here are some one sentence summaries, B.B. Warfield says.

Grace is free, sovereign favor to the ill deserving.

Or this.

Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.

That’s John Stot.

Grace is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him.

Jerry Bridges. Or Paul Zahl.

Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.

So, what we know is that grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit. And these result in judgment. Machen continues about grace, he says.

This condemnation comes by merit. Salvation comes only by grace. Condemnation is earned by man. Salvation is given by God.

Love that clarity. That point is why everyone wants and needs grace because judgment kills and only grace makes alive. The shorthand for grace that I like to use is mercy, not merit. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. Karma is all about getting what you deserve. Christianity teaches that getting what you deserve is death and no hope of resurrection. Grace is the opposite of karma. While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. It is fundamentally a word about God, his uncoerced initiative and pervasive extravagant demonstration of care and favor. One of my friends, Michael Horton theologian writes this about grace.

In grace God gives nothing less than himself. Grace then is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but as Jesus Christ in redeeming action.

That’s the point. Let me just read that one to you again.

In grace God gives nothing less than himself. Grace then is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but as Jesus Christ in redeeming action.

Grace is as complete as God himself and expresses the quality of his own character. Grace is the very essence of the being of God, God himself is in it. He reveals his very essence in the streaming forth of grace God’s action of grace is inexhaustible. That is why we find such superlative adjectives used by the apostle Paul to describe it. He says things like the abundance of grace, sufficient grace, surpassing riches of grace. In the Christian tradition, there are many adjectives that have accompanied the word grace, such as amazing, free, scandalous, surprising, special, inexhaustible, incalculable, wondrous, mysterious, abundant overflowing, irresistible, costly, extravagant, and tons more. My absolute favorite is from John Calvin. He calls it gratuitous grace. Gratuitous is the idea of something being unwarranted and uncalled for. It’s too much. And though we yearn desperately for grace, the beautiful extravagance of God’s loving in Christ is utterly uncalled for, it’s gratuitous. And in his master work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes this.

We make the foundation of faith, the gratuitous promise because in it, faith properly consists. Faith begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it.

So, in Calvin’s theology, the knowledge of God the Redeemer focuses on the gratuitous promise as the main theme of Scripture. The gratuitous promise in Christ is the substance of Scripture. The various terms, denoting the gratuitous promise of God existing throughout Calvin’s writings, it’s just countless in the variations. He refers to it as gratuitous mercy, gratuitous favor, gratuitous, goodness, mere good pleasure, and gratuitous love. The encouragement from Calvin’s wisdom is that God loves you with gratuitous grace because that’s the only kind of grace there is. God’s grace is unconditioned and unconditional because of Jesus Christ. God is the one who loves in freedom. Unconditional love is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. Many of us, whether we admit it or not have this sense that there must be some breaking point where God finally gives up on us, even if we successfully avoid believing this fallacy, others overzealously cry out and their cries reach our ear. Certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that’s just too much for the grace of God because this is a common response to unconditional love. The human propensity is to establish negotiated settlements with God throughout religion. Religion tries to domesticate grace, but grace is antithetical to the logic of religion. T.F. Torrance explains this contrast.

Grace is costly to man because it lays the acts to the root of his cherished possessions and achievements, not least in the realm of his religion. For it is in religion that man’s self justification may reach it’s supreme and most subtle form. Religion can be the supreme form taken by sin.

Or Robert Capon.

The world is by no means averse to religion. In fact, it’s devoted to it with a passion. It will buy any recipe for salvation as long as that formula leaves the responsibility for cooking up salvation firmly in human hands. The world is drowning in religion. It’s lying full fathom forty in the cults of spiritual growth, physical health, psychological self-improvement, and ethical propriety. Not to mention the religions of money, success, upward mobility, sin prevention, and cooking without animal fats, but it is scared out of its wits by any mention of the grace that takes the world gratis.

Grace is the end of religion because the secured promise of the gospel frees us from the proposed promises of religious self reliance, self sufficiency, and self justification. The grace of God that shocked the world throughout Scripture has not stopped shocking the world with the radical grace of unmerited favor, being lavished upon unwilling rebels. Holy and gracious Father, we thank you so much for the secured grace by your son. Jesus Christ. In Him we rest. Amen.

Matthew Porter:
Thank you Justin. That was our friend Justin Holcomb teaching us today about grace, gratuitous grace. And great news. Justin will be with us all this week. Sure hope you’ll join us for that starting tomorrow. Well, our little family recently visited a theme park here in Central Florida. We had looked forward to it for a long time, but when we got there, even better than we had anticipated. That experience is kind of like grace. We know it’s good, but the truth is, it’s even better than we can conceive of. We spoke about that idea recently with Andrew Farley on Steve Brown Etc reflecting on just how good the good news really is. We put that entire conversation on a CD and if it’s okay with you, we’d love to send it to you, for free. Just call us at 1-800-KEY-LIFE. That’s 1-800-539-5433. You can also e-mail [email protected] to ask for that CD. If you’d like to mail your request, send it to

Key Life Network
P.O. Box 5000
Maitland, Florida 32794

if you’re in Canada, send your request to

Key Life Canada
P.O. Box 28060
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 6J8

Just ask for your free copy of the CD featuring Andrew Farley. And finally, would you prayerfully consider partnering in the work of Key Life through your giving? You could charge a gift on your credit card or include a gift in your envelope. Or join the growing number of folks who give safely and securely by texting Key Life to 28950. That’s Key Life, one word, two words. It doesn’t matter. Just text that to 28950 and then follow the instructions. Key Life is a member of ECFA in the States and CCCC in Canada. And as always, we are a listener supported production of Key Life Network.

Back to Top