OCTOBER 25, 2020

Grace Is Not a Thing

Why Spiritual Renewal Begins with a Him

Article by Scott Hubbard

Editor, desiringGod.org

Few words are more precious in the Christian’s vocabulary than the word grace. And yet few words are more misunderstood and misapplied, even by those who treasure the gospel of Jesus.

Already in the New Testament, we find the two basic ways grace can be twisted. The first is the legalist delusion, on display in Paul’s warning to the Galatians: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). The second is the antinomian error, as when “certain people . . . pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 4).

Both legalists and antinomians may herald “grace alone” — but the phrase really means “grace ignored” to the one and “grace abused” to the other. Either way, as Sinclair Ferguson powerfully shows in his book The Whole Christ, grace gets disgraced.

Now, most of us are neither self-righteous legalists nor sensuality-loving antinomians. But every one of us is prone to lean toward one error or the other. And the farther we lean, the less amazing grace becomes, and the more burdensome the Christian life feels. Oh, how necessary, then, to stand firmly in “the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12).

Blessed in the Beloved

For all the differences between legalists and antinomians, the two often share one surprising similarity: they treat grace as a thing that God gives, rather than as God’s gift of himself. As Michael Reeves writes,

When Christians talk of God giving us “grace” . . . we can quickly imagine that “grace” is some kind of spiritual pocket money he doles out. Even the old explanation that “grace” is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense” can make it sound like stuff that God gives.

“Few words are more misunderstood and misapplied, even by those who treasure Jesus, than grace.”TweetShare on Facebook

Well then, what is grace? Reeves goes on: “The word grace is really just a shorthand way of speaking about the personal and loving kindness out of which, ultimately, God gives himself” (Delighting in the Trinity, 88).

In Scripture, the grace of God is never separated from the God of grace — and in particular, from the God-man of grace, Jesus Christ. The two are so entwined that Paul can call the coming of Christ the coming of grace (Titus 2:11). All grace comes to us, therefore, “through” Christ (Romans 1:4–5), “in” Christ (2 Timothy 1:9) — or, as John puts it, “from his fullness” (John 1:16). Perhaps Paul describes it most gloriously of all when he writes,

In love [the Father] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6)

Grace comes to us “in the Beloved” — and nowhere else. Grace is sap from the true Vine, warmth from the true Light, affection from the true Bridegroom. In other words, when God gives us grace, he gives us Christ.

Saved by Grace Alone

What does this have to do with legalism and antinomianism? Everything, if we have eyes to see. For legalism and antinomianism thrive only when we separate the grace of Christ from Christ himself. Only when we treat grace as abstract “stuff” can we imagine that grace is sufficient for this, but not for that: for some righteousness, but not for all righteousness; for forgiveness, but not for holiness.

But if grace comes to us in the Beloved, then grace gives us a full salvation, justifying us with his righteousness, sanctifying us with his holiness, and glorifying us with his glory. Like a mighty river rolling toward us from eternity, grace catches us up into all that Christ is and all he has done, rushing us forward from salvation past to salvation future.


Many who struggle with legalism know how to speak the language of grace. Yet as Ferguson shows so powerfully, “Where the language of grace abounds, it is possible for the reality of legalism to abound all the more” (The Whole Christ, 91).

“Grace is sap from the true Vine, warmth from the true Light, affection from the true Bridegroom.”TweetShare on Facebook

Perhaps we can recite the five solas, renounce the idea of works-righteousness, and say with the apostle, “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8). Yet all the while, we may hear the low inner whisper that this grace is not enough for us. We do not say that our good works justify us alongside God’s grace, but we may feel like it. As a result, we feel justified by God only when we feel good before him: when we can look on our Bible reading, evangelism, and other obedience with at least some satisfaction.

When God gives us grace, however, we never need wonder if his grace will be enough for our justification. Such thinking treats grace as a thing, as currency toward the admission price of the kingdom. But if we have any grace at all, then we have it in union with Jesus Christ. And if we are united to Christ, then we have all that he has and all that he is. In him, we have righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), redemption (Ephesians 1:7), adoption (Romans 8:16–17) — all that we need for God’s favor to rest on us forever.

When we believe in Jesus, we do not “get” a certain amount of grace from him and then hope it will suffice for our justification. No, by faith we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) such that now, even when we feel most ashamed of our sin, his righteousness covers us like a robe (Isaiah 61:10).


The true grace of God is the remedy for our legalistic tendencies. It is also the remedy for our antinomian leanings. For if grace unites us to Christ, then we cannot enjoy only part of him; we cannot embrace him for justification without also embracing him for sanctification. All that Christ is in his perfect humanity must become ours, including his holiness.

Few passages dismantle our one-dimensional ideas of grace like Romans 6 does. Paul, after celebrating the grace that comes to us in justification (Romans 5:15–21), anticipates the antinomian question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1–2). And why? Because when Christ died under sin’s curse, he buried us with him (Romans 6:210–11), and when Christ rose up from sin’s dominion, he grasped us by the hand and led us into his freedom (Romans 6:4–58).

Hence the victorious words: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If grace is only forgiveness, Paul’s statement rings hollow. But grace is more than forgiveness. “Grace is power, not just pardon,” John Piper writes. Yes, and not just any power, but the same power that pulsed through Jesus’s veins when he walked out of the grave. Holiness runs on resurrection strength.

“In Christ, grace not only fills our past and pervades our present; it also adorns our future.”TweetShare on Facebook

Someone may wonder, “If we make sanctification necessary in the Christian life, don’t we veer into legalism?” No, we don’t veer into legalism; we rather collapse into grace. Sanctification, though it involves our total effort, is just as much a gift of grace as justification. We may strain and fight for holiness; we may even cut off a hand or gouge out an eye. But at every step, Christ teaches us to say, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).


No one is justified in Christ who is not also sanctified in Christ — and no one is sanctified in Christ who is not also glorified in Christ. From the moment God unites us to Jesus, glory slowly grows within us: first the seed, then the stem, then the bud. And “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the bud will burst into full bloom.

In Christ, grace not only fills our past (in justification) and pervades our present (in sanctification); it also adorns our future. So, Peter writes, “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

Grace arrived at the first coming of Christ, bringing righteousness and sanctification (Titus 2:113:5–7). And grace will arrive at the second coming of Christ, bringing glorification. And what will happen? Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). “We shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). In every way that we possibly can be, “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

Yet even then, when our conformity to Christ is complete, the river of grace will keep rolling. As we walk resurrected through the new heavens and earth, our glorification will become the backdrop for God to display, through all the coming ages, “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Every beat of our glorified hearts will echo the grace of him who joined us in the grave so that he might take us up to glory.

No Other Fountain

Grace, then, is not an abstract quality we can possess apart from Christ. There is only one kind of grace: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 13:14), the grace that flows freely “in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). If we could imagine grace as less like a spiritual substance and more like a glorious Person, our own spiritual reformation may not be far behind.

“Both legalism and antinomianism thrive only when we separate the grace of Christ from Christ himself.”TweetShare on Facebook

Not only would we find ourselves safer from both legalism and antinomianism; we may also find our hearts calmed and settled in the presence of our magnificent Christ. Instead of restlessly looking inward for our justification before God, we would look at his righteousness. Instead of leaning on spiritual tactics for our sanctification, we would lean on his resurrection. And instead of hoping in a vague heaven for our glorification, we would hope in his glorious coming.

As John Calvin counsels us, “Since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other” (Institutes, 2.16.9). Yes, let us drink our fill from Christ and Christ alone, for grace has no other fountain.Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis.

6 Things You Never Knew About Rainforests

Rainforests are a vital part of our planet. They can be found all over the world, on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Most are quite warm, with an average temperature of around 86 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. If you want to learn more, here are seven things you never knew about rainforests.

There Are Two Types of Rainforests


Most people refer generically to a rainforest, but there are actually two different types — tropical and temperate. They share some similarities, like tall, dense and green vegetation, but they also have some important differences. Temperate rainforests are cool while tropical rainforests are warmer and moist.

Many Tropical Forests Are Not Tropical Rainforests

Credit: FG Trade/iStock

Just because a forest is tropical, it does not necessarily make it a tropical rainforest. In order to qualify as such, it must lie between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In addition, it has to receive regular rainfall of over 80 inches per year, and it has to be warm and remain free of frost all year long. A forest that has irregular rainfall patterns, like a monsoon followed by a dry season, is a moist deciduous forest.

Rainforests Help With Modern Medicine

Credit: Christian W/Shutterstock

It is believed that around 25% of all western medicines are made from various rainforest plants. Some of these help with conditions like arthritis, diabetes, skin issues, heart problems and more. One example is Lapacho, which is an herbal tea made using Pau d’Arco tree bark. The tea is believed to help with allergies, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes and infections.Geography3ptsTest Your Knowledge!What Northern Ireland landmark was supposedly created by the mythical Finn McCool?PLAY!

Barely Any Plants Have Been Analyzed for Medicinal Qualities

Credit: Quick Shot/Shutterstock

It may not be a surprise that rainforests are home to a number of amazing medicinal cures, but it might come as a shock to know that not even one percent of the plants found in rainforests have been analyzed for their medicinal properties. This means that the full potential health benefits of the world’s rainforests are barely known.

The Amazon Rainforest’s Size Rivals the World’s Largest Countries

Credit: Dr Morely Read/Shutterstock

You probably knew the Amazon rainforest was huge, but did you know it’s bigger than most of the world’s countries? If it was its own country, it would rank as the ninth biggest country in the world. The Amazon rainforest spans 2.72 million square miles and is comparable in size to the 48-contiguous states, and represents around 40% of the South American continent.

Rainforests Have Very Little Light

Credit: guenterguni/iStock

The floor of a rainforest is nearly dark. It’s said that despite tropical rainforests receiving around 12 hours of sunlight each day, less than two percent of sunlight can reach through the forest’s extremely dense tree canopy to the ground.

Portrait of Erin De Santiago

Written by Erin De Santiago

Do My Past Sins Work Toward My Future Good?

Interview with John Piper

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org



Audio Transcript

Do our past sins work together for our future good? It’s the question from two listeners. Tim is one of them. “Dear Pastor John, hello! Paul writes in Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’ I know that ‘all things’ includes the so-called bad things as well, like suffering and death. However, I am confused as to whether ‘all things’ also includes my specific sins?”

A similar question came in from Cliff. “Pastor John, can you explain something? Does the ‘all’ in the ‘all things’ of Romans 8:28 include my sin? I hate my sin. I long for the day I won’t sin! But is my sin, too, working for an eternal good in me?”

Pastor John, how would you answer Tim and Cliff?

Well, before I answer directly, which I hope to do, let me lay down a biblical warning because Paul is very much aware of a danger in answering this question with a yes — namely, that our sins can work together for our eternal good. He sees a danger, and he warns against it at least twice. That’s where I feel like I should start.

Double Warning

Here’s the first one. Romans 3:5–8:

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

“In his amazing grace, God makes some sins gloriously devastating to our ego.”TweetShare on Facebook

In other words, Paul is very aware of the danger that in answering this question, I might lead people to “do evil that good may come.” He says, and I say, that anybody who infers that from anything I’m going to say now — from me or from Paul — they’re making a slanderous charge. I am never going to say, “Let’s all do evil that good may come since he turns all of our evil for his glory and for our good.” That’s the first warning.

Here’s the second one, from Romans 5:20–6:2:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

In other words, if we use our presumed human logic to say that more sinning means the display of more glorious grace, so let’s all be about more sinning, then we are dead wrong. And the first reason he gives why we’re dead wrong is that dead people don’t do that: Dead people don’t think that way. Dead people don’t act that way. He says, “How can we who died to sin still live in sin?” Dead people don’t sin like that, and we have died with Christ.

Double warning — let’s heed Paul’s warnings as we try to answer the question, Does Romans 8:28 mean that even our sins work for our good?

Happiness at Full Capacity

Now, the next thing to notice, I think, is the precise wording of Romans 8:28. Let’s make sure we get it.

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

It is a crucial question to ask: Well, what’s the effect of sinning in the heart of those who love God — in the heart of those who are called by God? Surely part of the answer is brokenhearted repentance, and self-humbling, and a resolve to hate sin more seriously and fight sin more valiantly. Those responses are good; they’re good. So yes, sins work for good for those who love God and are called, at least in that sense.

“The promise of working for our good is not the same as the promise of working for our maximal happiness.”TweetShare on Facebook

But this is different from saying that sinning works for our greatest happiness in eternity. The promise of working for our good is not the same as the promise of working for our maximal happiness. Now, I know that this introduces a distinction that many people have not, perhaps, thought about — namely, that in heaven, there will be varying rewards, which correspond, I think, to varying capacities for happiness; meaning, everyone in heaven will be fully happy (that’s the meaning of heaven), but that some will have capacities of fullness greater than others.

We talked about this way back in Episode 1188 if anybody wants to go check. Let me quote Edwards here, just a few sentences, to make the point. Jonathan Edwards says this:

Christ tells us that he who gives a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. But this could not be true, if a person should have no greater reward for doing many good works than if he did but few. It will be no dampening to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them: for all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others, and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.

There’s a picture of how there can be perfect happiness in everyone in heaven, and yet there can also be degrees of rewards, greater or lesser capacities for happiness. The point of saying that right here is to open the possibility that when Romans 8:28 says that everything works for our good, it does not guarantee that all of us who love God will have the same capacity for happiness in eternity. In other words, good in Romans 8:28 does not mean as good or as happy as is conceivable, since our capacity for happiness may have been greater if we had lived differently. But the good of Romans 8:28 does mean enjoying God as fully as your capacity allows.

For Eternal Joy

When Paul says, for example, in 1 Corinthians 3:15, “If anyone’s work is burned up [at the final judgment], he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire,” the implication is that sinful behavior may diminish our capacity for some eternal happiness.

Now, why do I say sinful behavior may diminish our capacity for eternal happiness? I say may because it is possible that after some season of sinning, say, teaching false doctrine, we might recognize, in this life, our failure, and repent, and be broken, and be humbled, and turn, and be all the more fruitful because of having failed and gotten so much clarity about our mistake that the rest of our life is more fruitful.

“Everyone in heaven will be fully happy, but some will have capacities of fullness greater than others.”TweetShare on Facebook

In other words, it is an oversimplification to say that every failure to do the very good deed that would have been rewarded with future joy necessarily means that our future capacity for future joy is diminished by that failure. That does not follow because God may take that very failure, that sin which forfeited the eternal reward of the good deed that it failed to do, and cause the very sin to break us, and humble us, and turn us into a path of even greater devotion, and obedience, and fruitfulness, and eternal joy.

I’m not saying every sin has this remarkable effect. I’m not; I don’t think that’s true. That would be an overstatement. Some sins of God’s people simply work for our good and God’s glory because they bring about forgiveness and justification and thankfulness.

So, I conclude: Every sin in those who truly love God works for God’s glory, which is our joy. In his amazing grace, God makes some sins gloriously devastating to our ego, and thus exceptionally fruitful for our eternal joy.John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.


The Simple Love of Jesus The “love” Jesus lived and taught, however, is not limited to compassion for the suffering and the downtrodden. Those were simple and obvious cases of love, to be sure: obvious because the needs of such people were so glaring, and because they were not the usual objects of love for ordinary people in ordinary life. They tended to be passed by. Helping people in dire need was recognized as a “big deal,” something to make a show of, and as a praiseworthy thing for extraordinary people to do—rather as we today would describe someone as a “philanthropist.” Unfortunately, people are not thought to be philanthropists because they are kind and thoughtful and look out for the good of those around them and serve them. But when Jesus speaks of love as the principle of life as it ought to be, he is referring mainly to the posture of benefiting others in the ordinary relations of ordinary life. The heroic occasions will then fi t in as they come along, but the reverse is not true. Thus, for example, his washing of the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper (John 13:3–15) was a simple act of loving them. The feet needed to be washed, but none of the apostles were going to do it, though they were well aware of the need and the custom. He then told them to follow his example and wash one another’s feet (v. 14).20 The reality of his new community of love was that “the greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt. 23:11), and he set the pattern, saying, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). From Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. Copyright © 2009 by Dallas Willard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.