The Rhetoric of “Unconditional” Grace

Tullian Tchividjian writes:

“When it comes to drawing near to God and pleasing him, legalism insists that obedience precedes acceptance — that it’s all up to us. But the fresh breeze of gospel freedom announces that acceptance precedes obedience — that once we’re already approved and already accepted by God in Christ, we can freely follow God’s lead and doing his will ….”

Well, yes and no.  God chooses to salvation solely on the basis of his sovereign grace without any regard for man’s choice or actions (Eph. 1), but as salvation is executed in history, obedience does precede acceptance — if we refuse to obey God by believing in Jesus and in repenting of our sins, we cannot be accepted by God.  I am confident that Tullian does believe this, but his rhetoric doesn’t always (or, in Jesus + Nothing = Everything, even usually) do justice to the obligatory dimension of the Gospel.  He is (understandably) intent to highlight God’s grace in Jesus, but he allows his rhetoric to outstrip Biblical teaching at points.  The universalists are so intent to exalt God’s grace that they end in stating that God eventually saves everyone.  This is not Tullian’s position by any means, but he should guard his rhetoric lest his readers assume that God demands nothing of sinners before he accepts them.

Earlier I noted that a blurb for Dane Ortlan’s book Defiant Grace tended to diminish God’s call to obedience under worries that obedience undermines grace.  But the Bible is only at war with self-righteousness, not with righteousness.  God saves totally by his grace apart from our works, but obedience in the form of faith and repentance in response to God’s grace does not constitute works excluded from salvation.

Election is unconditional, but it is not correct to say that salvation in toto is unconditional.  Without faith and repentance and submission to King Jesus, none will be saved.


One thought on “The Rhetoric of “Unconditional” Grace

  1. markmcculley says:

    There is no justification without faith, but logically there is imputation before faith.
    What exactly is the “baptism” in Romans 6? Is it water? Is it God’s imputation? Is it regeneration? Is it both, or all three?

    If you make imputation rely on water baptism rather than God baptizing us into Christ, then the consistent implication would be a man-centered false gospel. Humans calling themselves the church are claiming to be one of the two (or three) factors in uniting us to Christ’s death.

    Of course you could say that water and faith and obedience are the conditions that hook you up, and still say that what you are hooked up is what Christ did, not what you are doing. God caused you to hook up with the death, and then after you are hooked up, it’s not your faith or your hooking up that saves, because after that, it’s only Christ’s death saving you.

    That order of salvation application would still be wrong, but logically you could read it that way, and the tradition does read it that way for “justification” but not for “sanctification”.

    But once you have “front-loaded” the gospel (or at least the order of application) with regeneration before imputation, then you don’t really have justification of the ungodly anymore. You have justification of the regenerate.

    And with many folks it seems to be a very quick step from that statement to saying that the same regeneration which makes you godly enough to have the faith which is the condition of justification, that this same regeneration is going to make you godly enough and believe enough so you will keep getting better.

    And most Calvinists think that, if you don’t agree with them about that, then you must be an Arminian who simply denies that we need to be regenerate before we can believe the gospel. So the Arminian idea of faith without needing a new birth first is seen as the only other alternative to the idea of sanctification as “getting better”.

    Saying you can have faith and be justified, all before you are regenerate, that’s what Arminians say, and then some of these Arminians also deny (as I do) that “sanctification” is “regeneration causing you to be better”. The third alternative, the correct view, that imputation causes regeneration, is not much considered (Except by Bruce McCormack or Ed Boehl)

    Many “Calvinists” don’t really talk about imputation at all, much less God’s imputation before faith. (II Peter 1:1) No, most Calvinists are only talking about regeneration being first, and not about the atonement being only for the elect alone

    We are NOT obligated to do something to “make the exchange”. We don’t even “contribute our sins”. God already did or did not count our sins to Christ.

    Also, in the application of Christ’s death to sinner, in our uniting to Christ’s death, again it’s not our counting which is first but God’s counting. We don’t believe so that God will impute. God imputes so that we believe.

    Remember that “impute” has two sense, both transfer and declare. We
    don’t transfer anything. God both transfers and declares. We do declare, but only after God has declared, and we count (agree, say amen, reckon) based on God’s declaration.

    But what good is God’s “declaration”, since it’s not audible words we hear from God, telling us “you are justified”? And no, when we hear a sacerdotalist or a clergyman’s absolution, that’s not God’s declaration, no matter if the guy is from Rome (I forgive you) or
    from Geneva (God forgives you).

    So what good is a legal thought in God’s mind, a declarative transaction we can neither hear nor see? To me, it’s my only hope, because I know that a. this is the gospel which I believe and that b. I only believe it as a result of God’s imputation, and my believing it was not a condition to make it happen, to get me in union with Christ.

    I simply don’t care even if you are obeying much as you think, because if you are still a sinner (and have been, always been one) then your only hope is if God imputes Christ’s death to you. God won’t do that, if God has not already elected you and has not already imputed your sins to Christ when Christ already died.

    Notice I did not say that “God won’t do that, if you don’t believe.” Rather, if anybody ends up not believing the gospel about God’s imputation, then that will be evidence that God never imputed Christ’s death to that person and that Christ never died for them.

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