I have a project in mind that many of you may find helpful. It is something I have not done before. Usually I wait for a facebook friend to ask a question, then I try to answer it. Often I will refer to something I have already written. But this time I will take the initiative. I plan to publish a series of about ten short essays as an introduction to the subject of grace. I will publish them perhaps at the rate of one a day. They are in a deliberate sequence, so they should be read and studied in sequence. The format is to explain a series of ten distinctions that are important for understanding grace. The material is taken from an outline I use as the introduction of my seminary course on grace. For much more detail on it all, see my book, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (College Press, 400pp.). I am not trying here to cover everything related to the subject. So — be on the lookout! Maybe it will whet your appetite for more!
GRACE DISTINCTIONS #1– by Jack Cottrell
In my more whimsical moods I think of theology as THE ART OF MAKING DISTINCTIONS. Truly, a right understanding of Bible doctrine requires us to make proper distinctions within and between key concepts. This is certainly true of the doctrine of grace.
Here I propose to present a series of studies setting forth ten of the most important distinctions for having a proper understanding of grace. Some of these may surprise you as being relevant for grace, and some you won’t find anywhere else. I will present these in mini-essays, one at a time.
I. GOD AS CREATOR and GOD AS SAVIOR. First, we must distinguish between two of the main ways we relate to God. Sometimes we relate to God as our CREATOR, and sometimes we relate to him as our SAVIOR. Here we can think of God as in a sense wearing two hats.
In the first place, we must think of God as our Creator and of ourselves as his creatures. Isaiah 33:22 names some of the things God does in his ongoing role as Creator: “Yahweh is our Judge; Yahweh is our Lawgiver; Yahweh is our King.” See also James 4:12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge.”
As our Creator God has absolute ownership and authority over us; he is our Ruler and our King. In this role he is our Lawgiver—he gives us, his creatures, law commands that we are absolutely obligated to obey. These commands cover the areas of ethics and worship.
All of this is true, and it all applies totally apart from any thought of sin and salvation. Before sin entered, God’s relation to Adam and Eve was Creator-to-creature. And even after sin has come in, much of our own relation to God is Creator-to-creature. This includes our obligation to submit to his lordship and to obey his commands.
In the second place, because we are in fact sinners, we must also think of God as our Savior. In this Savior-to-sinner relationship God redeems us from the guilt and penalty of our sin through the work of Jesus Christ. As our Savior he also heals the sinfulness that corrupts our very natures, mainly through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Here is a key point: in some parts or circumstances of our lives, we relate to God primarily as creature-to-Creator. As our Creator, God is our King, our Lawgiver, and our Judge. But in other parts of our lives we relate to God primarily as sinner-to-Savior, wherever he works as Redeemer and Healer.
As Creator and Savior, God is always BOTH to us. It is not the case that sometimes he is our Creator, and sometimes he is our Savior. He is always our Creator and always our Savior. Yet it is very important to discern which aspects of our lives relate to God in the former role (e.g., obeying the ten commandments), and which relate to him in the latter role (e.g., preparing for heaven).