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The Doctrines of Grace – what are they?

The doctrines of grace is a set of teaching that summarizes what many Christians believe.

Doctrine is important. The Bible tells us that love rejoices in the truth. Jesus said “the truth shall set you free”. Jude tells us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints”. We in Lausanne Free Church humbly believe that the doctrines of grace is the set of teaching closest to that found in God's Word and as taught by the Lord Jesus and the apostles (the cornerstone and foundation of the church).

Only scripture is our guide

In the first place all who hold to the doctrines of grace have a high view of the Bible. We believe it is the Word of God, cover to cover and is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice. Therefore in deciding what we believe the only place to go is the 66 books of the Bible (Isaiah 40:8). Therefore in assessing the doctrines of grace we must test them against the scriptures.

The sovereignty of God

The doctrines of grace could be summed up in two words: “God saves” or three words: “God is sovereign”.

All true Christians have a lofty view of the attributes and nature of God. But for us a central teaching of the Bible is that God is sovereign. God is sovereign in creation, providence and especially in salvation. He does whatsoever he pleases. He is in complete control of everything. In fact he planned beforehand everything that happens (Isaiah chapters 40 to 45).

Dead in sins

At the heart of the doctrines of grace is the teaching that mankind is incapable of saving himself. We take seriously the Bible verses that say that:

We see the effect of the fall of man in the garden of Eden as catastrophic. Left to his own devices, no man will seek God, none would be saved (Romans 3: 9 to 18).

It is not that a human being is unable to believe, rather that he or she is unwilling to believe (John 5:40). The unsaved, unregenerate person chooses not to turn to Christ and find forgiveness.

The new birth

Jesus said that unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom of heaven. The key question is “can a man by his own efforts make himself spiritually alive?” The clear teaching of the Bible is “no”. Jesus went as far as to say that it is impossible for a man to save himself by his own efforts (Mark 10: 26 and 27).

Christians believe that a person must be born again to be saved. The question that divides is “At what point is a person born again? Does it happen before or after repentance and faith?”

We believe the Bible clearly teaches that repentance and faith follow after a person has been woken up from their sins by God's Spirit. This means that salvation is by grace alone. We are not saved by our efforts and God's efforts combined. Rather salvation is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2: 1 to 10).

Chosen by God

This leads onto another more contentious doctrine. If we can only be saved when God opens our eyes and awakes us from the dead it follows that God must choose who is saved. Again this is what we find the Bible teaches (Romans 9: 15 to 29; Ephesians 1:4). Constantly Christians are referred to as “the called” or “the elect” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2).

We believe that we are saved solely by the sovereign, electing love of God. This means that we can see no room for boasting that we are saved. We are only saved because God first loved us.

Once saved always saved

So God first works in salvation. The next question is this: can a Christian be saved one minute and then be lost? Can a believer who is born again and heading for heaven, so fall away that they are no longer born again and are now heading for hell? For us who believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation, the answer is no. How can a person made alive by God become dead again? The Bible certainly does not teach this.

The words used by the New Testament writers to describe the position of believers are very strong: For instance Peter says that we have an inheritance that is “incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God” (1 Peter 1:4). Jesus said “I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my Father's hand” (John 10:28).

A Bible student may rightly ask about the many other verses that speak of striving to ensure that we get to heaven when we die and of the importance of persevering in the faith. These verses are extremely important, but we must see that they are viewing our salvation from the human viewpoint, not God's viewpoint.

From the human angle, we must strive to live a life worthy of our calling. We must never take our salvation for granted. It is possible that we have deceived ourselves and that we were never truly born again in the first place. However, from God's point of view all those whom he has awakened from sin and saved will be found in heaven.

Christ the saviour of the world, died for his people

Having considered all the above, there is one more point we need to consider. All true Christians believe that Jesus was their substitute. On the cross he dealt with the penalty and power of sin. He suffered in their place taking the punishment the Christian deserves. So the question remains: for whom did Jesus die?

In a general way Jesus died for all mankind (John 1:29). He is the only way that sinners can be saved. He is the only remedy for the state we are in. Jesus is the solution to man's deepest problem. However when Jesus was hanging on the cross for which actual sins was he being punished? If Jesus was being punished for every sin of every human who has ever lived, then when God sends the lost to hell he is exacting punishment for sin twice!

The answer must be that Jesus suffered on the cross just for the elect. This is what we find the Bible teaches. Jesus said “I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:15). Paul writes “Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).

Does this mean that we can only offer Jesus as the Saviour to the elect? Of course not. For a start we do not know who the elect are! No, the Bible authorizes us to offer Christ as the Saviour to all (Mark 16:15). This was also the example that Paul set (Acts 17:22 to 31 especially v.30).

We therefore rejoice in that most well known Bible verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Which past and present Christian teachers have held to the doctrines of grace?

We do not follow what men teach, but only what the Word of God teaches. However it is comforting to know that most of the greatest Bible teachers, missionaries, and pastors of the last 2,000 years believed in the doctrines of grace.

Which confessions of faith teach the doctrines of grace?

Here are some examples:

The Westminster Confession of Faith 1646

The Belgic Basis of Faith 1580

The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689

The 39 Articles of the Church of England

The Philadelphia Confession 1742

If you want to know more or discuss any point in this article then please feel free to contact us