For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9
Finding Religion The average hip-hop fan is probably familiar with the name Chance the Rapper. Chance has stormed the hip-hop scene with music that is eclectic and filled with themes familiar to the church life experienced by many of his listeners, both black and white. Chance is joined by fellow rappers Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole in speaking of Christian themes in their music. New Republic wrote an article called “Hip Hop Hymnals”in which they stated that if you listen to Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar that “a striking trend emerges: Some of the most prominent and critically acclaimed artists in rap are finding religion”.
The article further states:
The religion in these songs is not especially concerned with the traditionally exclusive doctrines of Christianity. It would be closer to the truth to say that black cultural identity itself is the religion, a religion in which black Christians and black Muslims form two separate but noncompeting sects. The rites of this religion would be nothing more or less than the performance of black music itself, with rap at the forefront.
Quotes like this force us to ask some questions. Does making “Sunday Candy” keep a rapper from going to hell, as Chance the Rapper stated on “Ultralight Beam”? What distinguishes Christianity from other religions? Are good works, a few nods toward Jesus in music, and infrequent church attendance enough to save us for eternity?
There are a multitude of differences that could be mentioned here, but one of the most primary points of contention between Christianity and every other religion is grace. Put simply, every other religion in the world requires its adherents to do good works of some sort to get to God—even when their concept of God is oneself. Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, is centered upon the major doctrinal truth found in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith… not as a result of works.”
The Nature and Function of Grace
Before looking at what grace does, it is crucial to have an understanding of what grace is. Grace, charis in Greek, refers to the kindness and favor of God extended as a gift to undeserving recipients. In the context of Ephesians, grace is extended to people who were dead in trespasses and sin, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath (v.1-3). This is the description of every human being, including you. We are all on the naughty list. We are all deserving of the electric chair. We all deserve a special place in hell. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Grace has “undeserved” and “unmerited” written all over it. As Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle reminded us, “Grace is unmerited favor” and “God’s riches at Christ’s expense”. There are volumes of literature which could be (and have been) written on the nature and essence of grace. Put simply, “it is the gift of God”.
We are saved by grace. Paul writes that we are saved by grace, and the salvation being referred to, is justification (being declared righteous). We need a righteousness that is not from within ourselves in order to be saved, and this righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-22). It has to be an “alien righteousness” as described by Martin Luther. Romans 3:23-24 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that all who are saved are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption of His Son. The grace that justifies is a grace that is costly. It was purchased for us with the blood of Christ, and His righteousness is credited to our accounts in exchange for our sinfulness.
We are saved by grace through faith. There are two types of faith in the world. There is the faith that says, “I believe that chair is sturdy enough to hold my weight”. There is also faith that says, “I believe the chair is sturdy enough to hold my weight.. I’m sitting in it right now”. The difference is undeniable and has much to say about grace. Some people deny grace by refusing to believe that it even exists (legalists). Others deny grace by misunderstanding and abusing it (antinomians). The first group denies grace and lives as though imputed righteousness is not enough. The second group cheapens grace and lives as though imputed righteousness exempts them from the holiness required to see God (Hebrews 12:14). True faith is the faith that trusts in Christ Jesus alone for their positional righteousness, and fights, with the strength of Christ, to increase in being made more righteous in the present tense. In words of Martin Luther, “Faith alone justifies but a justified person with faith alone would be a monstrosity which never exists in the kingdom of grace.”
Grace and faith are gifts from God. There is much controversy regarding whether or not faith is a gift. From the context, it would seem incongruous to assume that dead sons of disobedience would be able to muster up even a shred of faith to believe the gospel. Furthermore, John 3:3 states that one must be “born again” (raised from death to life) to see the kingdom of God. For those who have an adequate understanding of Greek grammar, Jim McClarty has an excellent explanation from within Ephesians 2:8-9 of why faith is also considered a gift—I’ll leave that alone until I learn enough Greek to explain it for myself. Nonetheless, at the heart of sola gratia is the doctrine of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It is a glorious reality that the Triune Godhead is intimately involved in the salvation of sinners!
Grace is not of us or our works. Though much has already been stated about the external nature of grace, it is not an overstatement to say that grace is all of God. Justification does not come through our adherence to the law, nor does it come through an infusion of Christ’s righteousness combined with our righteousness (Gal 3:10). Our righteous deeds, apart from Christ are filthy, bloody, menstrual rags—a completely disgusting object (Isaiah 64:6)! Instead, God the Father showed compassionate love to sinners (John 3:16). God the Father sent His Son to those who were His enemies (Romans 5:8-10). God the Son took on human flesh (John 1:14). God the Son fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law (Romans 8:4). God the Son became a curse for us (Gal 3:13). God the Son rose from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:25). God the Holy Spirit regenerated and renewed us (Titus 3:4-5). God the Holy Spirit leads us (Gal. 5:18). God the Holy Spirit cries out as the Spirit of adoption within us (Romans 8:15). God the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ to present us a spotless and blameless in the last day (Romans 8:29, Eph. 5:26-27, Rev 19:6-9). Without God’s work in our salvation, we would be dead because “in Adam all die”, and we are all in Adam (1 Cor. 15:22).
Grace is given as a gift so we won’t boast. We live in an age of almost unrestrained boasting. Social media gives us a platform to display the grandeur of our lives for the world to see. We can boast in our achievements at work, school, sports, and even church. However, we can never boast in our salvation because it was not of us. John 1:13 speaks that all who receive Christ are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Look at all the “nots”! There is nothing for decaying, sin sick people to boast in! In fact, the only boasting found favorable in the scriptures are boasting in God, about other saints, and in our weakness.
Does making “Sunday Candy” keep a rapper from going to hell? Of course not! What keeps us from going to hell isn’t a religion that can be compatible with Islam, Catholicism, Black Hebrew Israelism, or any other belief system. Stated positively, what gets us into heaven is the grace of God, through faith. We are justified by grace alone through faith. Each and every person in this world has been appointed a day to die and meet the Lord in judgment. For those of us who are in Christ, our only song will be “Jesus Paid It All”. Don’t buy into the culture’s definition of faith and spirituality. If the finished work of Christ isn’t your source of righteousness, you’ve missed grace. If the grace of God doesn’t instruct you to deny worldliness and strive to live holy and upright in the present life (Titus 2:11-14), you’ve missed grace. Repent and be saved. By Grace alone through faith.
This was originally posted at: https://www.wrathandgrace.com/single-post/2018/05/14/Sola-Gratia-Grace-Alone