The Tapestry of Sovereign Grace

Because crisis is common to the human condition so is the cry for deliverance. A hand on a hot stove recoils just as a human facing danger cries out for help. It is primordial and ubiquitous. There is nothing uniquely "Christian" about the desire for deliverence and safety. It is a human request.

But there is a distinctive Christian cry for salvation that strikes us as odd the first time we are exposed to it. You pick up on this oddity when you read Psalm 6, where David says,

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise (Psalm 6:4-5)?

The Psalmist lays bare the ground of his desire for salvation. We would expect it to be something like "save me for...self-preservation," "...self-pity," "...self-need," or any other “self” prefixed reasons. But instead he declared, “Save me God for Your sake.”

The Shock of Salvation

This is why the doctrines of grace shock us. It is not just that God saves and God alone. It is not just that all of creation and providence contribute together in totality to the glory of God. It is that these two strands are inseparably tied together. This theological knot, so evident in Scripture, is nevertheless at times hidden from view in our lives—like a tapestry’s beauty on top is so contingent on the knots that bedeck it underneath.

As we explore this mysterious subject, we come first to the doctrine of salvation. It is God’s work alone--not according to man’s effort, but is only a gift. Man cannot contribute one iota to his own salvation. It is all a gift, all mercy, all grace so that God will get the glory--all of it. Salvation is no partnership between the sinner and God. God must save and God alone. So we have in this doctrine a single, unilateral focus on God.

Second, we have the doctrine of God’s sovereign control over all things. He has so decreed that both creation and providence will in every respect contribute to his maximum glory. There is not, as Kuyper said, one square inch of creation over which God does not exercise his own glory-inducing sovereignty. All the seconds of the clock and all the inches of the universe march as joyful soldiers in the army of God’s glory.

So we see from these two aspects—soteriology and God’s eternal decree— that God is at the center of all things and not us. It should be a blessed reorientation for the followers of Christ to be freed from selfish introspection--but when crisis hits, it often isn’t.

The Allure of Self

When I was a competitive swimmer and coach we had a rule—never teach technique until the swimmer is tired. When a swimmer first hops in the water and paddles toward the other end, their stroke appears impeccable. They have the energy to maintain each kick and pull the way they know they should. But as the lactic acid builds up in the swimmer’s muscles they can no longer hold their stroke together. The more tired you become the more the coach can see the areas that need to be worked on. Crisis does the same thing for the Christian.

In the air conditioned sanctuary on a Sunday morning, theology is precise in theory and practice. But in life, when suffering comes, the pristine stroke of the Christian begins to fall apart. What we find in that moment is more of our sinful self than we would have ever dared think was still left in our progressively sanctified bodies. And so our cries for salvation and self can sound more ubiquitously human than particularly Christian.

The Unnerving Nature of Grace

This is where the grace of Jesus comes in. Our Lord and Christ is not only gracious to save us when we cry out to him for salvation but is gracious enough to change even our cries for help. Grace is not just unmerited salvation. It is also the unmerited gift of being able to approach crisis claiming God’s superabundant worth rather than our self-worth. Grace is even more aggressive in us than the sin it eradicates. Grace creeps into every area, crevice, crack, thought, emotion, and aspect of our lives--it permeates us.

This, in turn, is what makes sense of the odd statements we find in the Bible. The believer goes beyond crying out, “Save me because I’m someone.” He enters deeper into the tapestry of redemption, tying together the strands of soteriology and decree, crying out, “Save me God because You are somone--You are the only One.”

Christ's Victory Over Death

All of this blessed reorientation happens at the cross and in the tomb. Every crisis and every suffering we face has the threat of death in it. It doesn’t matter whether it is a bounced check or a cancer diagnosis. Every jarring life event has in it the whisper of mortality and the fear of what lies beyond.

Christ in his great work on the cross satisfied the wrath of God by dying in the sinner’s stead. He once for all removed the terminus of our suffering and gave us the eternal life that He displayed by His resurrection. The reason that death has lost its sting and the law its power to condemn is because both have been exhausted by Christ.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is so thoroughly powerful that it changes even our root desires in suffering. The Christian has been changed, transformed to long for the glory of God in all things. Now even in crisis and need the Christian is able to call out to God and ask for Him to do what he has always done, glorify himself in salvation. And if there is ever any doubt how God answers that cry we only have to look to Christ.

Joe Holland