The Disruption and Personal Reality of God’s Grace in Christ

As a good Conservative Baptist (CBA) I grew up singing hymns. One of those hymns is called Grace Greater Than Our Sin and it was published by Julia H. Johnston in 1910. It goes like this:

baptismjesus1. Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled. Refrain: Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin! 2. Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, Threaten the soul with infinite loss; Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold, Points to the refuge, the mighty cross. 3. Dark is the stain that we cannot hide; What can we do to wash it away? Look! There is flowing a crimson tide, Brighter than snow you may be today. 4. Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, Freely bestowed on all who believe! You that are longing to see His face, Will you this moment His grace receive?

As I was thinking about the quote I am about to share from Princeton theologian, George Hunsinger, this hymn came rushing back to mind. As the hymn underscores God’s grace is that much more powerful than sin and death. What the hymn does not underscore so well, and in a way it dampens this reality, is that properly understood, grace is a person; grace is Jesus Christ come with the Holy Spirit. As Augustine has noticed, God’s love and grace are tied into the personal reality brought to bear in our lives by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit who operated actively in the creative work of the incarnation of God in the womb of Mary, is the same Holy Spirit who personally unites us to Christ’s resurrection in whom we experience and participate in God’s life of grace for us (pro nobis). Augustine believed that Romans 5:5, one of his favorites, captured this reality best,

And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Something that both the hymn, and the passage from Romans presuppose upon, and rightly so, is that God’s grace is extra nos, outside of us. As such, when grace breaks into our lives it (better, He) does something radical; He disrupts our trajectory away from Him, and orients it back to Him. This disruption is so radical that language such as resurrection, reconciliation, regeneration, re-creation are all words used to capture the ineffable reality that has taken place as God’s grace disruptively breaks into the bonds of our inward curved lives (homo in se incurvatus), an recapitulates the whole creation order by retrospectively reversing His original creation and re-orders everything in such a way that creation is re-set into creation’s original purpose (telos) who is the Christ, God’s grace. George Hunsinger communicates it this way:

Grace that is not disruptive is not grace—a point that Flannery O’Connor well grasped alongside Karl Barth. Grace, strictly speaking, does not mean continuity but radical discontinuity, not reform but revolution, not violence but nonviolence, not the perfecting of virtues but the forgiveness of sins, not improvement but resurrection from the dead. It means repentance, judgment, and death as the portal to life. It means negation and the negation of the negation. The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free. Grace may of course work silently and secretly like a germinating seed as well as like a bolt from the blue. It is always wholly as incalculable as it is reliable, unmerited, and full of blessing. Yet it is necessarily as unsettling as it is comforting. It does not finally teach of its own sufficiency without appointing a thorn in the flesh. Grace is disruptive because God does not compromise with sin, nor ignore it, nor call it good. On the contrary, God removes it by submitting to the cross to show that love is stronger than death. Those whom God loves may be drawn to God through their suffering and be privileged to share in his sufferings in the world, because grace in its radical disruption surpasses all that we imagine or think.[1]

 

[1] George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 16-17 cited by Michael Allen, Justification and the Gospel, 174 scribd version.

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