Fifth centenary of the Reformation: The main principles / Part IV: Sola Gratia

“For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith.
It does not come from you, it is a gift from God ” (Ephesians, 2, 8).

The fourth part of this study on the main principles of the Reformation concerns the idea that salvation is the work of by the grace of God alone. What do we mean by that? If, as Paul states in Ephesians 2: 2, man is since the sin of Adam, which he inherited, "by nature an enemy of God and children of wrath," then it seems clear that he cannot do nothing, by his free will, for his own salvation. In other words, because of the corruption of his nature, man could not love and choose God if God, as John will say in his first epistle, had not loved and chosen him first. Because the natural man, in other words, is a slave to sin, it is clear that he needs a irresistible grace to free him from this slavery.

Lhe fathers of the Reformation do not deny, however, that man can have real room for maneuver in the management of his day-to-day affairs. But when it comes to salvation and eternal life, man can do nothing, by his own free will, unless God begins by freeing him from this bondage to sin.

“Unless the Son of man sets you free,” said Jesus, “you will not really be free.”
John 8:36

To affirm, as the reformers do, salvation "by grace alone" (SOh Gratia), it is therefore to recognize that it is not by his own efforts that man can hope to achieve salvation, but that salvation is received as a grace that God grants us, in his merciful goodness. Where again, as Paul says,

“So it does not depend on the will or the efforts of man, but on the mercy of God. Thus, he has mercy on whom he wants and hardens whom he wants. "
Romans 9:18

Catholicism asserts that God does not save man "Without him, nor in spite of him".Catholicism asserts that God does not save man "Without him, nor in spite of him". The man must then collaborate to his salvation, because he can resist to the grace of God (this resistance then being the sign of the "hardening" of his heart). But for a Calvinist Protestant, in the absence of this irresistible grace, the man will not be able what to resist and he will always resist, since if the “fundamental disposition” of his nature is “hostile” to God, he can only conceive of himself free by freeing himself from the Law of God (cf. Romans 6: 20-23). But this freedom, understood as emancipation with regard to the divine Law and of His will, is only a false freedom: more exactly, it is the false representation that the carnal man, under the influence of sin , is made of freedom, while "true freedom", that of the "children of God", consists rather in no longer depending on that of god, to be "Slave of justice" (Romans 6, 17-18), which allows man to be free with regard to everything else since he has been freed, by the Grace of God, from the law of sin, and that he "belongs" henceforth to Jesus Christ, his only master, which is the pride of the Christian. This in fact places his "pride" in Christ, as the apostle Paul said, since Christ redeemed us by shedding his precious blood so that we can henceforth be him. to belong, and no longer belong to Satan, who is "prince of this world". But if true freedom is therefore to belong to Christ, to be redeemed and freed from the slavery of sin by his Grace, which allows us to come to Christ, let us specify that man does not could of himself come to Jesus Christ if he did not benefit from an irresistible Grace, for it is God who, as Paul reminds us, “ will and do it in us ” (Philippians 2:13), which excludes any form of “synergism”, any collaboration of man in his own salvation, both in the reception of grace and in the “work” of it in us: he there is not a part that falls under the Grace of God and a part that would fall of our freedom, but everything is 100% of God et 100% of us, since our freedom is real that in its total dependence on the will of God, who internally moves our will and determines in our choices, choices that are just as good ours.

It is true that Catholic theology, especially at the time of the Council of Trent, distinguishes two "moments" in the action of grace: there is first an act of God. without the man (it is "prevenient grace", which frees the will from its slavery in sin to enable it to collaborate in its salvation) and an act of God with the man (which requires human collaboration). Catholics recognize that prevenient grace is “irresistible”, and that it is this which makes our collaboration possible. On the other hand, the man whose will has been straightened by prevenient grace can henceforth collaborate or resist, and this is why man is fully responsible, for Catholics; of his perdition, which is the consequence of his resistance at the work of the grace of God. And the book of Acts, chapter 7, verse 51, seems to confirm this possible resistance to the work of grace: “Men with stiff necks, uncircumcised in heart and ears, always you resist the Holy Spirit; you are just like your fathers ”.  Likewise, in Romans 2: 3, Paul emphasizes to the pagan that "By your hardening, by your unrepentant heart, you amassing up for yourself a treasure of anger for the day of wrath where the righteous judgment of God will be revealed".

The resistance of man and his hardening are not so much the consequence of a voluntary choice of manBut one can answer here to Catholic theology that the resistance of man and his hardening are not so much the consequence of a voluntary choice of man, of a option, that they are not the consequence of an unregenerated heart, to which God has not yet given his grace, and which suddenly finds itself abandoned to its own logic, as it is with the heart of Pharaoh, which remains deaf to the "calls" of God, which, on the contrary, only reinforce his hardening (this is also the reason why the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, in the text of Exodus, is attributed sometimes to God, sometimes to Pharaoh). In reality, only the gift of a "New heart", only the regeneration of the human heart can tear man away from this infernal logic in which he locks himself in the absence of an infallible grace which would make it possible to overcome all the resistances of the human heart, if it is true that only God can tilt the heart of man in the direction he wants.

"I will make you walk in my ways"It is therefore necessary that God can us " donner »What we« ordered ": Thus, God orders us to" believe ", he also orders us to" follow "and" to practice "his commandments, while knowing full well that, by ourselves, we are. totally incapable, since we are left to the sole resources of our corrupt nature. The Law, let us remember, is there, says Paul, only "To give us the knowledge of sin", to "oblige" us recognize sinners before God (like the publican in the parable, who is justified because he recognizes himself as a sinner before God, where the Pharisee believes himself to be perfect, believing to fulfill the Law while he violates its spirit, because that he judges and condemns others) and to ask for the help of his Grace and his mercy, a Grace which makes easy, said Augustine, what, without it, would be impossible. In short, it is only God who, "By pouring out his Holy Spirit in our hearts", allows us to fulfill the Law, with full respect for his “spirit”, which is summed up in the love of God and of his neighbor. What Ezekiel was already announcing: « I'll do may you walk in my ways ” (Ezekiel 36:27). It is God, as we can see, who we women de be able to what we " ordered And that is why only regeneration and the gift of the Holy Ghost enable us to follow and practice the commandments, and to fulfill them.mind (love of God and neighbor, which contains the “summary” of the whole Law).

Should we not then conclude that God is unjust in offering his Grace? to believers only, those he adopted by the gift of faith?The consequence of this salvation by Grace alone (sola gratia) is the reformers' belief in the predestination, a belief firmly established by a multitude of biblical texts, the most decisive of which is found in Ephesians 1, 3-13. This doctrine was already taught by St Augustine at the end of his life, it is not shared by all Protestants (in particular not by those who claim to be Jacob Arminius) but it constitutes one of the pillars of Calvinism and of famous TULIP from Calvinian theology. A classic objection to this doctrine (there are others and we cannot examine them all here) is: if believing, having faith, is already the fruit of a grace that God grants us, and if the salvation by faith (sola fide) is independent of any personal merit on our part (without which grace would no longer be grace, it would no longer be a free gift that God gives us, but a due), should we not then conclude that God is unjust in offering his Grace? to believers only, those he adopted by the gift of faith? In fact, if "to be righteous" is to give each one the punishment he deserves, we can then say that God is not unfair in this sense, because Paul reminds us that we are all guilty in Adam, an Adam " in who all have sinned ” (Romans, 5:12). What Paul means by that is that Adam's fault is a fault of which we are all guilty, because it is the sin of Adam is the "collective sin of humanity before God", which means that in the place of Adam, and by virtue of a mysterious solidarity, we would have acted exactly like him. That God wants to punish us for this reason, it is his strictest right, and not to do it would be contrary to his "justice", since we are also complicit in this "fault" which leads us to commit multiple personal sins. .

If we object that God is "unjust" not to punish us, but to choose so-and-so rather than that, then we forget that the divine elective choice is no longer in the order of Justice (we just showed that we deserve all our punishment, which is the just ransom for our sin) but we enter into another order, that of “grace” and “mercy”. Now grace, we have said, is not due, but is defined precisely by free dispensation, a bit like when a President of the Republic decides to "pardon" a criminal: this criminal did not deserve it more than another, certainly, and he rather deserved the punishment, and yet we recognize in this grace granted the demonstration of the “goodness” of the sovereign, since by virtue of his “justice”, precisely, nothing obliged him to act in this way, which is a pure manifestation of his “merciful goodness” towards this criminal - and we are all "criminals" in this sense, since we are all "accomplices" in Adam's sin.

"What to say? Paul asks, Is there unrighteousness in God? Certainly not! He said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So it does not depend on the will or the efforts of man, but on the mercy of God ”
Romans 9, 14-18

As we can see, instead of blaming God by accusing him of injustice because he chose us by virtue of a preferential love, Paul invites us instead to be thankful of the grace he gave us by adopting us, by agreeing not to understand everything, and especially not the “reasons” of the “divine decree”, which remain obscure and hidden from us.

"But then, you will say, who is he complaining about again?" Who are you then, man, to enter into conversation with God? Will the work say to the worker: why have you done this to me? Is not the potter master of his clay to make, from the same paste, such a vase of noble use, another of base use? If therefore God, wishing to show his anger and make known his power, endured with much patience vessels of anger all prepared for perdition, and this in order to make known the richness of his glory towards vessels of mercy that, of advance, he has prepared for Glory, we whom he called not only from among the Jews, but also from among the pagans. "
Romans 9, 19-24

Our task as Christians is only the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel of Grace, and of proclaiming it to all without distinction. Whether those who hear the Gospel respond to it or turn away from it does not depend on us, but it is the work of the Grace of God working (or not) in the hearts of those who listen to this Word, to the picture of Lydia in Acts 16

Charles Eric of Saint Germain, teacher in preparatory classes, is author, among others, of An evangelical speaks to Catholics ”(FX. De Guibert, 2008),  Private lessons in Philosophy ”, I and II, (Ellipses), "The defeat of reason" (Salvator, 2015), “Philosophical-theological writings on Christianity” (Excelsis, 2016).

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