Thursday, November 9, 2023

Operations of Grace (Galatians 5)

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering …" (Gal. 5:22).

While God brings about His purposes through the sinful acts of man, He also restrains sin. God does not violate our free will, but He can, and often does, hinder our sinful actions. This is why it is important to pray that God incline the hearts of men to be favorable toward us, that He hinder the purposes of wicked men, and that He work in us to carry out His will. No creature is independent of God and of His providential influences. As Charles Hodge wrote, “The hearts of men are in His hands, and He controls their action as effectually as He controls the operations of nature.”

One thing that must remain clear as we consider God’s providence is that there is a distinction between His government over creation and His operations of redemptive grace. While God restrains sin by the power of His Spirit, this is not an operation of His redemptive grace. Often, in His common grace, He raises up a moral society in which much evil is restrained by His power. Some individuals are very moral people, but this does not mean that God has showered them with His special and redemptive grace, even though His Spirit is certainly at work to restrain the evil of their hearts. If God did not work in His creation, restraining evil, then man would plummet to the depths of wickedness. God, therefore, has blessed us with His common grace in the restraint of our sin.

We discern the difference between common and special, or redemptive, grace in two ways. First, special grace brings about those things that are contrary to our natural ability such as repentance, faith, and delight in the holiness of God. Second, and most importantly, holy affections, love of the excellency of Christ and hatred of anything that is contrary to His law, arises, not out of the mere influences of moral truth, but from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

God governs by the power of His Spirit, He brings about His purposes through our decisions, and He restrains our sinful inclinations. But the work of His Spirit in redemption goes beyond providence. It produces a revolutionary change in the heart, a change that gives birth to a holy love and fear of God that far exceeds morality.

Read Galatians 5:22–25. What is this difference between the fruit of the Spirit listed here and the kind of morality that can characterize unregenerate people? In what way can you be deceived into thinking that your morality is the same as the fruit of God’s redemptive grace? Why is it important to discern the difference?