Title: “The Truth About Grace”
Author: John MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Rating: 5/5 (with caveat)
I think that every prominent Reformed preacher of this age has a topic that he focuses on: John Piper has Christian hedonism and delighting in God, C.J. Mahaney has experiencing the Gospel in day to day life, and John MacArthur has fidelity to scripture and truth. “The Truth About Grace” does not deviate from what I see as MacArthur’s ministerial issue. This book is one in a series by John MacArthur, where he “gathers his landmark teachings about core aspects of the Christian faith in one place” (back cover), for the purpose of clarifying and defending key doctrines.
The purpose of this book is twofold: to defend the doctrine of sola gratia per sola fide (“by grace alone through faith alone”) and the manifestation of continued grace as sanctification. Why? On page 6, he cites Romans 8:2: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” By God’s grace we are free from death, which is justification, and from sin, which is sanctification. To this end, the book has five chapters: Grace Defined, Grace Received, Grace Misunderstood and Twisted, Grace Realized, and Grace Lived Out. The first two chapters deal mainly with sola gratia per sola fide and the latter three chapters deal with the issues of lordship and sanctification as they pertain to grace.
If you want a book to give you a thorough defense of justification by grace and faith alone, there are other books that will do it better than this one, such as R.C. Sproul’s “The Truth of the Cross” MacArthur spends more time discussing the inevitability of sanctification in one who understands grace. He argues, and I think rightfully so, that grace brings about righteousness, which does not allow us to sin with impunity or complacency. Rightfully, MacArthur quotes abundantly from Scripture to allow it to speak for itself with minimal aid. He steps in only to clarify with context from history or from language.
I will allow Pastor MacArthur to speak for himself. On the doctrine of grace alone:
The contrast is between divine grace and human merit. Human effort cannot bring salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. When we relinquish all hope except faith in Christ and His finished work on our behalf, we are acting by the faith that God in His grace supplies. (49-51)
The choice we all make is this: either we’re good enough on our own, through our belief system and morality, to make it to heaven; or we’re not, and we have to cast ourselves on the mercy of God through Christ to get there. Those are the only two systems of religion in the world. One is a religion of human merit; the other recognizes that we find true merit in Christ alone, and it comes to the sinner only by grace. There may be a thousand different religious names and terms, but only two religions really exist. There is the truth of divine accomplishment, which says God has done it all in Christ, and there is the lie of human achievement, which says we have some sort of hand in saving ourselves. One is the religion of grace, the other the religion of works. One offers salvation by faith alone; the other offers salvation by the flesh. (54-56)
On sanctification as an inevitable result of grace:
On Romans 6:15-18: Freedom from the law means freedom from sin’s bondage and freedom from the law’s penalty–not freedom from moral restraint. Grace does not mean we have permission to do as we please; it means we have the power to do what pleases God. The mere suggestion that God’s grace gives us license to sin is self-contradictory, for the very purpose of grace is to free us from sin. How can we who are the recipients of grace continue to sin? (85)
Still, the harsh reality is that every Christian fails to follow Christ perfectly, because every Christian has a sinful nature. Yet there’s an important distinction between legal obedience and gracious obedience. Legal obedience is the result of fleshly effort. It demands an absolute, perfect obedience without a single failure. It says that if you violate God’s law even once, the penalty is death. Gracious obedience is a loving and sincere spirit of submission motivated by God’s grace to us. Though often defective, this obedience is nevertheless accepted by God, for its blemishes are blotted out by the blood of Jesus Christ. What a difference! With fleshly, human effort, obedience must be perfect to be of any value. With divine grace, God looks at the heart, not the works. (99)
Like I mentioned before, this book is not an exhaustive discussion of the subject of grace. I view it as a helpful primer on grace, from which new believers can learn and old believers can be reminded. The book is, from beginning to end, an excellent exposition of grace in justification and sanctification, and it does not fail to give God the glory for being so gracious to us sinners.
Caveat: This book may not be comprised of any new material. According to the copyright page, the book is
[c]ompiled from previously published material in The God Who Loves, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, The Vanishing Conscience, Hard to Believe, The Truth War, and The Gospel According to the Apostles.
Nevertheless, the material contained therein is coherently centered around the issue of grace and it is biblical and expository, and it is on those bases that the book receives its rating.
(This book was provided free for review from BookSneeze®, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own. Further, in the interest of full disclosure, John MacArthur is my pastor-teacher at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA; however, this does not bias my review as my primary allegiance is to God and His Word and not to man.)