The term “grace” can sometimes take on a use that, in a seemingly harmless way, treats it as an object in and of itself; a valuable commodity for walking the Christian life. Some turn its meaning into something that functions like a gift of spiritual gold, motivational pixie dust from which believers siphon for their spiritual nourishment.
In his upcoming book, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ, Tony Reinke uses John Newton (and a few others) to illustrate a helpful corrective to models of pop-grace that have been popular both in our day and in Newton’s:
[I]n our modern culture, where grace has become a synonym for kindness, “Amazing Grace” becomes a sort of hymn to the transforming power of niceness or, a little better, grace becomes abstracted divine benevolence. In either case, grace is depersonalized.
This misunderstanding of grace has led Sinclair Ferguson to go so far as to say there actually is no such thing as grace. It has led Michael Horton to declare that grace is “not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.” Their point is the same. We must resist the temptation to morph grace into spiritual currency or some abstracted spiritual power that mysteriously ebbs and flows. Grace is not dished out in spiritual gold coins of merit (a serious medieval Roman Catholic error confronted in the Reformation). No. Thinking of grace as spiritual currency is mistaken. To say there is no such thing as grace means that all the grace we have and can ever hope to have—all the sovereign grace, all the all-sufficient grace—is bound up in the favor of the Father and in our union with the Son. (p. 45-46)
I’ll have a full review at Reformation21 when the book comes out. In the meantime, for helpful supplemental material on grace check out this post by Camden Bucey on the topic, written here at Reformed Forum.