Question: "What is sovereign grace?"
Answer: Sovereign grace combines two of God’s attributes, His sovereignty and His graciousness. Both of these characteristics of God are so vast that many volumes have been written about each. Briefly though, the doctrine of sovereign grace is the melding of the two into a thrilling truth that gives us a glimpse into the mind and heart of our great God. The sovereignty of God is His total control of all things past, present, and future. Nothing happens beyond His knowledge and control. All things are either caused by Him or allowed by Him for His own purposes and in accordance with His perfect will and timing (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6). He is the only absolute and omnipotent ruler of the universe and is sovereign in creation, providence, and redemption.
The other half of sovereign grace is grace. The grace of God is His unmerited favor toward those who have not earned it. It is undeserved favor. There are numerous examples of God’s grace in the Bible, both to His people and to those who reject Him. Mary found grace in the eyes of the Lord who bestowed upon her the privilege of bearing the Savior of mankind (Luke 1:28). She may have been a godly young woman, but nothing she could have done would have made her worthy of such a blessing. She was the recipient of God’s grace, and He sovereignly chose her for the task—sovereign grace. The apostle Paul admits that he was a servant of God only by grace and it was by grace that he labored effectively for the cause of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:10). Sovereign grace chose to save Paul on the Damascus Road, and sovereign grace showered him with untold blessings.
As Christians we, too, benefit from God’s sovereign grace. “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Our very salvation and position in Christ is due to His grace through the faith that He gives us (Hebrews 12:2). Even those who hate God receive His grace. Every breath God allows them to take is a product of His common grace to all creation: “He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even the atheist enjoys the effects of God’s sovereign grace through God’s beautiful creation and His provision of the resources necessary for food, clothing, and housing. God doesn’t owe these things to us, but He sovereignly provides them to exhibit His grace.
The sovereign grace of God is noted most often by theologians in the matter of election. We see it best explained in Ephesians 1:5–6: “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Here, in the same sentence, we have a reference to predestination (God’s sovereignty) and God’s glorious grace—sovereign grace. God sovereignly chose those He would save through His gracious act of sending His Son to die on the cross for their salvation. Sinners were unable to save themselves or, like Mary, to merit God’s favor because of their transgression of His Law. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). Therefore, Christians are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
God in His sovereign grace has chosen to save those on whom He has set His love (Romans 9:8–13). They are picked out of the stream of helpless men and women cascading into hell. This is a humbling truth and should result in immense gratitude on our part. Why did God bestow His sovereign grace on believers? Not because we deserve salvation but to demonstrate “the riches of His glory” (Romans 9:14–23). Our only proper response is to proclaim, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).