Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | September 7, 2007

How is grace upon grace received from His fulness? (Lesson 3: Question 6 Answer)

6.  How is grace upon grace received from His fullness? 

We now turn our attention to verse 16, which states as follows:

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Grace can be defined as God’s unmerited favor toward humanity and is manifested in two major ways.  The two categories in which grace is differentiated are known as common grace and special grace, traditionally.  Common grace is just that, common to all humanity and is manifested through gifts that are enjoyed by all such as, government, rain and sunshine, scientific advancements, etc. and offset the affects of the common curse.46 Scripture verses such as Matt 5:44-45 are appealed to support the notion of common grace: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  The Apostle is not speaking of common grace here, but is speaking of special grace.  Special grace is not given to all people, but reserved solely for God’s covenant people.  Those who obtain eternal salvation from the divine justice of God are recipients of this special grace.  God’s covenant people, who are spared from the divine wrath they deserve and receive grace upon grace, will be referred to again in this Gospel in John 10 and 17 (this will allow us to unpack this statement in a more robust way at that time).

Now that we have clarified what type of grace is spoken of here, we should explain the statement “grace upon grace”.  In order to address this statement let us first put it into context.  It is clear from the English that this “grace upon grace” is a result of “his fullness” or Christ’s incarnation.  It is even clearer in the Greek text which employs a result clause with the use of the οτι with a genitive of source in εκ του πληρωματος αυτου (from his fullness (all in the genitive case)).  Thus, the result and source of God’s covenant people receiving “grace upon grace” is found in Christ’s incarnation.  (The Word becoming flesh of course is the context of this particular section.)  As we quoted Calvin above, “the fountain of life, righteousness, virtue, and wisdom, is with God, but to us it is a hidden and inaccessible fountain”. 47 Since the fall, humanity has been alienated and cut off from God.  The presence of God is no longer accessible to sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who prior to the fall enjoyed this blessing.  Our access is denied as a result of our sin and rebellion that characterizes our nature from conception (Psalm 51:5), and puts us at enmity with God.  There is nothing that we can do to change this status, there is no good deed, no work, or sacrifice that we can do to repair the damage and ascend into the presence of God.  Perfection is required in order to gain access into the presence of God, and since the fall that is a status that no son or daughter of Adam and Eve enjoy.  However, this is changed with the incarnation of our Lord.  Rather than climbing our way up to the throne room of heaven ascending to God (an insuperable task), God comes down to us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who took on flesh.  “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell… (Col 1:19).” “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily… (Col 2:9).”  Therefore, the fullness of God that had been justly denied to us has now been restored through the Word becoming flesh.  This is a demonstration of the graciousness of God who could have justly left us to wallow in our sin and misery.  Nonetheless, the grace does not stop there but continues to get better as the story unfolds.  As we continue this Gospel we will see that the Word is also our Great High Priest who makes propitiation for us and grants us access into God’s throne clothing us in His righteousness:    

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:15-16.

It seems that this is what the statement “grace upon grace” is alluding to.  That is, the abundant blessing in a restoration of the presence of God through, the incarnation of the Word.  And, that we receive the gracious privilege of access into heaven where we will dwell or tabernacle in that eternal city with our Great God and Father.  This “grace upon grace” was made possible only through the humiliation of our Lord, which started with the incarnation and ended in His propitiatory death.

46 Meredith Kline (2007) Kingdom Prologue Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock 2006), 178

47 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) 50

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