A Review of “On the Grace of God” by Justin Holcomb

graceofgodThe doctrine of grace is what makes Christian theology so distinct among the world religions. Some religions believe in wrath, some in love, some in justice, but Christianity affirms all these things simultaneously as it affirms the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Grace is foundation to Christian theology. In his concise and compelling book On the Grace of God Justin Holcomb gives readers a more in-depth look at this doctrine. Holcomb’s book helps us to appreciate the great distinction of God’s grace as it helps us to better understand it.

Church words are far too often used without clear articulation. Many Christians use the word “grace,” but we do so in shallow and simplistic ways. The great value of this little booklet is its ability to pack so much depth in the concept. Holcomb does this chiefly by tracing the doctrine of God’s grace across the storyline of the redemptive narrative in Scripture.

He defines grace for us in chapter one as “unmerited favor or a kindly disposition that leads to acts of kindness” (12). Within the context of our relationship with God this means “the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God.” The world is full of attempts to bargain with God, because we simply cannot accept this grace. Holcomb writes:

Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where God gives up on us…Because this is a common response to unconditional love, the human propensity is to establish negotiated settlements with God through religion. (14)

But “grace from the gospel of Jesus Christ is the end of religion” (15). This is what Holcomb means by “gratuitous and undomesticated grace.” It is radical grace that makes us right with God, nothing we could do. To help illustrate this truth more clearly he turns to consider the development of the concept throughout the Old and New Testaments respectively.

In chapter two he explains that grace makes most sense in the context of sin, suffering, evil, and violence. So he unpacks “why we need grace.” He unpacks the origin of sin, directs us to consider the “shalom-violating” brokenness of our world, and our inability to rescue ourselves. God demonstrates that He is willing to address our needs despite our sin. So, throughout the Old Testament, then, we see the dual themes of violence and promise. God promises to rescue humanity, but not without cost. We see these themes come alive in the flood, in the Exodus event, in The Day of Atonement, and most pointedly in the prophetic descriptions of the suffering servant. In the New Testament these two themes will again coalesce in the person and work of the Messiah.

Holcomb’s discussion of grace in the New Testament is actually an extended discussion of the person and work of Jesus. He answers two fundamental questions in chapter four: who is Jesus, and what has he done. Jesus is the solution to our sin problem and the demonstration and fulfillment of God’s grace. There is no grace without Jesus.

The final chapter wraps up the work by stressing that “everything is grace.” The Christian’s whole existence is dependent upon grace. We remain in grace, live by grace, and are sanctified by grace. The final chapter presses upon us the need to keep submitting to grace. He writes:

If it is not grace all the way, then we will spend our lifetime wondering if we have done enough to get that total acceptance for which we desperately long. “I said the prayer, but did I say it passionately enough?” “I repented, but was it sincere enough?” (89)

This final chapter applies the concept of grace to the continuing Christian life. We are saved, sanctified, and preserved by the grace of God. There is no room in the Christian walk for self-dependence. Holcomb does a great job in this final chapter of stressing the centrality of grace in the life of the believer.

This is an invaluable book. As part of the ReLit: A book you’ll actually read series it maintains the same level of brevity and depth that the other volumes do. Holcomb is not light in the theology. Readers will find a great deal of “meat” in the two chapters on the Old and New Testament. Yet this is an entirely accessible read. All in all it helps us to better understand the concept of grace while avoiding an overly academic treatment of such a personal doctrine. Read this book, friends, and be edified and encouraged.

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