How can the doctrines of grace enrich our relationship with God?

Michael Reeves & Stephen Nichols
2 Min Read

REEVES: I think the answer that Scripture gives and which John Calvin helpfully highlights is this: “Look to the cross of Christ.” John Calvin wrote that in all creation the glory of God shines, but nowhere has it shone more brightly than at the cross. It is at the cross that the reality of the doctrines of grace is seen most clearly.

From the way the question is framed, it sounds as though, in your mind, the doctrines of grace can become a dry list of things that are true. However, that apparently dry list is seen in blazing color at the cross. There at the cross, Jesus said, was the hour in which the Son of Man would be glorified. At the cross, you see the glory of God shine, which means that, at the cross, you see what the apparently dry doctrine of total depravity means. You see the depth of our sin. You could technically say that you believe total depravity yet still forget the depth of what depravity means until you look to the cross.

When you look to the cross, you realize that if we are to be redeemed, our sinfulness requires nothing less than the blood of the perfect Lamb. If you’ve ever thought your depravity was something small and technical, go to the cross. If you’ve ever thought the grace of God was a dry, technical answer to the problem of our total depravity, look to the cross and see what the grace of God means. In looking at the cross, you see your sin as an offense against the One on the cross. John Bunyan said that in an encounter with the cross, you simultaneously weep and rejoice. He talked about the blessed confusion that will cover your face because, at the cross, you know yourself as a sinner and you realize who He is as a great Savior.

NICHOLS: This is beautiful, and I think there is something to Calvinism such that we can be experiential Calvinists. My mind was drawn to Bunyan and the snaps of his burden, the breaking of his sin as he looked at the cross. Think about the New Testament authors. When Peter gave the classic apologetics text, 1 Peter 3:15, he didn’t say, “Be ready to give an answer for faith alone in Jesus Christ.” He didn’t give a definition of the gospel to defend. Rather, he turned to a sort of existential implication of the gospel: “Give an answer for the hope that is in you.” The New Testament authors often do what Peter did. It’s joy and hope that stand in for the gospel itself as we experience the gospel.

When we have a list of doctrines, we are good at crossing t’s and dotting i’s, and we need to do that because everything is at stake. A faithful proclamation of the gospel is at stake. A faithful church’s identity is at stake. However, we can allow ourselves to be experiential Calvinists. The Puritans said, “For every one look to ourselves, we should take ten looks to Christ.” It is beautiful to have that constantly before us, to recall the joy and hope that are present in the gospel.

This is a transcript of Stephen Nichols’ and Michael Reeves’ answers given during our Blessed in Christ: Detroit 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.