“All I am is a sinner saved by grace.” No more than that?

I have been reading the introduction to Hazlett Lynch’s Dr D. Martyn LLoyd-Jones (1899-1981: A Personal Appreciation,” and am looking forward to reading the rest of it. I share most of the core Reformed Christian doctrines with Lynch. There is, however, one thing Lynch said, not about Martyn Lloyd Jones but about himself, which I find irritating; not mainly because I come across it often but because it’s not true. I refer to something Lynch said in his opening paragraph:

“As one who has been reading and studying the Lloyd-Jones material for about 40 years, I am delighted to offer this paper as my humble contribution to the legacy of this dear servant of Christ to the Christian Church. To write about such a man as the Doctor (as he was affectionately known) was is an enormous privilege, and yet is a deeply humbling experience for me. I lay no claim to an expertise in the works of Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and am no more than a sinner saved by divine grace; yet I am that, and for that I am eternally grateful” (my italics).

“.. and am no more than a sinner saved by divine grace.”

Lynch is, of course, right on one score; he’s a sinner saved by grace. But is he “no more” than a sinner saved by grace? I’m confident that Lynch knows he’s much more than that because, with his obvious knowledge, love of scripture, and experience in preaching, he must have often dwelt on Ephesians 1, and undoubtedly preached on it, as well as rollicking in Martyn Lloyd Jones’ marvelous commentary on Ephesians as well as his sermons on Ephesians 1 (which can be downloaded here). So, I assume his “…am no more than a sinner saved by grace” is no more than a slip. As we say in applied linguistics, he made a “performance mistake” rather than a “competence error.” I explain:

“Competence” refers to the language system, to what the learner knows about the language. This system is called various things by various authors, for example, “langue” (Ferdinand de Saussure ), “built-in syllabus” (Pit Corder). “Performance” refers to how you communicate your competence. One possible explanation why learners do not correct their performance slips (“mistakes”) is that almost all of these mistakes are not slips of some kind, but rather competence “errors”, that is, a systematic or in-built deficit. In such circumstances, no amount of editing is going to help, because there was nothing to slip on in the first place. Apply this principle to Christian knowledge/beliefs. Some know (and hopefully also believe) their biblical oats but sometimes they are not so good at explaining what they know and believe. These slips are, of course, natural (I go into more detail on this linguistic issue in Structure in Grammar and in Function). More serious is ignorance and lack of interest, which is often difficult to distinguish in a written piece because the reader and writer occupy a different time and place. When, however, the communication is “live,” speakers/hearers can learn much about where they stand on an issue.

Although I am not absolutely certain where Lynch stands on the matter under discussion, I’d bet my dollar, if not my bottom, that once this “slip” was pointed out to him he would agree that “of course I am more than a sinner saved by grace, because doesn’t it say in Ephesians 1 that I, as a believer, am seated in heavenly places with Christ?” Yes, it does.

In contrast, a few weeks previously, I was in conversation with someone who recited the same (as we say in linguistics) “formulaic utterance” (another example, “How are you? I’d much prefer “Why are you?). I was speaking to a Christian lady after church last Sunday about what it means to be saved. She said: “I am a sinner saved by grace.” Was there more perhaps that she wanted to add? No, that was it. I said, “Surely, you are more than that. What about Ephesians 1 where it says you have been raised in heavenly places.” Was that a nod? Couldn’t be sure. So, although she didn’t say exactly what Lynch said, namely “I am no more than a sinner saved by grace, but merely “I’m a sinner saved by grace,” she meant what Lynch said, but not what Lynch, I suggest, meant. A sinner saved by grace, yes, that is what all Christians are. That, however, has only to do with being raised from death to life. What about Ephesians 2:1-2:

“And you hath he quickened (raised), who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” And what about the wondrous good news that starts off the letter to the Ephesians, where we are told that those raised by Christ from spiritual death (which we are told in the next chapter) have been blessed with all spiritual blessings. Ephesians 1:2-9 2. “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9. Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.”

What does it mean ( in verse 2 above) to have “grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ?” Paul tells us in the rest that follows verse 2 above. So, if all you are, or say you are – possibly out of a sense of false humility – is a sinner saved by grace, then, if Ephesians 1 is true, which of course it is, then I wonder whether you realise what you are saying when you say “I’m a sinner saved by grace,” and stop there (where your intended meaning is “no more than a sinner saved by grace”), for if you were indeed a sinner saved by grace, you’d surely have some understanding of the divine light – and peace – that Grace imparts and continues to impart to your soul. When a sinner is raised from the dead (Ephesians 2) a “divine and supernatural light, is immediately Imparted to the soul by the Spirit of God” (Jonathan Edwards).

Try to say what you mean and mean what you say.

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7 thoughts on ““All I am is a sinner saved by grace.” No more than that?

  1. Salvation is a process.

    It starts with REGENERATION. The HS regenerates our depraved mind to receive the Gospel and responds with faith and repentance (which are also a gift from God).

    Then comes JUSTIFICATION. As a result of our faith and repentance our sins are forgiven.

    Then starts the long process of SANCTIFICATION. God is working in us (partnership) to make us holy like he is holy, and bring us to the point of GLORIFICATION.

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