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The State of Grace

Those whom God has redeemed are in the state of grace, or the covenant of grace. They are freed from the burden of sin and guilt, and the penalty of death, and move in the freedom of grace.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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(A condensed version from Revolt Against Maturity: A Biblical Psychology of Man [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1987], 171–183).

Those whom God has redeemed are in the state of grace, or the covenant of grace. They are freed from the burden of sin and guilt, and the penalty of death, and move in the freedom of grace.

During World War II, one man was in action for a full eight years, during which time every noise meant a possible bombing or an enemy attack. His life was one of continual tension and pressure, as well as responsibility. All of this became a way of life and a normal condition, which he lived with in almost stoical resistance. Then, after the war, he awoke one night from a frightening nightmare in which the enemy were attacking and his machine gun jammed. Shaking with fear and horror, he turned on the light to help shake off the nightmare. “The war is over,” he told himself. The words and the light pushed back the darkness and the tension. His world was not without serious problems, but the war was over, and with it all the lurking horror of a bloody death in dirt and mud. He had passed from one world into another, with relief and a sense of freedom.

This man’s experience had a double aspect. First, there was the objective fact that the war was over. Second, there was the subjective freedom that came when the implications of peace came home to him. The state of grace is similar. The objective fact is that the welfare or enmity between God and man is ended by the atoning and regenerating work of God in Christ. The subjective fact is the awareness that comes to the redeemed man that his life is now one of peace and grace.

Thomas Boston, in Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, defined the state of grace as “the state of begun recovery of human nature.” It is the work of reconstruction begun in man, whereby he, having a new principle of life, begins to grow and to be remade in knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion. Because he is created in the image of God, man yearns for reconstruction; because he is a sinner, unregenerate man creates disorder and destruction instead. Margaret Elizabeth Austin, in the opening lines of her poem, “Charlie Sapiens,” describes this schizophrenia:

Man is the only animal that keeps
A place for everything, with nothing in it;
Vainly he yearns for order; chaos creeps
Higher around his body by the minute.[1]

In the state of grace, instead of this destructive, sado-masochistic character of the state of depravity, man’s life is marked by growth. Personal and social growth are not normally desired by men and civilizations. Instead of growth, they desire to continue the present or return to the past. If men are revolutionists, they then seek to destroy the present order only to create a more static and unchanging order. The dream-states of socialists and communists is a rigid and inflexible order which has no room for growth or disagreement. Revolutionists are thus usually far more reactionary than are conservatives, but both are alike hostile to growth. Puritanism, because it emphasized the newness of the gospel and the dimensions of relevance and growth, was quickly productive of science and progress.…

…[T]he state of grace is not static nor past or present bound, but future oriented. The state of grace is not without sin, but it is never without growth. St. Paul made it clear that the sinner is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1, cf. Col. 2:13) and therefore incapable of growth.

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4–6)

The characteristic of death is decay, that of life, growth. The regenerate man, being alive in Christ, will therefore grow. St. Paul compared the growth to that of a child from babyhood and milk to maturity and meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2, Heb. 5:12–14).

An often painful experience, one that separates us from family and friends, is their inability to grow, so that it becomes difficult to talk to people we love but have long since outgrown.

The conservative, fearful of the present and future, looks backward only. The revolutionist is also past-bound: his vision is one of destruction for the past and present and a static, unchanging utopia for the future. Neither is capable of growth, and victory then goes to those who destroy the most. Man in the state of grace is more conservative than the political conservatives: he has a surer grasp of the past and present because he assesses it in terms of the word of God. He is also more radical than the revolutionist because he has a principle of growth in him that requires continual change and progress in terms of the word of God….

When men hope for social reform by some means other than the grace of God in the salvation of individual men, they are declaring that evil is in the environment rather than in man.

The state of grace reveals itself in many by a delight in the word of God, a readiness to grow therein, and an ability to endure the hot sun of adversity and grow stronger in the faith. The word of God that finds “good ground,” or a regenerate heart, brings forth fruit: there is growth and production (Matt. 13:1–23). Because growth is a characteristic of life, it is a characteristic of the state of grace.

The state of grace also manifests itself in true freedom, in “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). The unregenerate talk much of liberty, but by this they mean only freedom from God and His law; beyond that, they are lovers of tyranny….

Law is an aspect of the nature of God, and, because man is created in God’s image, he finds self-expression as a law-creature. Because of sin, this law-expression is a perverted one. When the law becomes identified with the will of man, it comes to mean the power to inflict and to degrade…. When mediated by science, this perverted law-expression, predestination by man, becomes a dream of total control….

God, however, as the absolutely sovereign and free being, who predestinates all things according to His sovereign will, has created us in His image. This means that our destiny is the freedom of a secondary cause, of a creature, and our regeneration reestablishes us in this freedom. The law-expression of man is then his free and willing service to God and his obedience to the law-word of God.

The rise of humanism, and its steady destruction of Christian morality, has meant the loss of liberty and the rise of tyranny. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages was in violation of Biblical law and principles, but, at its worst, it victimized individuals, whereas, especially since the French Revolution, humanism has victimized men wholesale, killing them by the millions and subjecting the living to the most ruthless tortures.

The state of grace is also called the covenant of grace because it is life in the family of Christ. The state of grace is life within Christ, and it means first of all community with the triune God. The community sought by humanism is destructive of the individual, just as its individualism is atomistic, since there is no sound doctrine of the one and the many.[2]

God’s covenant promise of Genesis 17:7 is, “I will … be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” The community is a continuing one, and its essence is God’s providential and protecting care.

How does a man know if he is in the state of grace? It is a poor test to be able to say that on a particular date at a revival meeting one was converted. Not everyone can, indeed most Christians cannot, date their regeneration. The test is not dating, but the character and fruits of grace. As Thomas Boston stated it:

All men in the state of grace are born again. All gracious persons, namely such as are in a state of favour with God, and endowed with gracious qualities and dispositions, are regenerate persons.[3]

Clearly persons in the state of grace are not those who say they are, but those of whom God says these are His people, which He declares by the gracious qualities, dispositions, and works He manifests in and through them. To be in the state of grace means thus to serve and glorify God and to enjoy Him, and to unite with His people in His service and praise. This means far more than an institutional loyalty, nor is it even primarily such an allegiance. St. John declared, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3), words that echoed our Lord’s declaration, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). The Westminster Confession of Faith summed up the matter thus:

Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; which hope shall never make them ashamed. (Chap. XVIII, sect. I)

In the Larger Catechism, the assurance of the state of grace is stated more fully:

Q. 79. May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?
A. True believers by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Q. 80. Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?
A. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavor to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace and shall persevere therein unto salvation.

Since grace is God’s work in the life of man, God neither undoes His work, nor can man undo it. Those whom God saves are eternally saved.

Since it is regenerating grace which leads a man to hear the word of God and to be converted, man is thus in a state of grace when he responds to the words of God. The grace, which is prior to conversion and which causes a man to hunger and thirst for righteousness and to mourn over his sins, is prevenient grace. Prevenient grace changes the heart of man from enmity to God to a readiness to hear His word. It is, as the word prevenient indicates, the grace which goes before conversion to effect the work of regeneration.

The state of grace, is, as we have seen, a state of growth. It leads to a growing person and a progressing society. The society of fallen man can be marked by revolutions in certain phases of its history, but its basic purpose is to establish an unchanging order; whether it was ancient Chinese society, the Incas of Peru, or modern Marxist theory, its hope is a static order, in brief, the graveyard society to which freedom is a “threat” and growth has no place. Thus, B.F. Skinner of Harvard in Beyond Freedom and Dignity sees only disaster ahead unless controls replace freedom.

The graveyard society of science, sociology, and humanism is inescapable unless men are in a state of grace. Men in the state of grace reign with Christ (Eph. 2:4–6); Christ, who rules all things in time and eternity, empowers His people to establish that reign in history (Matt. 28:18–20). Men in the state of grace will do more than grow: they shall conquer and reign.

[1] Published by the Alumni Association of Montana State College, Bozeman, Montana, in Arrowy Time, quoted by Wayne E. Oates, Anxiety in Christian Experience (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 132.

[2] See R.J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1971).

[3] Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (Evansville, IN: Sovereign Grace Edition, 1957), 132.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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