Thomas Erskine once wrote, “In the New Testament, religion is grace and ethics is gratitude.” Since salvation is a gift, each Christian ought to express his gratitude in the form of an ethical, Christ-honoring life.
Erskine was wrong.
Not because of what he said—it is true that salvation comes through the grace of God, and equally true that each believer should respond accordingly—but because Erskine was a universalist. In his view, everyone was saved; faith in Christ was not strictly necessary. Eternal life with God was, for Erskine, something of a human birthright. Such “grace” is not, however, the grace of the Bible, and it is thus incapable of producing biblical gratitude.
Biblical grace does not consist merely of a pardon for sin that guarantees that the recipient of such grace is saved. It is also a transformative power, which renews men and women in the image of Christ. Without that supernatural renewal, the gratitude of which Erskine speaks cannot and will not materialize in a human heart. Those who reject Jesus remain mired in sin—as such they have no interest in spiritual things, and no desire for the very heavenly glories that Erskine falsely promises.
After all, what will heaven be like? It will be filled with people who love Jesus. Those who reject Him do not love Him. It will be filled with the very worship that those who reject Jesus in this life do not and will not offer Him. All those who dwell in heaven will have been fully redeemed, and as such they will love holiness and hate sin—the very sins to which those who reject Jesus cling. In short, those who are not transformed by the true grace of God in Christ would not enjoy heaven even if it were given to them!
Nothing short of the transformative grace of God, which always proves itself in a living faith in Jesus Christ, can produce an ethic of gratitude. Empty promises of a universal salvation simply leave rebellious people in their rebellion, while offering false confidence that God grants everything but requires nothing.
A biblical ethic strives to do that which most glorifies Jesus Christ, not because of a broad grace that possesses no power to transform the human heart and its desires, but because of biblical grace, which is received by faith, and which transforms those who receive it from glory to glory.
An impotent grace for all is a saving grace for none.