When my youngest child learned to walk and climb a few weeks ago I was reminded of a habit his older brother used to have regarding bathtubs and pajamas. Which, in turn, made me think of efficacious grace. I explained the [goofy] connection in Glimpses of Grace:
Being conformed to the image of Christ is not an entirely passive activity, like receiving a set of genes upon conception or someone’s family name in adoption.
While salvation is initiated by God, we are not passive recipients of his grace. Jonathan Edwards called this grace “efficacious,” which speaks of its effectiveness and ability to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives. This efficacious grace implies work on our part. As Edwards described it, “In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some, and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, and we act all. . . . We are, in different respects, wholly passive, and wholly active."* This change is 100 percent initiated by God, 100 percent dependent on the work of Christ, and 100 percent administered by the Holy Spirit.
God’s efficacious grace could be described in terms of the different ways you put pajamas on a baby. My son prefers to streak after he takes baths. He even tries to climb out of the tub early before everyone is soaped up and rinsed in order to increase his odds of getting to run around in his birthday suit.
But it’s all fun and games until a naked baby has an accident on the carpet, so I quickly chase him down to put on his diaper. Some nights he runs away shrieking and hides under tables and behind chairs trying to avoid the inevitable. Some nights he quietly lies on the bed while I diaper him, and he might even stretch his legs into the pajamas I hold up.
Either way, whether I have to wrestle his clothes onto him or he peacefully submits to the work I am doing, that boy has never gone to bed without a diaper and pajamas on. Of course, we should love to submit to God’s efficacious grace as he purposes to make us more like Christ! But sometimes we’re like a naked baby hiding behind the couch, reluctant to hold still and thankfully allow God to work in our hearts and get us ready for what he has next.
Our growth in holiness is initiated and produced by God, and we are to actively pursue holiness. The Bible uses some physically laden descriptions of our participation in grace: we “walk in love,” “run the race,” and “fight the fight of faith.” You get the idea that growing in grace is sweaty, hard work. God works in us as we work out our own salvation. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13).
This kind of grace frees us to love God! Because Christ acquired salvation for us, we can pray as Augustine did, “Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! . . . When your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.”**
* Jonathan Edwards, “On Efficacious Grace,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:557; emphasis mine.
** Augustine, Confessions, bk. 10, chap. 31.
Excerpt taken from Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home by Gloria Furman copyright ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.