Nothing in the bible Makes Sense Except in the Light of Grace
by Matthew R. McClure
Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the 20th Century, and one of the major developers of the Modern Synthesis. He published many scientific papers on evolutionary genetics, yet his most famous words were published in The American Biology Teacher in 1973: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (1). This was a bold statement, embraced by evolutionists and reviled by anti-evolutionists. Nevertheless, evolutionary theory does make sense of biogeography, embryology, cytology, population genetics, molecular genetics, comparative anatomy, etc. It didn’t become the unifying principle of biology for nothing.
Dobzhansky’s statement is used here as an analogy to an even deeper truth. As I’ve studied the Holy Scriptures over the years, I am beginning to realize one thing: Nothing in the Bible makes sense except in the light of Grace.
What is Grace? A dictionary description is: (In Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings (2).
Creation in the Light of Grace
Grace was always the plan (2 Timothy 1:9), and this plan is reflected in God’s creation since the beginning (Romans 1:20). Because the atonement through Christ was God’s plan all along, this entire creation exists for that purpose (Romans 8:18-39). Therefore, creation didn’t change when Adam sinned. The laws of physics didn’t change (Jeremiah 33:25). Instead, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Revelations 13:8).
After Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced the curses: first to the serpent (Satan), then to Eve, then to Adam. When God said “cursed is the ground because of you,” he was talking to Adam, not to the ground. What changed was our relationship with nature. It became much harder for humans to acquire resources without causing natural damage, and this natural damage increased the difficulty for humans in return. This creation, and the laws of physics therein, was created to ensure that consequences of sin exist, and these consequences are geared toward our repentance and turning to God for his mercy and forgiveness, which he provided through Christ Jesus.
Conversely, doctrines that claim that God originally created a “perfect” earth with animal immortality assert that the purpose of the Gospel was to restore God’s original plan for humanity instead of the Gospel itself as God’s original plan for humanity. But Jesus was not “God’s Plan B.” The Gospel was not a plan contingent upon Adam’s Fall - it was always the plan. It’s not the absence of death and suffering but instead the presence of Grace that made creation “very good."
No other Gospel
Grace is perhaps the most misunderstood of all biblical concepts. It has been widely misidentified both as something we earn (Galatians 3:1-6) and as a license to sin (Romans 6:1-7). Why is this concept so difficult to understand? Because Grace is a concept that is unique to Christianity.
All human religious belief systems have identified ultimate success (going to heaven, achieving enlightenment, improving humankind, etc.), and all human belief systems have identified the necessary requirements to achieve ultimate success. With the sole exception of the Gospel, the criterion is self-achievement. Conversely, only the Bible tells us that all of us have fallen short and couldn’t achieve God’s righteousness even on our best day (Isaiah 64:6; Rom 3:23), which is why God’s plan for our reconciliation in Christ Jesus is the perfect plan (John 3). Salvation, as known in Christianity, does not exist elsewhere. Because of this, the Bible makes no sense if viewed as just another religious book among all others. It appears as foolishness and a stumbling block to those who won’t accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23).
The widely held view that all paths lead to God logically demands that all religious belief systems are fundamentally the same; that is, to walk the prescribed path. This is almost correct. In contrast, the Bible tells us that the only path that leads to God is the path that God has walked himself. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). He didn’t say that his teachings or ideas are the way, but that he himself is the way, and that means the path is impossible for us to walk on our own. In other words, no paths lead to God (“all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23). However, through God, and only through God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Success through God’s Grace and success through self-effort are diametrically oppositional. They cannot both be correct. Therefore, the logical extrapolation is that either all belief systems except Christianity lead to God, or Jesus Christ himself is the only way to the Father.
Why the ubiquity of the reliance of self-effort to achieve ultimate success among non-Christian belief systems? When Adam and Eve sinned, the very first thing they did was to cover their nakedness in an obvious attempt to self-compensate for shame. They did not rely on God to cover their nakedness, but did it themselves and then hid from God.
Who were the hypocrites in the Bible? In every case, Jesus referred to those who felt that their works made them worthy and thus they didn’t need forgiveness from God as hypocrites. Is not the reliance on self-achievement the epitome of hypocrisy? The tendency to rely on self-effort is a part of our sin nature. It is the sin of pride (Psalm 10:4). We need to be aware of this fact because if we are not careful, we may inadvertently gravitate toward doctrines of self-achievement. This was the main problem exposed in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, and it has plagued Church history ever since.
Grace, the foolproof plan
How can God be absolutely holy, absolutely just, and yet be merciful to sinners? Without Grace, this is a logical impossibility. However, in the light of Grace, God’s redemptive plan through Jesus makes perfect sense. It is logical and foolproof. In other beliefs, either God is not absolutely just, or God is not merciful, or God is either indifferently distant or does not exist. Only through the light of Grace can sinners be forgiven by a just and holy God. It doesn’t matter how much we know, or how many good things we do (Matthew 7:22), or what elevated social status we have (Romans 12:16, James 2:1-13). Salvation is a gift from God (John 3:16; Romans 3:21, 6:23).
Death and Suffering in the Light of Grace
Why did God remove the tree of life when Adam sinned instead of allowing him to eat of it and live forever (Genesis 3:22)? Because the wages of sin is death, the existence of death is necessary for our salvation. Without the existence of death, the wages couldn’t be paid by the atoning work of Christ, and we could not be saved from our sins. In other words, death makes sense in the light of Grace (Romans 7:1-6, 8:13-30). The entire Gospel message is about life coming from death.
There are two kinds of sinners: humans and fallen angels, and yet the grace that is extended to us was not extended to the angels. Angels are not subject to physical death and thus are eternally condemned, not redeemable through the payment for the wages of sin.
Grace and the Old Testament
Everything in the Bible makes sense in the light of Grace, and this is especially true for the Old Testament. Why give the Old Testament Hebrews a Law that they couldn’t have possibly fulfilled (Matthew 19:17; Romans 3:23)? The simple answer is so that it could be fulfilled in Christ to purchase our salvation and provide us with God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:20, 10:4). One could even make the case that this was the ultimate purpose of the Law (Romans 5:20-21). Reliance on the Law for our own salvation was never the intention, but instead the Law was to show us that we are sinners that need God’s unmerited favor. The Pharisees missed it (Matthew 23:13; Luke 18:11), the rich young ruler missed it (Matthew 19:16-22), yet the Old Testament patriarch David understood it. David delighted in the Law (Psalm 1:2, 119:16), referred to God as his redeemer (Psalm 19:14, 68:19), and was called the apple of God’s eye despite the evil things he did (Psalm 17:8). Why would David delight in a Law that he obviously broke? David understood deeply that he couldn’t earn God’s favor and thus he relied on God’s mercy instead of his own righteousness. God’s Grace is not only a New Testament but also an Old Testament principle. It explains God's response to Abel’s offering versus Cain’s (Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4), the Old Testament’s many statements of God as savior and redeemer, why Job’s friends were wrong (Job 42:7), and virtually everything else.
Simply put, Grace is the unifying principle of the entire Bible, and it is the reason why God’s creation was, and still is, very good.
1. Dobzhansky, T. 1973. Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the Light of Evolution. The American Biology Teacher 35(3):125-129. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4444260
Matthew McClure has a B.S. degree in Marine Biology from Lamar University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Zoology from Texas A&M University. He has taught college biology for 30 years, including 24 years at Lamar State College - Orange where he is Professor of Biology. Research interests include systematics and biogeography of crustaceans, including two new species descriptions of marine shrimp, and monitoring the occurrence and spread of invasive invertebrates. Personal interests include addressing issues with science and faith (particularly regarding evolutionary theory), photography, aquariums, conchology, and cartooning. He has been married to Lyn for 27 years and they’ve raised three children.