Grace Without Righteousness Can't Exist

Cover of "Redemption Accomplished and App...
Cover of Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Over at, blogger Tim Challies is leading his audience in a read through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans, 1955). This week’s portion was chapter 1.

The last time I read this book was as a teenager when an older camp counsellor gave me his copy and suggested that if I read it, and work to understand it, God would bless me with rare insights into His Word. He was right! I don’t remember the name of that seminary student who spent part of his summer counselling at Camp Qwanoes, but I owe him a debt of thanks. Reading this book again now, along with Challies’ following, I’m finding it much easier to understand than I did the first time (though I did have to sit up straight and actually pay close attention to the author’s train of thought).

This morning I tweeted a sentence from chapter 1 that really stood out to me: “Grace indeed reigns but a grace reigning apart from righteousness is not only not actual; it is inconceivable” (p. 16).

Because many people will read right over that without stopping and considering the meaning, I want to break that down: why does grace depend on righteousness? Or, to put it negatively, why can grace not exist without righteousness?

What is grace? Webster defines “grace” as “1 a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification”. I think the word, “assistance” in Webster’s definition is just awful. It brings to mind a synergistic idea of God’s working in salvation. But the first part of the definition emphasizes that grace is “unmerited”. This is because basic to the idea of the Greek word, “charis” from which we get the word “grace” is the idea of a gift that cannot be earned. So “grace” is unmerited.

What is “merit” then? Again Webster helps us with a definition (though it is now an obsolete one), “reward or punishment due”. Grace is “un-merited”. Which means that grace is a gift to someone who has no reward “due”. In other words, it is no violation of justice to NOT give someone grace. Justice does not require grace. But we could say that grace does require justice in order to be grace.

Now when I looked up “justice” on, I found this definition: “: the maintenance or administration of what is just… the assignment of merited rewards or punishments”. Justice is handing out merited rewards; grace is handing out unmerited gifts. In the same entry at Webster, for “justice” I also found this: “(1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness“. So of course, next I looked up “righteousness”.

Webster defines “righteousness” as, “1 : acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin”. Righteousness is what we call it when someone perfectly deserves reward–righteousness is complete merit. That’s on the part of the one who has acted “in accord” with divine law. What about the Divine Law-Giver? Webster kind of covers that too: “righteousness” is also, “: morally right or justifiable <a righteous decision>”.

So God, the Divine Law-Giver, is “righteous” to give people the punishment they merit, or deserve. Grace is giving people the reward that they don’t merit or deserve. If there was no such thing as “righteousness”, how would these last two sentences even make sense?

Psalm 25:8 says, “Good and upright is the LORD”. Verse 10 describes God similarly: the LORD’s ways are “steadfast love and faithfulness”, or “grace and truth” (see the Hebrew, “chesed” and “emeth”). Following Murray’s train of thought in chapter 1, God did not have to save any sinners from the punishment due. He could have still been “gracious” or “good” without demonstrating that grace through the salvation of sinners, right? Of course. Because merely withholding that grace would not have violated his righteousness.

But having decided out of His grace to redeem sinners, His plan of salvation had to meet the demands of His own justice. This meant that God could not wink at a lie or unjustly tolerate unrighteousness in those whom He intended to save. They had to be justified. But Murray gets to that later.

Back to Psalm 25:10… “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” To “keep” God’s covenant, the unilateral covenant He made with Abraham, the covenant of grace He ratified in the cross of Christ, is to hold on to and cling to God in belief that He will do what He said He would do. To “keep” His “testimonies” is to hang on to His promises of grace to those who believe: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jo 3:16). When Psalm 25:10 talks about those who “keep his covenant and his testimonies” it’s talking about believers who have received God’s grace through His covenant in Christ.


Hebrews 8:6-13 6 But as it is, Christ1 has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says:1 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.


And what about those believers, those covenant-keepers in the words of Psalm 25:10? They will perceive all of God’s “paths” or ways,  as “love and faithfulness” (v 10), as “good and upright” (v 8).

Murray’s theology is not dry; it is devotional. He can help you to know God better, to appreciate God’s character and glory more deeply. Therefore you will be able to worship Him with greater rapture.


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  1. I appreciate the question, L. but you did not include your email address so I cannot reply properly. If you don't mind, it's better to post your comments like this so others can have the benefit of sharing their thoughts with you as well. Don't worry: your email address is not shared publicly if you don't want.

  2. I appreciate the question, L. but you did not include your email address so I cannot reply properly. If you don't mind, it's better to post your comments like this so others can have the benefit of sharing their thoughts with you as well. Don't worry: your email address is not shared publicly if you don't want.

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