Lutheran professor, Dr. G. Ferdie, said, “The gospel is not a movement from vice to virtue, but rather, a movement from virtue to grace.”
The idea is that when exposed as a sinner (our vice), we naturally attempt to become virtuous (i.e., we try to “be good” or at least be better). The big problem is the motive for being good and getting better.
At this point, all we have is a movement from being an internally (and externally) bad person to being an externally good person. This is the righteousness of the Pharisees.
However, in Matthew 23:25-26, Jesus says,
“25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
What we need is not virtue but grace. We need to be clean on the inside.
This can only happen as the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to the sinner.
It is His work of grace that gives grace.
The genius of Dr. Ferdie’s quote recognizes our tendency to either gain or maintain salvation by looking at the quality of our virtue rather than the quality of the cross. Thus the need to move from a life dependent upon virtue to one dependent upon grace. And the essence of grace is the imputed righteousness of Jesus given to the unrighteous as a gift that is received through faith alone.
Once we learn to look to Jesus’ righteousness as our own righteousness (living in union with the Savior), the sap of the Spirit flows and genuine gospel virtue begins to grow (Jn. 15:4-5, Gal. 5:16ff) as the fruit of the SPIRIT–all to the praise of God’s glorious grace!