I pray that your new year has gotten off to a great start. I know that for some of you, you or family members are struggling with health issues. All of us are struggling with Covid-19 issues: vaccine effectiveness beginning to wane, mandates, people losing jobs because of mandates, lack of truth in much of the medical bureaucracy, neighbor being pitted against neighbor, even family member being pitted against family member.
I thought that I would start off the new year with a brief series on God’s grace. I thought this would be a good way to begin the year on a positive footing. The way the news is nowadays it is very easy to forget that we are blessed. Yes, I said it: We are blessed. We are, and it is God’s grace that is continuing to bless us. So over the next few weeks I will be preaching on the different types of grace that compose Wesleyan Grace Theology.
My testimony is this: I am a Christian because of Jesus Christ, but I am a Methodist because of John Wesley’s Grace Theology. I have experienced this grace first hand throughout my life, and I am here today, because of God’s Grace.
It is important for all of us to understand this grace. Because, if we don’t, we stand the chance of missing God’s work in our lives.
Think about this for a second. Imagine you not realizing God’s work in your life. Some of you may be struggling to realize God’s actions in your life right now. If this is you, it may be because you may not understand the inner workings of God’s grace. Don’t be alarmed, I was just like you over thirty years in my life.
John Wesley defined grace as God’s “bounty, or favor: our free undeserved favor, …man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that ‘formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,’ and stamped on that soul the image of God, and ‘put all things under his feet’... For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing from God’s hand.” We all deserve the cross. Not just death mind you, but the cross. Jesus paid our debt when he went to the cross.
God’s grace is the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through God’s Holy Spirit. Grace exists wherever God is. Grace is God’s presence to create, heal, forgive, reconcile and transform human hearts, communities, and all of creation. No condemnation, just examination that leads to transformation.
Where God is present, there is grace! Let me ask you this: Where is God? He is everywhere. Where is God’s grace? God’s grace is everywhere. By understanding God’s grace we can understand how God’s relationship with us creates us, how it heals us, how it reconciles us to him and others, and how it transforms us. I am a different person than I was 33 years ago when I gave my heart to Jesus. The difference is all grace, all of God’s grace working in me over 33 years to become who I am now. I am who I am today all because of God’s grace, and it’s that way for all of us who believe. In fact, even those who don’t believe yet in Jesus have access to God’s grace. Which brings us to the first expression of God’s grace which we will cover today: prevenient grace. We’ll cover justifying grace next week, and then sanctifying grace after that. In the 1700s the English language was greatly different than it is today. So prevenient is an arcane word, as is the word preventing. Wesley interchanged these two words to describe this initial dynamic of grace, as preventing grace or prevenient grace. Do not let these arcane words intimidate you. They simply come from a Latin root word that means to precede. Prevenient grace or preventing grace is the grace that comes first, before justifying grace and sanctifying grace. It is the grace that is present in our lives before we may even be aware that there is a God. Let’s go to our scripture for today, Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This verse of scripture always blows me away. Christ died for you and me while we were at our worst, not our best. And for some of us, our worst is pretty bad, maybe even awful, as in my case. Remember, without Christ none of us is righteous. Think back to a time when your behavior was the worst that you can remember, an action you're not proud of. That is what Jesus carried to the cross, the thought of us that weighted him down as he died for us. Not what we would become, our good stuff, but our worst, that was when Christ died for us. This prevenient grace is active in our lives before we come to know Christ. As God’s grace ebbs and flows in our lives, the different expressions of God’s grace can ebb in and out of our lives. So while I have been saved for over 33 years, God’s prevenient grace is still available for me. It was God’s prevenient grace that saved me from an unhealthy lifestyle as a young man. It was God’s prevenient grace that saved my life in my head-on collision a year ago last October.
Prevenient grace is present in all creation – in the natural order, in human conscience, in the relationships and the heritage into which we are born. The love of family and friends, the fellowship of Christian community, Baptism and Communion, creation itself, the pangs of guilt and conviction, the pull of our hearts towards Jesus and his vision for our lives, are all expressions of God’s prevenient grace. Romans 7: 14-15, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” This is Paul’s cry of frustration with sin. But it could be the cry for any of us as we break free from the stranglehold that sin has on our hearts. What a blessing it is to know that each of us have this prevenient grace of God available to us without our knowledge. It is God’s first move towards us. God's grace for us even before we even understand what Jesus and believing in him is all about, or, as in my case, before we choose to acknowledge him. As I said, I spent 30 years in prevenient grace without knowing it. Lost and hellbent, I was completely clueless about this grace. But now, as a mature believer, I look back and just see grace upon grace. Almost like God’s invisible hand on my shoulder, guiding me one way, and then the next, close call after close call. Wave after wave of grace at different times in my life. But eventually, we do have to make a decision for Christ. A decision to commit our heart in faith to Jesus. Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” This is our next expression of grace that we will look at next week, justifying grace. Stay in his Spirit, stay in his grace. Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. Blessings, Thad