We are in our third Sunday of Lent and will be focusing on John and Charles Wesley’s understanding of grace and the role it plays in the Christian life. Our study for this season is Adam Hamilton’s book: “Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It,” published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2014.
Today we approach another big attribute of who God is. We often talk of God being LOVE. We have to also realize that God has many attributes or characteristics that we human’s experience. We believe in the God of love, justice, mercy, grace, and kindness. Today our focus is on the necessity of grace in our lives. The Bible defines ‘grace’ as God’s free and unmerited favor for sinful humanity.” Grace is, therefore, the undeserved loving actions of God in human form that we experience through the Holy Spirit. As believers and humans, we have come to know that each day is a gift from God. We have to be grateful for the love and splendor that God puts before us every day. John Wesley taught grace as God’s love manifested in three ways: Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace. Since we are all sinners we know that we are saved by grace through faith. But he also taught the means of grace that every believer should be engaged in. Let us try to work through the necessity of grace.
1. Prevenient Grace: This is the grace that prepares us, even when we are still sinners. We know that God’s love is so great that even when we are sinners he is willing to reach out to us. This grace keeps prodding us to come home. John Wesley described prevenient grace as the porch of religion, a place of preparation to enter the house. It is possible to live a life on the porch, the very edge of the home with glimpses of and longing for fellowship with family. But God does not wish us to live apart from the family of God. We become part of the community or body of Christ, not defined by age, color, race, geographical location or language. We become sons and daughters of the living God.
2. Justifying Grace: This is sometimes called the saving grace. John Wesley also referred to this grace as the door to God’s house of salvation. Justifying grace is the assurance of forgiveness that comes from repentance and when we turn to God’s gracious gift of life in Jesus. Through this grace a number of things happen. One, a door is open to us when we say ‘yes’ to God’s saving love. Two, we are forgiven of our sins and restored to God’s favor. Our relationship is put in order. Through justifying grace, we realize that God loves us and his love is not based on how hard we work to earn it, but he loves us because we are his children. We have to come to a point where we accept that God truly loves us and we can experience it from inside. John Wesley had a moment when he experienced this justifying grace and this is how he puts it: “About a quarter before nine, while he (the leader) was describing the change which God works in our heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation and assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (Living Our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way, p. 80). Through Justifying Grace we are born to a family of God. We become part of the community or the body of Christ that is not defined by age, color, race, geographical location or language. We become sons and daughters of the living God.
3. Sanctifying Grace: Through this grace God wants to restore us to the original state we were in before we were corrupted by the original sin. The world sometimes calls this the cleansing grace. I call it ‘fixing-up’ grace. In this world we receive a lot of dents and bumps and we need God’s grace to know that we are straightened. When I get dented by rejection, a failure, I know that I can turn to that sanctifying grace to straighten me up. It is like a body-building grace to me. God wants us to be holy because he is holy. God’s saving work continues to nurture our growth in grace. It is when we grow through this grace that we learn to love God, as well as our neighbor. “If prevenient grace is the porch of the house of grace and justifying grace is the doorway, sanctifying grace represents the rooms in the infinite dwelling of God’s presence.” (Ibid p. 81). It is through this grace that we grow more towards the love of God and love for our neighbors. This sanctifying grace becomes more visible as we engage regularly in the means of grace.
4. Means of Grace: The early Methodist believed that believers needed to be engaged in the ordinances of the church to help them nurture their relationship with God. These means of grace come with general rules. The rules are: “public worship of God, the ministry of the Word – either read or expounded, the supper of the Lord, family and private prayer, searching the scriptures, fasting or abstinence and Christian conferencing,” (Carter). We can break the means of grace to three categories: a) The public worship of God. They believed that divine worship was the duty of every believer. There is prayer and fasting too. It was and is important for a believer to find time to go before God in adoration ad humility. Public worship is essential to the life of believers. It is in assembling together that we encourage each other to grow in faith. In corporate worship we come to acknowledge the presence of Christ and affirm that he is risen. We come to meet God together for his words remind us that where two or three are gathered in him name he will be there. The meeting place becomes a holy place and a mountain of God. We come together to share the joy, to praise God and affirm our faith; b) ministry of the Word. This is the means by which God guides us, directs us and shapes us. We affirm that the Bible is the Word of God and it is essential for our spiritual growth. The ‘Word is a lamp unto our feet,’ the Bible reads. The Word then becomes the guiding campus and the food for the journey. The Word becomes the sword that we defend ourselves with fro all the heresies that are thrown to us by the devil. Faith grows by hearing the Word of God; c) The Lord’s Table. There are two sacraments that we believe in: the sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was important for people to partake of the Lord’s Table regularly, for it reminded them of his love and the sacrifice that he gave. It is not only a time of remembrance but a moment of communion or getting connected with the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. Having the Lord’s table that has continued to date and we can partake of communion as often as it is possible is crucial to our relationship with our God and a means of grace.