Consider this: Send the waters of your grace upon us. We are your people. Let the waters of your love wash us. We are your forgiven people. Let the waters of your blessing pour over us. We are your beloved people. Thanks be to God.
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Romans 3:21-26 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
For the last several weeks we have been focused on the evolution of Methodism. It began with John Wesley’s concern for the great disconnect between the Anglican Church and the people. In the 1700’s the primary focus of the Anglican church was on structure and rules of operation. The congregations and the needs of the non-members were really down on the church’s priority list. Apathy was prevalent in the Anglican Church.
John Wesley was an ordained Anglian priest and remained one his entire life. But John Wesley wanted a more compassionate and grace filled ministry to the common people. When John Wesley was thirty-five, he had an awaking of his faith. At a meeting of the Moravians, John Wesley later wrote I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. This was the beginning of Wesley’s ministry of reforming the church. As Methodism grew, John Wesley contemplated the meaning of grace. John Wesley explained the movement of God’s grace in our lives and how we respond to the nudging of God.
The word grace is used a lot in the church. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; Grace is the peace of God given to the restless; Grace is the unmerited favor of God (from Christianity.com).
Wesley refers to grace as the movement of the Spirit in our lives and suggests that it can be thought of as entering God’s house. Prevenient grace is like being on the front porch of God’s house. It is the grace that goes before or the grace that has carried us, even though we did not realize it. What you acknowledge is something that is already there. We acknowledge the divine love that surrounds all people and that proceeds all of our conscious impulses. Before babies can form thoughts, before babies are able to form words, God’s love is surrounding them and influencing them.
This grace, prevenient grace, prompts our first wish to please God. Our first glimmer of understanding God’s will that God wants us to change our lives. Prevenient grace brings to us our first awareness that our life needs to change, from self-absorbing to a life lived in God’s house. God is working on us, and God is not finished yet. Prevenient grace is God’s grace, and it also awakens in us a longing, — an earnest longing to deliver us from a life of sin and death.
Please open your hymnals to page 378 – Amazing Grace. Look at the left-hand portion of the hymnal and you will see Justifying Grace. We are now realizing that we are entering God’s house from the front porch (prevenient grace) to inside the house.
“Amazing Grace” is quite possibly the most beloved song of all time. It has been recorded by varieties of artist and has been arranged in many ways. Amazing Grace was written by pastor John Newton. John Newton, like all of us, had a past. He was the former captain of a slave ship. This was such a painful part of his past that Newton found it very difficult to speak about. However, when William Wilberforce, a member of his congregation, was working to stop the practice of slave trade in Great Britain, Newton was moved. Now old and going blind, Newton overcame what he referred to as his “20,000 ghosts” and made a written account of his slave ship experiences to help see the practice stopped once and for all. Understanding that truth about our human condition and about who Jesus is in relationship to us, is what enabled Newton to write what is perhaps the most beloved hymn of all time.
While Newton was inspired musically by his experience of grace, one of his English contemporaries, a young pastor named John Wesley, who became the founder of the Methodist movement, was preaching about his biblical understanding of how God’s grace works. Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before. Justifying Grace is that grace when once we have repented of our sin, we move toward placing our faith in Christ, trusting in him and him alone for our salvation. This is represented by coming into God’s house.
When Wesley talked about grace he would reflect upon his own life. He spoke about what he called his “Aldersgate experience”, the strange warming of his heart. That moment of trusting fully in God through Jesus, his Son, is represented by opening the door of the house. It is referred to as Justifying Grace, the moment we exercise faith in Christ.
Kenneth Carder, perhaps the foremost scholar today on United Methodist Theology and Doctrine today, writes: Justifying grace, which may come suddenly or gradually, is the assurance that we are forgiven daughters and sons of God. It is our alignment with God. Justification is being claimed as children of God – the infinitely, unconditionally loved children of God. Through God’s justifying grace, God accepts us just as we are, forgives our sins and restores us to relationship with Him. It is because of justifying grace that we can repent of our sin and turn our life around. It is conversion. Being born again. It is the grace that changes us. In some cases, that person is ready and God’s unconditional love for them becomes crystal clear immediately. They feel sorrowful, they repent of their sins, they turn from their old sinful life, and they exercise faith in Christ. In other cases, it takes much longer than that. It is a long wrestling period where God continually reveals to us our nature, helps us to see how we really are, but it takes a long time for us to get to the point where we are able to repent and place faith in him. Justifying Grace can come quickly or gradually — but it is the time that we come to believe that Jesus is our Savior and Lord of our life.
Let us look to scripture because it is so important that we understand the idea of justification in terms of scripture. Romans 3:23-24 says, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. I am justified by God’s grace as a gift. It is nothing that I have deserved because I have been a good person, moral person, spiritual person. It is only through Jesus that I am made right. It is a gift, and I must freely choose to receive the gift of God’s grace.
Here is why Justifying Grace is so important. The opposite of Justifying Grace is something that has been called the theology of merit and demerit. It is this idea that if I do good, God will love me more and if I do bad, God will love me less. I would say this is something I used to believe when I was younger. I can remember thinking that I was a good person for the most part and that my good behavior, in general, outweighed my bad behavior so surely, I would go to heaven one day. Some of us struggle with this kind of merit and demerit theology. It has snuck into our lives subtly and we did not even realize it was happening. Emotionally, this is how it plays itself out. You have a good day where you do good things, and you feel happy. You feel good. God loves me. Then you have a bad day. You feel depressed so God must love me less. So, the joy of our lives is connected to our performance, not Jesus. We have joy when we think we are doing pretty good, which is really just pride, which scripture tells us is a sin and then we have despair when you’ve been really bad, which is still a pride issue. In summary, these scenarios are about us and not Jesus.
Justifying Grace reminds us that God already loves me so much that God has already given us Jesus. Scripture reminds us in Romans 5:8 that “8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” God cannot love me anymore than that and there is nothing I can do to cause God to love me any less. God’s grace is based upon God’s love for each of us, and not on our performance!
Wesley would have said that the important thing for us to understand about Justifying Grace is that it is at the doorway to God’s house. Once in God’s house, the work of transformation begins. Because God’s goal for us is not that we look like we are righteous. It is not that we are accounted for as righteous. It is through Jesus that we become righteous people. So, justification is just the beginning, not the end, because there is still a lot of important work to be done. If justification is just the beginning, then exercising right belief is step one and then having that come forth in lives that please God, lives of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, lives of self-sacrifice for those around us.
Stay tuned for next week. Sanctifying Grace!!!
(Some of this message’s content comes from Lake Ridge UMC October 17, 2016)