Consider this: In our richness, we have believed that we are the ones who have all the answers to life’s problems. But when those who have little, offer all they have; we are put to shame. In our power, we believe that might is right. But when those who are powerless offer love and mercy; we are put to shame. Joy fills our lives when we center our lives on Jesus Christ. Hope fills our hearts when we focus on our Savior. Comfort fills our spirits, when we believe in the Lord. Peace fills our souls when we seek to do God’s Work.
Ephesians 2:4-10 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Titus 2:11-14 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
For the last several weeks we have been focused on the evolution of Methodism. Wesley was focused on understanding how God’s Grace works and how Grace changes our personal lives. The word Grace is used a lot in the church. Ephesians 2 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 we acknowledge is something that is already there. 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.
Then last week we explored Justifying Grace which is that moment when we choose to open up God’s gift of salvation. This is the grace which allows us to be made right with God. This was represented by the doorway of the house. 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. 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.
This morning we are exploring what Wesley called Sanctifying Grace, the grace that transforms us. To help us with that we want to turn to scripture by reading from the New Testament book of Titus 2. This is a passage of scripture written to people who have experienced Prevenient and Justifying Grace. Now they are finding out what Sanctifying Grace is. Titus 2:11-14 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Remember that John Wesley described grace with an analogy of a house. He described prevenient grace as the porch on a house. It is where we prepare to enter the house. After all, a house is much more than just a porch. In order to fully experience God’s grace, we must enter the house. Justifying grace is the doorway and the process of walking through it. The door is open with a welcome sign on it. That is justifying grace, turning toward a new future. Turning away from our past, experiencing God’s welcome.
In the United Methodist Book of Discipline, we read “We hold that the wonder of God’s acceptance and pardon do not end God’s saving work, which continues to nurture our growth in grace. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor.” So, if prevenient grace is the porch of the house of grace and justifying grace is the doorway, sanctifying grace represents the rooms in the expansive dwelling of God’s presence. And upon entering the house of God’s grace, we are invited to explore the rooms of the house that our faith may experience the welcome and love that God offers us. …That our faith may find the room or rooms in which our calling is realized, and our faith lives experience fulfillment.
In my mid-forties, I was taking courses in theology – the study of the Bible. I had no plans to ever go into pastoral ministry. I was just interested in the Bible – with it’s complexities and its basic message of God’s love for all of us. I had begun the process of exploring the many rooms in God’s house.
Thomas Oden, who was a Methodist theologian and author – as well as a professor at Drew University – wrote, “Sanctification is the work of the Spirit by which God by grace seeks completely to mend the broken human condition, to bring our stunted lives to fulfillment, not partially, but wholly in a victory over all sin in this life, through a genuine renewal of all the redeemed powers of the believer.”
When I was growing up, I took piano lessons for several years with a tutor at my grandmother’s house. I did not practice very much. My mom would get on me about practicing all the time, but I rarely – if ever did. At the time, I was probably sure that the tutor could not tell that I did not practice very much… but in retrospect, I know that she had to have known. I was not getting anywhere with the piano because I was not putting out any effort, I was not stretching myself and allowing myself to really learn how to play the piano. But I did learn a lot of the basics and, if I really set my mind to it, I could have learned to play with enough… oh there is that word again… practice!
There is an old story about a person who stopped someone on the street in New York and said, “Excuse me, but how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice! Practice! Practice! The same is true of our faith. It takes only a moment to plant a seed, but how long does it take for the seed to grow? We must practice at it through any number of spiritual activities whether it be Bible study, daily devotionals, prayer, mediation, hymn singing… the list could go on for a very long time. But the point is that our faith lives will not grow – will not flourish without practicing our faith…without exploring that metaphorical house of God’s grace in which we move toward what Wesley called spiritual perfection.
Dr. Oden wrote that Wesley affirmed that God’s grace seeks nothing less than a new creation in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Sanctifying grace is God’s freely given presence and power to restore the fullness of God’s image in which we are created. Wesley talked about sanctification in terms of Christian perfection by which he means entire “holiness of heart and life.”
In commenting on Wesley’s house analogy, Kenneth Carder says: Sanctification is the endless exploration of the rest of the house. So perfection, holiness, entire sanctification comes as we allow God dominion over our entire house, our whole life. And so, for us, a faith that matters is not one that excludes but one that invites all persons to come along with us as we explore all the rooms of the house of grace.
Growing and dynamic, faith filled churches – churches that are making a difference in their community – are not filled with people who have arrived, but rather people who are on the journey. Not perfect people, but people who are moving on towards perfection.
A faith that matters is a witness of lives who are on the journey and seeking others to walk with them. And we do that through worship, and Sunday School, and Bible Study and small groups/missional communities where we are constant working to introduce Jesus Christ in EVERY life. And God is calling persons from within God’s church to serve as vessels of His grace because a faith that matters is one that calls each one of us back, no matter how far we’ve strayed, one step at a time, to embrace the image of God in whom we were created.
I love the story of the prince who had a crooked back. When he went out in public, no matter what he did, he looked crooked and bent over and he walked with a limp. When he looked in the mirror, he found his image to be damaged and grotesque. He longed to see an image there that was worthy of an ideal prince. And so he had a sculptor carve a statue of what he considered to be the ideal prince. The prince of the sculpture was tall and noble, standing straight and erect and handsome – everything he thought a prince should be. Everything he thought he should be. And when the statue was finished, the prince had it placed in the garden outside of his window. And several times a day, the prince would go and stand by the statue and contemplate himself as he would like to become. Eventually the people began to see a change in the prince. Inch by inch he was becoming tall and erect. He was growing into the likeness of his ideal image.
And so, God sent His perfect son, Jesus Christ, to live among us. He is the ideal image in which humanity was created. And then He gave us the gift of grace so that, as we live and dwell with Him, we might become more and more like Him. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. For every one of us. And a grace filled faith is truly a faith that matters.
Thanks be to God!