Consider this: Lord, as we gather here, on this day of sharing, remind us that you have shared with us your most precious gift, our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to model our lives after his messages of compassion and service to you and to all your world. In Christ’s Name, we offer this prayer.
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Ephesians 2:1-10 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 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.
Last week, Reflections 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. As we will read in the next three weeks, John Wesley explained the movement of God’s grace in our lives and how we respond to the nudging of God.
The word grace (verses 8-9) 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. Unfortunately, sometimes we use the word grace more than we practice the use of grace. Perhaps that is because we have an incomplete understanding of exactly what grace is. It seems to me that grace has come to mean that I can do whatever I want to and then I will just ask for forgiveness later. That is a distorted form of grace, what some would call cheap grace. More importantly, it is not the grace that we see revealed to us in Scripture– particularly in the perfect example of grace…the life of Jesus Christ. Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God (from Christianity.com).
John Wesley described saving grace by using the image of a house. God is inviting us into a relationship…to come and literally dwell with him. If we dwell on the front porch, it is the beginning of entering God’s house. The imagery of the house is to help us understand Wesley’s understanding of grace. We are going to break saving grace down into three components, Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace and Sanctifying Grace. There is only one grace – it is the grace of God. But God’s grace is so magnificent, so all-encompassing, that for our finite mind and in our humanness, we have to break it down into some component parts so that we can understanding this amazing gift of God’s grace.
Take a look at this flashlight. It is off and there is no light. What is wrong with this flashlight? Maybe the bulb is broken, or the batteries are worn-out, or the batteries are in backwards. How about a theological analysis of the flashlight! There are some theologians who would say that this flashlight is evil. That it is entirely and completely depraved and filled with sin and absolutely totally broken. But other theologians might say it a little differently: the problem with this flashlight is the switch is not turned on. It will shine when the switch is activated, and power comes to the bulb. But when there is no power, it does not shine. We flip the switch on, and the lights shine. We turn the switch off and the light does not work.
You and I are a little bit like that. We were made– we were shaped by God like this flashlight. But you and I will never be who we really are made to be, who we really are shaped to be, who we really are meant to be until there’s power flowing through us. And it is the power of God. So, you see, this flashlight, among all those other answers, has a potential that is unfulfilled until it is connected. You and I have a potential to be a different kind of person. But it cannot be fulfilled until we are connected to the power of God.
Prevenient grace is a United Methodist term. What it basically means is that God is with us before we are everything we ought to be. God does not wait for us to shine on our own power. God comes to us.
For Father’s Day, my message was centered on the Prodigal Son. You remember the story of the prodigal son! There is a little phrase in that story from Luke 15 that just means a lot to me. There is a phrase that comes to him on the worst day of his life. He is a Jewish young man. He got his inheritance early. He went to a far-off land. A big city with a lot of pleasurable activities. And he blew all his money. And all the friends he had when he had money were not his friends when he did not have money. And the closest thing he could get to a job that would allow him to survive was to feed the pigs. If you are Jewish, feeding the pigs is not good. And the young man was so hungry that he was looking at what the pigs were eating, and he thought, “I’d like some of that.” That is pretty low but even at that very low point in his life, the Bible says that he came to his senses!
How is it that we come to our senses? Whether it is during the worst time or hopefully a better time, how is it that we wake up and realize we need to do this instead of that, or we need to go this direction instead of that direction? How is it that we wake up and come to our senses and are aware that our life should be different? It is because God is in our lives before, we became aware of God’s presence. God is in our lives before we know Jesus. God is in our lives before we give our lives to Jesus. God is in our lives before we make a commitment to follow Jesus. God is there nudging us and shielding us, but we are not aware of it.
And that reality that God is there is called prevenient grace. Because God is with us, we wake up and we come to our senses. As the prodigal son came to his senses, he said, “I will set out and go back to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” And not only did he realized what he needed to say, what he needed to pray, here is the hard part sometimes, he actually got up and did it.
What prevenient grace does is it helps us to know what we need to do, go back to the father, to know what we need to say, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I’m not worthy. Prevenient Grace tells us what to do and we are able to get up and do that. That is God helping us before we belong to God. And this help does not stop. Prevenient grace is always with us.
Here is what the Book of Discipline in the United Methodist Church says about prevenient grace. We acknowledge God’s prevenient grace. 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 slight transient conviction of having done something wrong, of having sinned against God. 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 sin and death. And it moves us towards repentance and faith.
Prevenient grace is a blessing through Jesus, “Come to Me.” We are not made for the darkness. We are made to be filled with light. We are made for God’s power to flow through us. We are made to become who we can be when our partnership with God is alive. But prior to that moment, in every situation where we are less than perfect, in every situation where we are foolish, and every human situation to where we are not living up to what’s best, God is pulling us toward what we can be with God’s help. And it is Jesus Christ who is pulling us. We are drawn to the light. We are drawn to a God that is saying to us Jesus is the light of the world.” No matter what sort of darkness we may find ourselves in, Jesus is the light of the world. And Jesus draws us to himself.
Prevenient grace is that light that is shining. Consider this from Luke 15: 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
Jesus Christ is always seeking us to bring us home safe. To green pastures. To still waters. To restore our souls. That seeking and yearning for us is what we call prevenient grace.
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, today I am not that person that I want to be or can be with your help. Guide me to all that is good. Guide me to you. And just as Jesus came for us, we are going with him. Because there are other people who need that light as well in their darkness.