The Grace of God: Convincing Grace

grace 2In the last two weeks we have considered some of the fundamental aspects of God’s grace. We have taken a look at how the prevenient grace of God works in absolutely everyone’s life without exception. In this sense, prevenient grace is irresistible. After this work of grace we can always say “no” to God. We do not have to let God work in our lives, we do not have to accept the benefits that He offers us, the ones He desires for us. No matter how we choose, God will not turn away from us.

After last week’s article, a person came to me and said, “Now I understand how my aunt and uncle can be good people without being Christians.” Prevenient grace gives us the option to be good but it does not keep us from sin or from sinning. It takes another work of the grace of God to move us from a life prone to sin, it is not something we can accomplish on our own. Sin tends to dull our spiritual senses, so to speak. Sin wants us to believe the lie that our own personal sin is not really all that bad, so it is not really a problem if we do not stop. After all what’s a little gossip compared to murder? As humans we want to rank sin and make some less offensive than others.

The truth of the matter is that before a holy God, there are only two categories: sin and no sin. The work of the Holy Spirit is needed to break through that spiritual self-satisfaction and make us understand our true situation.

God could allow humankind to remain in this state and all would be condemned. But God is a loving God, full of compassion and mercy, whose loving-kindness knows no end. By His own statement, God finds no pleasure in the death of even a single evil person. God desires reconciliation with all persons. Therefore, by His mercy and free and undeserved gift, the gift of convincing grace, a path to reconciliation is provided. God’s convincing grace pierces the fog and darkness that sins brings around our hearts and minds and begins to reveal our true standing before God. It is by God’s convincing grace that a person comes to know that God is not just a pushover, who will accept anyone just as he/she is. By convincing grace, person learns that love without discernment does not mean anything. For God to truly love us, He cannot allow us to remain in sin. Convincing grace opens the spiritual eyes of a person to understand that a religious façade is just that, all show and no meaning. The gift of convincing grace allows us to understand that a life apart from God is shallow and worthless, full of fear and anxiety, a life without hope. Convincing grace convinces the person that the wages of sin is indeed death. Convincing grace reveals the flaws and shortcomings of our self-created image, our sense of security, our misguided self-assurance. To paraphrase John Wesley, God awakens us from our spiritual slumber and prepares us for the next step in the way of salvation.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Scot

The Grace of God – Prevenient Grace

graceLast week I wrote about two qualities of God’s grace, firstly, it is resistible (we can all say “no” to God because of free will) and secondly, it is universal (God’s grace is available to absolutely everyone, not just a select few). I also wrote that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, talked about grace in four different aspects: prevenient grace, convincing (or convicting) grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. This week I would like to write
about God’s prevenient grace. Before jumping into prevenient grace, we need to remember several important concepts:

1) All of humankind was created in the image of God.
2) Sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve.
3) Sin has impacted everyone, there has been no one, there is no one, and there will be no one that is born sinless. This is known as the doctrine of original sin. (see Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12)
4) Sin destroyed the image of God in people.
5) People are totally incapable of changing this situation.

Because original sin destroyed the image of God in each and every
person, we lost our ability to know good and we are alienated from God. Not only do we lack the capacity to know good, sin changes the human heart so that it predisposes people towards sin and disobedience. This understanding is not just that of John Wesley but of Luther and Calvin, too. Original sin leaves us in darkness, spiritually polluted, disdainful of good, and with a heart desiring evil. Original sin puts us in a very bad place without hope and without anything we can do about it.

But this is not the end of the story. God, out of His great love for
each and every person, would not leave us in such a condition. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’” (NRS, John 3:16-17). The gospel of John also tells us, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (NRS, John 1:9). The light which enlightens everyone, not some, not many, not even most, but everyone.

The work of Jesus Christ made possible for the image of God to be at least partially restored in absolutely everyone. This action does not require any act or deed or word on our part. This work of God is known as prevenient grace, the grace that goes before. It goes before we know God, it goes before we are convinced of our own sinful nature, it goes before we make any decision to accept Christ into our hearts, minds, and life.

Prevenient grace is the one exception of grace being resistible. God finds no pleasure in the death of even a single person, sinner or not. God has chosen out of His great mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness to not leave anyone in the dark and hopeless state caused by original sin. God desires that everyone at least have the ability to choose Him over evil. Prevenient grace is free to everyone, it is not earned, it is not selective. Prevenient grace breaks the total control of sin in the life of a person and in part restores the image of God, enough so that each of us can know God, and His moral law. Prevenient grace is the source of our conscience. Prevenient grace is the source of any good done by any person, believer or not.

Prevenient grace restores free will.

Prevenient grace has acted on every person ever born and everyone who will ever be born. And finally, prevenient grace restrains human wickedness, even in those persons who do not even acknowledge the existence of God.

To deny original sin and prevenient grace means that at least one person has the capacity to be good and to live a life worthy of eternal life with God without any action or help or interference from God. Once that claim is made, the barn door is opened, and the incarnation of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross is made
worthless and unnecessary, because, if even one person does not need salvation, why not all?

Prevenient grace is just the beginning. In the coming weeks, we will consider convicting grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Scot

The Grace of God – The Wesleyan Perspective

Usually when we use the term “grace of God” we tend to think
in terms of something gentle and beneficial that brings us a blessing.We say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” referring to God protecting us or keeping us out of a bad situation. But there is much more to grace than this simple understanding. Grace really includes a wide range of God’s activity in each of our lives. God’s grace is absolutely necessary in our Christian life. God’s grace is free and we can do nothing to earn it. Without grace we would be lost and without hope. By grace we are justified. By grace, God rescues us from the guilt and power of sin. By grace, we are transformed into the image of Christ. By grace we are made perfect for eternal life in the kingdom of God at the end of the age.

There are those who would say that a person is not able to
say “no” to the grace of God. These persons describe God’s grace as
being “irresistible.” If God wants to “grace” you, there is nothing you can do about it. This seems to contradict our understanding that God created humankind with free will. He has given us the ability to
choose whether to love Him or not, to choose whether to be obedient
or not, to choose whether to sin or not. As Methodists, we believe we
have the ability to say “no” to God. He does not want us to live in sin apart from Him, but He will allow us to do that if we insist. For Methodists, grace is resistible.

There are those who say that God has predestined certain people to be saved and others to be condemned. This thinking leads to the conclusion that God’s grace is not available to everyone, only to the few who have been elected by God to be saved. This way of understanding is where the saying “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” originated. For those who are not in the elect, it does not matter what they do. If they are good or if they are bad, the end result is the same. This goes against what Methodists believe. A crucial part of our understanding of God is that His grace is available to everyone. That does not mean everyone accepts His grace, remember we believe in free will, but everyone at least has the option. One need only look to passages in both the Old Testament and New to see that scripture supports this understanding. In Ezekiel God
says, “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (NRS, Eze 33:11). We are all familiar with John 3:16-
17 “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’.”

In conclusion, as Methodists, those who accept the theology developed by John Wesley, we believe grace is both resistible and universal. Salvation is possible for everyone, but not everyone will say yes to God.

In the coming weeks, we will be looking at the various ways that God can work in our lives. John Wesley described these as prevenient grace, convicting grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Scot

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