“The undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit.”
From The United Methodist Book of Discipline, “Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases”
This morning, six of us sat around a table, preparing for their membership into First Church. One of our topics, grace, seems like a timely focus for my writing. I’d wanted to bring it up earlier; it’s so central to my theology – and Methodism – it’s a wonder I made it this long.
Grace is God’s active presence in our lives. It’s the love and mercy God offers each of us just because God chooses to do it. Though many would be more comfortable working for God’s grace, it doesn’t work this way. We can’t do anything to earn it; it’s God’s gift, freely given. We can choose only to accept it… or not.
Although grace is a key piece of Christian faith and living, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, offered a new three-part way to understand grace:
- Prevenient grace is the grace that “goes before.” That precedes human action. It’s God reaching out to us before we even know it. God’s prevenient grace stays with us the whole time before we accept a relationship with God.
- Justifying grace brings a change in our relation with God as we come to accept the restored relationship God offers.
“In Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself” 2 Corinthians 5:19
That is, through Christ, our relationship with God is restored. Then,
- Sanctifying grace is God working within us, aligning us with God’s intention. This grace stays with us through our lives, so that we gradually become so full of God, so attuned to God’s ways that our intentions are pure in our love of God and all of God’s children (everybody).
I’ve been listening to Les Miserables as I write this. Seems fitting. Can you spot the parallels?
- Before Valjean changes his ways, the bishop tells him, “God has brought you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God.”
- Years go by. Valjean can choose to let another go to prison in his stead. God “gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on.”
- Still later, well on his way toward sanctification, he prays, “In my need, you have always been there… You can take; you can give… If I die, let me die. Let him live.”