Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Theology (page 1 of 3)

Re-Light Your Candle

Ten candles had been lit to remember the saints who had claimed the promise of the resurrection this past year. The candles were flickering throughout the service. The wax dripped along the edges of the candlelabra. 

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3 Shades of Grace: Sanctifying Grace

3 Shades of GraceYou can read the Introduction here,

or read about Prevenient Grace here,

or read about Justifying Grace here.

“New birth is the beginning of the new life in Christ, a life of growth in holiness. The term Methodists have historically favored to describe growth in holiness is sanctification.” (Ted Campbell, Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials)

The third shade, or movement, of grace according to our United Methodist tradition is sanctifying grace. Sanctification as a word comes the Latin “sanctus,” which means “holy” or “saint.” As such, sanctification can be understood as the process of growth in holiness, as the quote from Ted Campbell above implies.  The United Methodist Book of Discipline puts it this way:

We believe sanctification is the work of God’s grace through the Word and by the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

To reach entire sanctification is to reach entire perfection in love. As John Wesley would say so often, we are all striving towards perfection. The misunderstanding that sometime occurs is that when we have been born again, life will be a bowl full of joy at all times as we pursue good works of compassion and justice. But, that simply is not the case.

We cannot forget that sanctification is a process in which the born again Christian is cleansed and grows in faith. Growth is an important aspect to sanctification. The Christian we are when we are justified, is not the Christian we will always be. God is at work in our lives constantly. All the time. God’s not done with us yet.

In 1939, when the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and other Methodist Protestant churches united as The Methodist Church, this now historic statement:

Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanest from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.

Just as we are justified by grace through faith alone, we are sanctified by grace through faith. But Wesley was quick to point out that while grace is a gift, we respond to the gift. It is an action followed by a reaction. God acts; humanity responds. “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God,” John Wesley wrote in a sermon, “a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God.”

This re-action, or response, to God’s gift of grace is when and how growth is possible. And so, we engage in works of piety and works of mercy as we strive towards perfection. Works of piety include Bible study, small groups, prayer, devotional time, worship, and participation in the sacraments. Works of mercy, on the other hand, include feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, giving voice to the voiceless, as well as other acts of compassion and justice.

And because it will not be easy; because it will get messy; because we will still experience pain and suffering, there is grace for this journey. Sanctifying grace is the divine grace by which the process of sanctification takes place within us – making us holy.

A couple of months, our youth group made this short video to communicate the process of sanctification.

3 Shades of Grace: Justifying Grace

3 Shades of GraceRead the Introduction to this series here.

Read about prevenient grace here.

“Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and God will give you more grace.” (John Wesley)

Through prevenient grace we are made aware of our sinfulness and our need for divine grace. Along with that awareness comes an invitation which we can choose to respond to or not. When we do respond to the invitation, we experience the second shade, or movement, of grace: justifying grace.

Justifying grace pardons us of our sins and makes us right with God. Again, God acts. This time through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because of what God did through Jesus out of a great love for us that we have this amazing grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is considered the ground of justification. It is the basis or foundation of our salvation.

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved gift given to us. Theologian Randy Maddox refers to grace in the Wesleyan understanding as responsible grace. What he means by that is that God’s grace gives us the ability to respond. Faith is the response on our part to that gift of grace. To claim faith is to do two things: repent and believe. John the Baptist began his ministry with just such a call to repentance and believing. Jesus summarizes the gospel in this way, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15).  Paul, throughout Acts and his epistles, preached a similar message.

In the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the word for repent means “to turn around.” In other words, we make a U-Turn, we change the direction we are headed in. John Wesley called repentance, “a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” All sin is lack of acknowledgement of and separation from God, while all holiness is being fully aware and fully acknowledging God.

The younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 provides a good example of what repenting change looks like. In the parable, the younger son leaves his father, claiming his inheritance early. He parties it away and ends up with a job feeding pigs more food than he can afford. This experience led to a new self-understanding for the son, which lead to a conviction that what he had sinned and he should return home.

When we repent, the change we undergo involves a new self-understanding of who we are as sinners and the need for us to return home. This is what it means to make a U-Turn back to God.

While repenting is the first act, belief is the second act. Belief is more than memorizing scripture and reciting creeds. Belief is putting and having full trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. John Wesley wrote, “To believe in God implies, to trust in him as our strength, without whom we can do nothing . . . . as our help, our only help in time of trouble.” Our minds understand that Christ died for our sins, and our hearts commit to living in Christ.

sixthsenseWesley would save that once we claim the gift of faith, we gain a sixth sense. And not the “I see dead people,” sixth sense. Our eyes are opened and we see the world differently. We are awakened to a spiritual reality, and we see ourselves, others, and the world through that reality. This awakening leads us to respond to faith by doing good. We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the sick, we love as Christ has loved us.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline says this about faith and works:

Both faith and good works belong within all all-encompassing theology of grace, since they stem from God’s gracious love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Of course, this does not mean that we will never sin again. Justification cancels sin. When we repent we turn back to God and accept the gift of faith. In justification, we still have the chance to respond. Too often Christians think that salvation is sealed in a single moment. Wesley would add that in that moment we begin a journey. This process of being cleansed and freed from sin is called sanctification. We will look at sanctifying grace in the next post.

 

 

3 Shades of Grace: Prevenient Grace

3 Shades of GraceRead the Introduction to this series here.

In recognizing that humanity is crippled by the disease of sin, John Wesley identified three shades, or movements, of God’s grace as a remedy. It is important to note that there are not different kinds of grace. However, we experience grace at different stages of our spiritual walk. Grace is always grace. As Steve Harper says so well, “We define grace in different ways because of how we experience the grace on our end of the relationship.”

The first shade is prevenient grace. As the prefix implies, prevenient grace is the grace that comes before. Before what? Before we are aware of God or know we need God. Before we respond to God’s redeeming grace and before we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Prevenient grace comes before.

This means that God makes the first move when it comes to humanity’s redemption. Bishop Scott Jones talks about prevenient grace as wooing us to God. In other words, prevenient grace is grace that is active in our lives and leads us to an awareness of God. Wesley believed that once we were aware of God, we would be led to repentance. This is because once we are aware of God, we also become aware of our humanity and its brokenness. We become sensitive to God’s will in the world and in our lives and how that has been violated. We want to do something about it. We want to fix it. We want to solve the “whole trouble.”

We can’t fix it on our own, but we can respond.

Grace is about God’s love for humanity. Just as God’s love is for all, God’s grace is for all as well. As the writer of 2 Peter says, God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (3:9).

Prevenient grace leads us not just to awareness of God but to awareness of our need for God and God’s grace in our sin-filled lives. It is an invitation into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This awareness enables us to respond to God’s grace by repenting. John Wesley believed that prevenient grace enables us to use our free will responsibly. Because grace is given so freely, it was important to Wesley that we understand that our response is also free.

We recognize that prevenient grace is active in our lives through other people and our experiences. If we pondered for a moment about our lives before we were aware of God or of the need for divine grace, we would remember people, places, and things that happened in our lives who made a difference in us. These have been agents of God’s grace. Parents, pastors, youth ministers, grandparents, peers, co-workers, coaches, and church members are all agents of prevenient grace.

For me, it was my family – grandparents, aunts, and parents. They were always at church because they love the church! There was a point in my childhood that whenever they went to church, I would go too. No matter what they were doing. If they were cleaning on a Saturday, worship on Sunday, choir practice on Wednesday, whatever it was, I was there. For awhile, my mom worked at the church preparing and running the bulletin every week. One of my aunts led the children’s choir and another taught Sunday school. I remember sitting in the pews on Tuesday nights when Dad would practice with the Gospel 7.

These people and these experiences led me to an awareness of who God is and why I need grace.

And grace is for everyone. God’s grace is active in all our lives, and as such baptism is the mark of that grace. God has made a promise of grace. And because God does not turn back on God’s promises, we only recognize one baptism.

As United Methodists, we baptize infants because of prevenient grace. Do you remember in Toy Story, how the bottom of Woody’s foot had Andy’s name written on it? That is what happens in a baptism. God’s name is placed, not on the bottom of your foot, but on your heart. You have been claimed by God, just as Andy claimed Woody. Baptism is also an initiation into the Christian community.

credit: fanpop.com

credit: fanpop.com

While United Methodists are known to primarily baptize infants, we are not limited to only baptizing infants. We do baptize infants as a sign-act of God’s grace that is already active in that child’s life. But there is more happening in the baptismal covenant. The community of faith – the congregation – is making a promise to aid his or her parents in bringing them up in the faith. The congregation promises to nurture the child and to be agents of grace in their lives.

Finally, prevenient grace offers us hope. Hope that we will not be broken forever. Hope that we can change. Hope that we will be healed from the disease of sin.

Prevenient grace is not the whole story, it is just the beginning.

In the next post we will look at justifying grace. 

 

 

3 Shades of Grace: Introduction

Three Shades of Grace“We know no gospel without salvation from sin.” -John Wesley

Charles Schultz’ Charlie Brown says to his friend Linus, “Life is just too much for me. I’ve been confused right from the day I was born. I think the whole trouble is that we’re thrown into life too fast. We’re not really prepared.”

Linus replies, “What did you want . . . a chance to warm up first?”

It could be said that “the whole trouble” of humanity is original sin. Original sin is the corruption of the nature of every human being. In the beginning, God created, and it was good. God created humanity in the image of God, and it was good. John Wesley referred to this original righteousness as “original perfection.” But, when the first humans ate the fruit of the tree, sin entered the world. The Fall, as the Genesis 3 narrative is commonly referred to, left humanity fallen from perfection.

Sin is the “whole trouble” with humanity. It has left the image of God within humanity disfigured and diseased. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Wesley understood that what we inherited from Adam and Eve was not so much guilt, but corruption and disease.

There is no escape from sin.

This is why humanity is in need of divine grace. Grace is the undeserved, unmerited, loving action of God. It is grace that renews and restores the fallen image of God within humanity. Grace is the answer to the problem. Grace is the medicine for the disease of sin. Grace transforms us from a sinful state to a righteous state. As United Methodists, we affirm that salvation comes through this loving action of God we call grace.

John Wesley understood grace in three shades, or three movements. Prevenient grace is God’s love at work in our lives from the beginning, even before we realize our sin-filled reality. While justifying grace pardons us through Christ, sanctifying grace empowers us to participate with God in healing our sin sick selves. But only if we choose to cooperate. This has been called Wesley’s “Way of Salvation.” It is the story of how grace restores us to original righteousness.

The next few posts will explore these three shades of grace.

 

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