Revival: Pursuing Grace
Scripture: Ephesians 2:8-10
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Today’s scripture reading, Ephesians 2:8-9, was the source of no less than 40 of Wesley’s sermons, so important was this message that salvation was not earned, but was a free gift of God. Listen again: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works so that no one may boast.” This is a text every Christian should memorize. It is a reminder of a central gospel truth: God is a god of grace, and salvation is a result of God’s grace….
There are two senses of the word grace in Paul’s use of the term that are important for you to know, that were critical in Wesley’s teaching and theology. The first is grace as a quality of God’s character whereby he loves, blesses and is willing to forgive humanity despite our sin. It is this attribute of God’s character that leads God to take the initiative to send Jesus, who he knows will die, in order to redeem and to save the human race.
This is really important, for some picture God as an angry judge, a judgmental father, someone we can never please no matter how hard we try. And unfortunately, that picture can be found in parts of the Bible. But Jesus painted a very different picture of God. God is a shepherd who searches for lost sheep. He is a father who runs to meet his prodigal children, he is a Savior who is friend of drunkards, prostitutes and every other kind of sinner.
There is a second sense in which the word is used, particularly in Paul’s letters, and that is grace as an active influence of God in our lives—a force working on us and in us to draw us to God, to put us right, and to restore us into what he made us to be. The agent of this grace is the Holy Spirit…. Wesley often spoke of three forms this grace takes.
- The first is PREVENIENT GRACE, God’s work in us before we even know to reach out to him. It is this work of God in our lives that enables us to respond to God’s gift of salvation. Infant baptism is a picture of this—that God is working in the lives of infants even before they know to reach out to him.
- When we finally say “yes” to God and trust in Christ we experience JUSTIFYING GRACE. This grace is both God’s declaration that we are delivered from sin and death, and also the power of God working in our hearts to change us. Jesus spoke of being “born again of water and the Spirit.” It is the Spirit’s work to make us new. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We aren’t made perfect when we are justified. I like the imagery of being born anew—being born is just the beginning! Then you’ve got to grow up.
- That process of perfecting you, of restoring you, is called sanctification. Wesley spoke of God’s SANCTIFYING GRACE as the means of the restoration. It is the Holy Spirit, working in you and through others, that begins to chip away at the old paint and rust, frees up the frozen cylinders, and begins to perfect you.
Wesley was committed to offer the grace of God to the coal miners, the merchants, the farmers to all other nonreligious and nominally religious people. This leads to another point about grace, a point that was the center of one of the great theological divisions of the time, which still lingers to our own.
Those who followed John Calvin, the 16 th-century Protestant reformer, believed, based largely upon certain passages in Paul, in predestination. They believed that God had foreordained that some would be the Elect, predestined for heaven. But all others were predestined for hell. This is sometimes called “double predestination.” Calvin’s followers said Christ died only for the “Elect.” The damned could not accept salvation, and the Elect could not resist it. God’s choice was sealed before anyone was born.
Wesley found this to be a repulsive idea and completely inconsistent with God’s nature. He believed that God’s prevenient grace was at work in all people, thus making it possible for all human beings to choose to accept Christ, or reject him. He believed and taught that God wanted all people to be saved. He believed that Christ died for all people and that his atoning work was unlimited.
How could God be said to be a God of grace and love, much less justice, and yet create most of humanity for the sole purpose of sending them to be eternally tormented in hell with no opportunity to even respond to his grace?!!! Calvinists were preaching the gospel hoping the Elect would respond. Wesley was preaching the gospel hoping everyone would respond. The impulse that drove Wesley to preach to the coal miners in Kingswood was his belief that God loves sinners, and longs for non-religious and nominally religious people to come to faith.
Some of you may have heard of the Irish rock band U2. The fact is they are more than a rock band that put out hit like” Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “One Love,” In the Name of Love” and so much more. The lead singer “Bono” is a devote Christian and he mentioned that the lyrics of their many songs really is about singing the Psalms again.
The closing track from their album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” is about the biblical concept of grace. “It’s a word I’m depending on,” Bono explains in the book U2 by U2. “The universe operates by Karma, we all know that. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. There is some atonement built in: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Then enters Grace and turns that upside down. I love it. I’m not talking about people being graceful in their actions but just covering the cracks. Christ’s ministry really was a lot to do with pointing out how everybody is a screw-up in some shape or form, there’s no way around it. But then He was to say, well, I am going to deal with those sins for you. I will take on Myself all the consequences of sin. Even if you’re not religious I think that you’d accept that there are consequences to all the mistakes we make. And so, Grace enters the picture to say, ‘I’ll take the blame, I’ll carry your cross.’ It is a powerful idea. Grace interrupting Karma.”
In the song “Grace” one of the lyrics sums up grace so poignantly;
“What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things”
Are you feeling lost, are you feeling ugly? Are you longing to shed the shame you have been carrying with you through the years? Are you longing for a new start where you are no longer defined by your past?
There is grace for you! A grace that isn’t earned but a grace that makes something beautiful out of ugly things.