Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Grace is Amazing or "God Loves You and There's Nothing You Can Do About It"

“O that we may all receive of Christ’s fullness, grace upon grace;
grace to pardon our sins, and subdue our iniquities;
to justify our persons and to sanctify our souls;
and to complete that holy change, that renewal of our hearts,
whereby we may be transformed

into that blessed image wherein thou didst create us.”

These lines from a prayer by John Wesley provide insight into the mystery of grace.

John Newton describes this power in his hymn, “Amazing Grace.“ Grace is amazing because it is a free gift from God. God does not love us for what we do; God loves us because we are God’s children. Nothing we do will ever make God love us more and nothing we do will ever make God stop loving. In other words, “God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it” (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8). Grace is amazing indeed!

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveal the mystery and power of grace. Grace is the love of God acting in the world before we are aware of God’s existence and embrace. Grace awakens us to who and whose we are; we are sinners who need forgiveness, reconciliation and healing; we are children of the God who is working to help us make our way home.

The parable of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) beautifully illustrates the dynamic of grace. We see one son who rejects his father’s love while another takes that love for granted. A closer look at the parable reveals that it is really about the father and his love for his children.

The father gives his younger son the freedom to reject his love and life in his household (Luke 15:12-13). After he finds himself alone, homeless and hungry the father’s love helps the prodigal son remember who and whose he is; a miserable sinner and his father’s son (v. 14-19). The father’s love and the emptiness within him awakens him to his brokenness and helps him to turn away from slow, certain death and turn towards home and life. John Wesley called this “preventing” or prevenient grace.

As the “prodigal” son walks home, he rehearses his confession. He understands that he does not deserve to be welcomed home as a member of the family. This turn away from homelessness and death and toward home and life in the father’s household is repentance. This is the work of justifying grace that culminates in the prodigal’s dramatic reunion with his father: All is forgiven. Love has restored the relationship between father and son.

Justification is God’s work for us to restore us to right relationship with God by grace through faith. God’s love brings about an outward, relational change that brings us face to face with Jesus Christ.

The restored relationship with God is the beginning of life in God’s household. For a glimpse of what comes next we can imagine the morning after the prodigal son’s homecoming celebration:

It’s 6:00 am and he is sound asleep in his bed. He is awakened by a loud knock on the bedroom door. Opening the door, he is greeted by the face of his older brother. “Good morning my brother! Have you forgotten that we all have work to do around here? While you were off having a good time with your share of our inheritance dad and I had to do your work along with our own. Now that you’re home you can start doing your part again. Welcome home. Let’s get to work.”

Living in God’s household opens our hearts to grace that heals the brokenness caused by sin. Obedience to the household rules, summarized by Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 (Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.), forms our character into a reflection of Christ (see Galatians 5:22-23). This is sanctifying grace.

God has given us the means to open ourselves to the restoring and healing power of grace in the historic spiritual disciplines: prayer, worship, the Lord’s Supper, Scripture, fasting (or abstinence) and works of compassion and justice. John Wesley called these basic practices “means of grace” because they are the ordinary places God promises to meet us. Practicing the means of grace is how we cooperate with God’s desire to form each of us into the persons God created us to be, in Christ.

Grace is “divine energy” that forgives sin, awakens faith, restores relationships, heals and forms human character from brokenness into wholeness. Grace is the power of the Holy Spirit that sets us free from the guilt and power of sin. Grace is the power of love that sets us free to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love those whom God loves, as God loves them.


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