Last week I began this two-week sermon series on "Understanding God's Grace" by stating there are two kinds of sin (original and actual) and three experiences of grace that we can encounter on our Christian walk.
Last week I lifted up prevenient grace, meaning "the grace that comes before." Prevenient grace is the experience of grace that makes us aware of God, and makes us aware of our sin and our need to repent. Another way of describing prevenient grace is, its
the light that has broken into the darkness of our human condition.
So this week I want to continue our discussion on grace by lifting up two more experiences of grace: justifying grace and sanctifying grace.
Last week you'll remember I ended my message with the analogy of a house with a wrap around porch. The porch represents prevenient grace, and all are welcome on to the porch. But opening the door is not possible through prevenient grace alone Opening and
entering the door of the house represents justifying grace. And moving on to explore the rooms of the house represents sanctifying grace. So let's go ahead and consider how the door is open to the house, God's house if you will.
Justifying grace, which is also known as converting grace or saving grace, is the grace that opens the door to God's house and is the activity of being saved or born again. The apostle Paul, in our scripture reading this morning put it this way,
"Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."
Paul is reminding us that we are saved, or given eternal life, by God's grace and God's grace alone.
So how do we experience this saving grace? Last week I mentioned that the door way to faith is acknowledging our sins and repenting, meaning experiencing a change in heart, from sin to holiness. To be saved, or in other words to receive the gift of eternal
life, we need to take the next step and believe, not just with our mind but with our heart, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came to us as both truly human and truly divine. We need to also acknowledge that Jesus came to this world to take upon his shoulders the sin of the
world, and to be sacrificed on our behalf so that we might be made right in the eyes of God.
Our salvation does not rely on our goodness or our good works, but in our faith in Jesus Christ alone. When we place our faith in Christ we are confessing that Jesus is Lord. We are proclaiming the sovereignty of Christ as the Savior and Lord of the world,
and we are promising to live under Christ's rule.
When we say yes to God's saving grace we are professing that the atonement made by Jesus Christ is a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that salvation, again meaning eternal life, is offered to us on the condition of repentance toward
God and faith in Jesus Christ.
We are confessing that we are justified by faith alone, and that as a result of our faith we are moved to put our faith into action. In other words we believe that good works flow from a living faith. But the faith by which we are justified involves not
merely knowledge about Christ; it involves heartfelt trust in Christ, and this understanding is so important. How many folks today do you suppose claim to be followers of Christ, based on knowledge alone and a desire to entertain the notion of eternal life, but when push comes to
shove don't really place their heartfelt trust in Christ?
How many folks walk around confessing their sins, but in reality don't really know or believe their sins have been forgiven by God?
John Wesley who claimed to be a Christian his whole life, and was an Anglican priest, didn't experience assurance until he was 35 years old on Aldersgate St. when he felt "his heart strangely warmed." It was only after this experience did he truly believe in
his heart he was justified or saved, and that God did indeed forgive him.
It's my assertion that unless we experience the assurance of forgiveness, there is no true saving faith. Unless we're completely convinced that our sins have been forgiven then we aren't truly saved.
Now for many folks assurance may not immediately accompany their acceptance of Christ as their savior, and that's not uncommon. For Wesley it was 35 years, and as I think about it my sense of assurance came well after my acceptance of Christ as savior.
Now assurance may take different forms. It can take the form of a "heart strangely warmed," a sense of peace, or a sense of new direction in life. And this sense of assurance can happen in any place at any time. For some it may happen during communion, while
singing a hymn, perhaps gardening, changing a baby's diaper, or in a moment of surrender. The experience may be different for all of us, but what an "ah-ha" moment it is when the light goes on and Christ shines bright, and the shadows of doubt flee our hearts.
Whenever we experience the saving grace of God it's important we remember the words Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can
boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)
In our acceptance of Christ through faith by grace, God gives us grace powerful enough to forgive us of all our past sins, and fortifies our will against any future situation that might lead us to sin. And in our dismissal or acceptance of Christ we choose
the road we will take, the highway to hell or the freeway to heaven.
Grace is always greater than sin. Any problem we have of returning to sin is a problem with our will, not a problem with God's grace. It's not God's fault, the issue is with us. Being saved, or justified, which-ever name you prefer, renews the image of God,
and this renewal powerfully keeps us and moves us toward full maturity in Christ.
To be faithful is to live with the assurance that not only are our sins forgiven, but living with the assurance of God's future for us. It's in this assurance we ultimately find strength and hope.
But once we are saved our journey doesn't end.
God is not done with us, he offers even more.
Justifying, or saving us is what God does for us.
New birth, or sanctification, is what God does in us.
New birth is the beginning of a new life in Christ, a life of growth in holiness. Now sanctification doesn't mean a joyless pursuit of good works or grudging restraint from things we would really like to do but know we shouldn't.
Rather the process of sanctification signifies the wonderful transformation of our wills and affections from human desires to Godly desires. God's grace moves us to love and desire those things, people, and activities God loves, so that the pursuit of
sanctification is the pursuit of ultimate joy. Sanctification helps us pursue what is right and avoid what is evil, because this is what our transformed wills truly desire.
Charles Wesley in his hymn "I Want a Principle Within" (hymn # 410) writes "I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near."
After our conversion, sanctification is what God begins in us, which is manifested as inward and outward holiness.
So returning to our analogy of the porch, through the experience of justifying grace we enter the door of the house, but there's more to see and do. The experience of grace that offers us the opportunity to fully experience the wonder of the house is called
sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace enable us to more fully mature in the Christian life.
The call of a Christian is to grow. The Wesleyan equation is this: "Grace plus [our] response equals growth." There's no point in life where we can say, "We have all we need, or we've done all we can."
But how do we continue to grow, how do we experience the rest of the house? Well God provides us with certain experiences and means by which we may grow in grace.
Our five paths of the Discipleship Adventure summarize many of these growth opportunities:
- celebrate (worship, including receiving the sacraments and prayer),
- connect (fellowship and nurturing one another in the faith),
- develop (searching the scriptures and engaging in devotions or meditation to better understand God's word),
- serve (helping others with their needs),
- And share (witnessing to our faith by sharing with others how Christ has impacted our lives). Engaging in these five paths of discipleship serves as a triple blessing: God is blessed, anyone we help and serve is blessed, and through our experience of
blessing God and others we are blessed.
In the world of academics there is a specialty known as "cramming." It's the practice of procrastinating on studies until the last possible minute. Can anyone relate? When that day of reckoning arrives, the coffee pot is stoked and we strap ourselves to the
desk for an all-night journey with our books.
Now cramming is the phenomenon unknown to the agricultural world. Farmers don't cram, as many of you can attest to. They can't delay planting crops in the spring, then hit the ground really hard in the fall. If a harvest is expected in the fall, then
scheduled procedures must take place throughout the year. Maybe this is why Jesus used so many agricultural illustrations when teaching his disciples.
Well spiritual growth doesn't come like grades that are salvaged by intensive periods of last-minute cramming. Christ-likeness comes from a lifetime spent with the Savior, not a night of cramming for sainthood.
The things of this world that seem so solid and valuable to worldly minded people will one day be dissolved away. Therefore, rather than investing ourselves in the affairs of a world order that is destined to come to nothing, we're invited by God and God's
grace to invest ourselves in the cultivation of Christ-like hearts, the fruit of the Spirit, and in one another. We are invited to grow more fully in Christ by the grace of God.
God created us to makes choices and has offered us his grace to guide us in our choice-making and in our daily living. So we have the choice: will it be the highway to hell and total denial and separation from God, or will it be the freeway to heaven
accepting God's saving and sanctifying grace and a life of abundant living with God for all eternity.
Receiving and acting on God's amazing grace is the key. Consider these words: "Through many dangers, toils, and snares, we have already come; its grace that's brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home."
Read other messages by Pastor Wade