As I think through answers to my Board of Ordained Ministry papers, I'll be sharing them here as a sort of log of my thinking. I'm sure they will change as I am changed by God's Holy Spirit at work in me drawing and working me toward holiness. Please feel free to comment and question.
This third question seeks to address the human existence in a spiritual world. the real question is: "What is your understanding of humanity, and the human need for divine grace?" In it I will seek too address and identify God's grace in our lives.
Humanity is held in a special place before God. As we see in the creation story recorded in Genesis, only humans are created in the imago dei. Today, we experience this in our seeking to love and to be loved. However the fullness of the unique position and relationship humans were once blessed to share with God has been fractured by sin; sin which entered the world through an improper exercise of free will, first by Adam and Eve, but also by each and every human who has lived and exercised choice. While we were created for a divinely unique and special purpose and relationship, sin has gotten in the way over and over. Grace is the bridge between a loving God and a broken world plagued by sin.
“We believe that we are sinners, constantly in need of divine grace.” (This Holy Mystery 6) Since the fall, our original purpose has been clouded by the effects of and our tendency toward sin. We see the effects of sin on the human race in various statistics; rates of church decline, crime, disease, abuse, addictions, suicide, broken families, consumerism, etc. The brokenness of our society which leads to these statistics is profound. We live here on earth in radical need of God’s grace, some in ignorance, and some in desperation. History has shown, when left to our own devices, the patterns of sin only repeat and magnify; hence our desperate need for God’s divine grace. Individually, we seem to naturally turn toward sin, alienating us from God, as a result we invest in various sorts of prideful self-love or envious self-hate, both of which affect virtually every area of life. This tendency toward sin is often referred to in scripture as the “flesh of man,” but we know it as something deeper than our skin, it penetrates to the heart. Sin is universal in that it affects the whole of creation; no one is immune to the effects and temptations of sin. But even in the face of humanity’s sin, when we have done nothing to deserve it, God is at work providing his love, his divine grace.
Divine grace “is free for all, as well as in all”, praise God! (Wesley, Sermon on Special Occasions Sermon 128, 4) I have experienced the working of God’s divine grace in my life and the lives of others in this way, preveniently, justifying, and sanctifying my life. At some point, in an act of prevenient grace, the Holy Spirit stirs our spiritual senses, through which we begin to become acutely aware of our own personal sin yet we remain essentially unable to “clean ourselves up”. I love the way John Wesley, describes prevenient grace as “the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will”; as we have this first “conviction of conviction of having sinned against him”. (Wesley, Sermon on Special Occasions Sermon 85, 2.1) Then in response, I experience justifying grace as I am born again, and begin to grow. But it is not my believing that makes Jesus’s work on the cross effective, it is my believing that I receive its effectiveness. It is in this moment of “saving faith” that justification and the process of regeneration begins as I become a new creation before God and begin to live out the mission and purpose of God the father. This, by sanctifying grace, we are prompted to take on disciplines that deepen our appreciation and wonder of God, leading to growth in love and appreciation of God so that we become a conduit for this love for others. This growth continues as we experience God’s grace moving us toward “perfection”. This is, that while I will continue to make mistakes, errors, misjudgments, and poor decisions as a result of my human nature, I am being perfected in love by God’s divine grace working in me. John Wesley explained: “Now, suppose all these (love, joy, peace; long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance) to be knit together in one, to be united together in the soul of a believer, this is Christian perfection.” (Wesley, Sermon on Special Occasions Sermon 76, I.6) Perfecting grace enables me to radically respond to God’s grace in my life. (Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology Volume III 231)
Grace is understood as God’s undeserved favor bestowed upon the object of His love. In this case, it is we humans who are privileged to experience and reflect God’s grace. I have witnessed God’s grace, as an outward move of God’s love, expressed by God’s people when a group of men from our church served in a prison ministry, accepting, loving, and serving the residents of the prison as they would any visitor in their home. I have seen the women of our church support new mothers while serving our communities Family Support Center, teaching cooking and shopping classes in an effort to reveal God’s divine grace working in and through the church for the benefit of the Kingdom.
Follow along as Pastor Gary blogs on the ministry and life of our charge.