- Prevenient Grace
- John 1:1-13
- Brian Brownlow October 2, 2016
Good morning! I’m excited to be here with you this morning as we kick off a new series dealing with the grace of God. I want to take a moment to welcome all those who are worshipping in LakeRidge praise and those who may be watching online. We are so glad you’re here.
Will you please stand with me as we read from God’s word:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
(Ephesians 2:8–10 NAS95)
You know, the word grace is used a lot in the church. Unfortunately, sometimes we use the word grace more than we practice the use of grace. Perhaps that’s because we have an incomplete – or distorted – understanding of exactly what grace is. It seems to me that grace has come to mean that I can do whatever I want to and then I’ll just ask for forgiveness later. That’s a distorted form of grace, what some would call cheap grace. More importantly, it’s not the grace that we see revealed to us in Scripture– particularly in the perfect example of grace…the life of Jesus Christ.
Over the next several weeks we’re going to explore what the Bible actually says about grace. Now, before I go any further, I need to address the elephant in the room. Or, maybe more specifically, the house in the room. John Wesley described saving grace by using the image of a house. You see this is God’s house. It’s not our house. God is inviting us into a relationship…to come and literally dwell with him.
But you see, there’s a problem. God is holy and we are not. We are sinful people. How then, you ask, can a sinful people dwell in the presence of a holy God? Well, the answer, of course, is they can’t. Unless, something changes we can never enter the presence of God. That’s where grace comes in. We’re going to borrow Wesley’s imagery to look at how the grace of God makes the impossible, possible. The imagery of the house is to help us understand. Let me give you a preview – an open house, if you will.
We are going to break saving grace down into four components. Now, let’s be very clear on something. There is only one grace – it’s the grace of God. But God’s grace is so magnificent, so all-encompassing, that for our finite mind and in our humanness we have to break it down into some component parts in order to be able to talk about it, to discuss it in human terms – it’s that glorious.
The first part, that I’ll be dealing with today, is called Prevenient Grace. I know that’s an unusual word but just stay with me, we’ll explain that a little bit later. Prevenient Grace is the part of God’s grace that goes before us. It’s the pre – in PREvenient Grace. Even before we are aware of who God is, before we’ve ever heard a Sunday school lesson or a sermon, God is calling to us. God loves us so much that he wants to have a relationship with us and he is calling us into relationship with him. In the imagery of the house, we would describe that as the porch or being on the outside. We are close, we’re approaching God’s house, but we’re not there yet.
The second stage, that Lyndol will pick up next week, is Convicting Grace. You see we have to know that we’re sinners to understand that we need to be saved. The Scriptures tell us that there is no condemnation in Christ; however, God loves us so much that he does not want to leave us in our sins and so he does convict us so that we will know there’s something better than wallowing in a life of sin. God convicts us because he wants us to come to him. That’s where the third part comes in – Justifying Grace.
Justifying Grace is the door. We know that as sinful people, we can’t come into the presence of a holy God. Something has to change and it’s something we can’t do for ourselves. We can’t open that door into God’s house unless he opens it for us. Justifying Grace is the beautiful part of God’s grace that takes away all of our sins and only he can do that for us. It’s the door into his presence.
The last component is Sanctifying Grace. It’s probably the one that we have the hardest time believing. God’s word says that he can bring us into his presence – into the interior of his house and by his power, not by anything we can do certainly, but HE can change us from the inside so that sin no longer has power over us.
The first part of the passage from Ephesians 2 (v8) is essential, it is non-negotiable. God tells us that we are saved by grace and it has nothing to do with our good works. Each week we will be looking at different Scriptures that speak to different aspects of God’s saving grace, always being reminded that there’s ONE grace but we have to break it down in order to look at how God saves us in a way that we can understand. I want to emphasize something I just said. It is God that saves us. Because that is so foundational, we will be reading Ephesians 2:8-10 each week.
It’s my task today to look at the first part of what God does in order to save us, to bring us back into relationship with him. What John Wesley described as Prevenient Grace actually goes back to the beginning. No, I mean all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis 1 and 2, God describes his creation as being good. At every step of creation, he paused and looked at what he had created and said, “It is good.” We, as the crowning jewel in his creation must be very good. We know that because God created us in his image. Anything created in his image must be good. In verse 10 that I just read to you a few moments ago, we are described as God’s workmanship (some translations say his masterpiece). The masterpiece that he created, the human race, underwent a series of covenants with God indicating that he has always desired a relationship with the crowning jewel in his creation. God wants us to be with him. We also know that that covenant has been broken over and over again and that relationship has been marred by the presence of sin.
Go back to the image of the house, remember that if God is inviting us into his house, into his presence, we as a sinful people can’t go into that presence because his presence is holy. The access is blocked. This is where grace comes in. We can’t open that door – but God can. More importantly – he wants to open that door.
But God knows that in our sinfulness and shame, we may run away from him. Anybody been there? Yeah, me too. Thankfully, God loves us so much that he pursues us. Some people shy away from that idea because it somehow means that God is lowering himself. Don’t forget God created us. We are his children and he loves us like a good father loves us. In every one of the grand stories of the Bible, God always comes to his people first, sometimes they respond and embrace him. Sometimes they reject him in unfaithfulness. But God pursues them. The most beautiful way we see this is the sending of his Son. Look with me at the beginning of the gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
(John 1:1–13 NAS95)
This passage also goes back to the beginning. Showing us that Father/Son/Holy Spirit were there together at the beginning of creation, when God made us for relationship. The Gospel of John tells us that God sent part of himself in the form of the Son to a world full of darkness in order to save it. A world that could not comprehend the light because it was so full of darkness, received Jesus – not because they deserved it but because God loved them.
I want to focus for a moment on verse 9. There are those who believe that God did not send his son to save everyone but instead chose, from the beginning of time, a certain group of people who would receive salvation. Wesley rejected that and so do we as Methodists today. This is not because it makes us feel good or because it makes God seem nice but because Scripture does not bear that out. John 3:16 says God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him might have eternal life. 1 Tim 2:4-6 says that God desires that all men might be saved and that Jesus was given as a ransom for all men.
I want you to know this morning that no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you thought, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve seen, God is calling to you and he desires that you might be saved. He wants to draw you to himself and bring you back into relationship with him. All you have to do is accept his free offer of grace. Grace is a gift. Ephesians 2 specifically says that it is the free gift of God. All we have to do is accept it by faith.
I know that I’ve struggled a lot about how do I get enough faith to accept this gift. I have often said, “It’s hard to preach grace in West Texas.” We are people who have grown up on the value of hard work. Certainly God values hard work and faithfulness as a part of our character. However, we can never work hard enough to receive his salvation. We will always fail, we will always fall short. Every one of us has experienced that – we know we can’t ever live up the holiness of God. That’s why he gives it to us as a gift. He does all the work. Let me give you an example of what this looks like.
Note: those of you who are reading this may have difficulty “seeing” what will be illustrated in the sanctuary but I will try to describe it. I will have six men to come up onto the platform with me. Three of them will stand side-by-side and the other three will stand facing them so that there are three pairs of men. I will have them reach out their hands and overlap their forearms so that their hands are grasping each other’s elbows. On the floor, between the men, I will place a piece of plywood that has nails driven through it. The nails will be sticking up. I will then set up a ladder on one end of the men and climb up several steps. I will then turn and look at each of the men individually and tell them that I trust them, that I have faith that they will not let me fall on to the nails. I will then turn my back to them and fall backwards allowing them to catch me in the cradle that they have created by how they are aligned
I want to tell you this morning that if you leave here and all you remember is me climbing up this ladder and falling into these men’s arms with a bed of nails underneath them, then I have failed you. I don’t want this to be a neat stunt that catches everyone’s attention. I want you to see what I believe to be very accurate picture of how grace and faith work. You see, I can say I have faith in these men all I want. I can say it as many times as I want, I can even “believe” in my mind but until I fall backwards I don’t really have faith. Faith is critical, but let me point out something very important here. My faith won’t save me from this bed of nails. I can believe in these men and I can put that belief into action and fall back but unless they catch me, this is going to be a disaster for me. These six men saved me from that disaster. They are the ones that did the work here. I have to have faith and faith IS an action. I have to do something – my faith can’t just be something I believe in my head. But that faith has to be placed into the hands of someone who has both a desire and the ability to save me.
When we put our faith in God, it has to be more than just something that’s in our head. We have to take the plunge, if you will. We have to throw ourselves on his mercy and admit, in faith, that we can’t save ourselves. We are hopeless sinners without him, but we believe in faith that he can save us. He’s the only one that can do it.
We have spent the last several weeks talking about things that you can do to please God. We’ve had investment challenges and responses to the 10 second rule. Those things come AFTER you have received his salvation. God has great things for you to do in the kingdom. Exciting, wonderful things that you will only see when you are “inside the house” – in his presence. But none of those things can open the door to the house. They are the way we bring glory to God.
Don’t get hung up on this old word: Prevenient Grace. We have to use words to describe things. It’s not the word – it is the power. God’s Prevenient Grace is calling us and drawing us back to a relationship with him that will restore us to the way we were created–good.
If God’s grace is drawing you to him this morning, we’re going to have an opportunity to respond a little later in the service. You don’t have to wait to hear all the different sermons. God may be calling you today to take that leap of faith, understanding that you don’t have to prove anything. You just have to trust him to fix everything that’s wrong.