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John Newton’s classic hymn Amazing Grace speaks of the power of God’s grace working in our lives to bring us to the moment we believe in God. Listen to verse two:
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed.
Grace working in the moment of belief—we Methodists in the Wesleyan tradition call God’s amazing work justifying grace. The justifying grace Newton wrote about in his classic hymn came on a slave ship bound for England on March 10, 1748, as he endured a raging storm on the high seas. That evening, Newton cried out to God, and his life was forever changed. He wrote of that evening, “I cried to the Lord with a cry like that of the ravens which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear. And I remembered Jesus whom I had so often derided.”
God’s justifying grace tells the story of how we, as individuals, accept the relationship that God offers. Justifying grace is that moment in time when we realize that God accepts us just as we are, and we say “yes” to his offer of salvation, and our eyes are opened to the love and companionship of God. Justifying grace is about saying “yes” to God.
We discovered when we talked about prevenient grace that God is constantly pursuing a relationship with us, even long before we realize it. God pursues us because we have sinned by making wrong choices that separate us from God. Sin leaves us empty and searching for something, anything that will give meaning and purpose to life—things like money, sex, power or possessions.
The Old Testament is full of examples of God calling out to us, inviting us into a relationship. Countless times, the nation of Israel would wander away from their covenant relationship. Even more numerous than their wandering was God’s calling them to return to a genuine relationship. God’s call often came through prophets like Ezekiel and Jonah. God even went so far as to command Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer as a demonstration of the lengths He was willing to go to offer this relationship to His people. Reaching, seeking. Those are the words that describe God in relation to us.
But God’s offer did not end with the Old Testament prophets, nor with the nation of Israel. God was working in His Son, Jesus Christ, to offer all creation this relationship. Jesus Christ began his earthly ministry by reminding everyone who would listen to him that God was still at work seeking to redeem His own. One day very early in Jesus’ ministry he was in the synagogue on the Sabbath. It came time to read the Scripture. He unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and this is what he read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. (Luke 4:18-19).
Perhaps you’ve seen the commercial on television advertising one of those lending companies. This nice man with a painted on smile stands surrounded by this nice all-American family, and he says, “I’ve got a beautiful family.” The next scene shows a picture of a big house and the same man says, “I have a four bedroom house in the
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