Summary: God’s grace works to place us in a right relationship with God and with others.
Amazing Grace: God Makes Us Right
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 suburbs.” The next scene the man drives by in a car. “Like my car,” he asks? “It’s new!” Yet another scene on the golf course with friends and he announces, “And I even have a membership to the golf club.” Then, over the bar-b-q, he says, “How do I have all this? I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.” The commercial goes on to talk about how this lending company can help this man, and subsequently anyone who might be in his position and the final scene really tells it all. The scene shows the man riding his lawnmower, and with the same painted on smile that began the commercial says, “Somebody help me!”
My friends, we need help when it comes to a restored and right relationship with God. Well, God wants to help. God didn’t come to offer us things (like money or power or success or possessions) that we think will make life full, or us happy. God sent His Son Jesus Christ to offer us a relationship that is a relationship of love that flows out of His self-giving nature.
Justifying grace is that grace that becomes real in our lives in that moment that we accept the relationship God offers in his Son, Jesus Christ. We are justified in that very moment. This moment of acceptance is commonly referred to as conversion. It is what happens inwardly at that moment when most people would say, “I’ve been saved!” But the phrase “I’ve been saved” does not mean that conversion is ended. Rather it means we have begun a more adventurous portion of the journey that is God’s salvation. We can just as easily say, “I am saved,” or “I am being saved,” for conversion continues when we find new ways of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Like when we come to a better understanding of ourselves, and when we come to a better understanding of the claim God is placing on our lives, but we will hear more about that next week.