Lessons From The Potters House (1) – 10/04/2020
September 13, 2020 CATEGORIES OF GRACE – JUSTIFYING (2) Romans 3:23-24 Last week I shared with you about what we as Methodists believe when it comes to grace and John Wesley’s three different types of grace: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. We looked at prevenient grace last week, which is grace working in our lives, preventing, and protecting us in many ways until we are confronted with the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19 these words, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” And in his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul wrote: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For 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.” These verses demonstrate the justifying or saving grace of God. They point to reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God is restored. According to John Wesley the image of God – which has been distorted by sin – is renewed within us through Christ’s death. Again, this dimension of God’s grace is a gift. God’s grace alone brings us into relationship with God. There are no hoops through which we have to jump in order to please God and to be loved by God. God has acted in Jesus Christ. We need only to respond in faith. John Wesley had a simple definition of justification when he said this: “The plain scriptural notion of justification is pardon, the forgiveness of sins.” Justification is what happens when we abandon all those vain attempts to justify ourselves before God, to be seen as “just” in God’s eyes through religious and moral practices. It is a time when God’s “justifying grace” is experienced and accepted, a time of pardon and forgiveness, of new peace and joy and love. Indeed, we are justified by God’s grace through faith. Justification is a time of repentance – a time when we realize that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the prostitute, the preacher, the elder, the deacon, the choir director or member, the Sunday School teacher, the members of church boards and committees, understand this – no one is exempt. Every one of us has already experienced this fall. Each of us has fallen short. We sinned and were in danger of losing our souls. You see, when we repent, we do not just feel sorry for our sin, but we do a complete turn-around. We turn from the direction we were walking, which was “our own way” and do a 180 degree turn and go “God’s way” towards Jesus Christ and the cross. Repentance is important because it demonstrates our humility. The Bible says, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5). If you truly humble yourself before God and repent, that proves you are no longer trying to justify yourself. You see, self-justification is odious to God. It makes Him sick when we try to justify ourselves and our actions. Too often in our hearts we come to God and say, “God, aren’t you proud of me? I did this for You, or I did that for You!” The Bible tells us in Isaiah 64:6, “All of our righteousness is like filthy rags to God.” Would you offer a gift of filthy rags to your spouse or children for Christmas or their birthday? Of course not! None of us would do such a thing. Nevertheless, we come to God offering our own works of righteousness, not realizing we are offering something that is filthy, putrid, and disgusting in His sight. Many years ago, I realized that I had fallen short of His Glory and I needed His gift of eternal life. I knew that I had to confess my sins and as a nine-year old in a Sunday School class I gave my life to Jesus. John 16:6b says, “. . . No one comes to the Father except through Me.” All of our lives God has been pursuing us. We probably did not realize it at the time, but God was working through all our circumstances. He was working to bring us to a crisis point in our life so we would accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The Father was longing to have a relationship with us. Jesus was reaching out to us with those out-stretched arms that were nailed on the cross, wanting to embrace us and show us the kind of love we had been looking for all our lives. The Father’s long reaching love is there for each one of us. He loves us with an unconditional, everlasting love. He wants to show us how much he cares for us! We have all fallen in our lives. We have fallen in our walk with Jesus; we have disobeyed God’s commands for our lives and we get prideful and fall away from Him! We have fallen so many times, so many times, but God is always there to give us a hand and in His love for us, He forgives us time and time again! However, there is one fall, if we reject His Son Jesus, that He cannot help us with. That final fall is where we are burning forever and ever in that horrible and terrible place God never intended for any human being to be. The Bible says in Matthew 25:41, “God created hell for the devil and his angels.” Remember when we confess our sins, we are admitting to God we are sinners and we have done wrong. We place all those sins at the feet of Jesus, and we lay it all out by saying: “God, I have blown it! Please forgive me and make me your child!” If you pray this prayer your life will forever change, and you will never be the same! When you pray a prayer of forgiveness, God’s justifying grace is extended to you because “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Then God will look at you “just as if you had never sinned.” Max Lucado writes in his book, “Grace” these words, “Confession is not telling God what he doesn’t already know. Impossible. Confession is not complaining. If I merely recite my problems and rehash my woes, I’m whining. Confession is not blaming. Pointing fingers at others without pointing any at me feels good, but it doesn’t promote healing. Confession is so much more. Confession is a radical reliance on grace. A proclamation of our trust in God’s goodness…If our understanding of grace is small, our confession will be small: reluctant, hesitant, hedged with excuses and qualifications, full of fear of punishment. But great grace creates an honest confession.” (p. 83) Our sins are not just automatically taken away because of Christ’s death on the cross as some would have you believe. Through His death He made a way for us to come to Him. Christ provided the sacrifice for our sins as 1 John 2:2 tells us, “He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Perhaps you are at a point in your life where you are tired of the life you are living, one without hope, joy, and peace. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:2b, “…I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” We have to make the choice accept His justifying (saving) grace or to reject it. No one can choose for you it has to be your decision. We are free moral agents and if you choose not to choose, you have already made a choice! My hope and prayer are that you will choose justifying grace!
September 6, 2020 CATEGORIES OF GRACE – PREVENIENT (1) Ezekiel 34:11 & 16 I would like to start off this morning by giving you a definition for the word “grace” so here we go: Rev. Matt Slick describes grace this way, “Biblically, grace is unmerited favor. It is God’s free action for the benefit of His people. It is different from justice and mercy. Justice is getting what we deserve, and mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. In grace we get eternal life, something that, quite obviously, we do not deserve; but because of God’s love and kindness manifested in Jesus on the Cross, we receive the great blessing of redemption.” (https://carm.org/dictionary-grace) AW Tozer defines grace in his book The Knowledge of the Holy in this manner, “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. The apostle Paul, who beyond all others is the exponent of grace in redemption, never disassociates God’s grace from God’s crucified Son, always in his teachings the two are found together, organically one and inseparable” (101-2). The gospel of John identifies Christ as the medium with which grace reaches mankind. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John Wesley’s focus with the early Methodists was a process where believers lived out the life of grace. Wesley defined three categories of grace: prevenient, justifying and sanctifying. Today we are going to look at prevenient grace. Let us look at how prevenient grace is defined: Dr. H. Orton Wiley, a Wesleyan-Arminian theologian tells us “when we speak of ‘prevenient grace’ we think of the grace which ‘goes before,’ preparing the soul for its entrance into the initial state of salvation. It is the preparatory grace of the Holy Spirit exercised toward man helpless in sin” (Introduction to Christian Theology, p. 261). John Wesley believed that God’s prevenient grace was intended to be for all people. He said, “the grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation is free in all, and free for all.” Steve Witzki tells us that “prevenient grace enables the sinner to either accept or reject the gift of salvation provided through Christ.” We sing Amazing Grace from time to time on Sundays, but what is this amazing grace this song is proclaiming and how does prevenient grace fit in? Listen to this illustration: Infant in the womb Doesn’t know it even has a mother Mom is supplying baby with oxygen and nutrition Mom is taking vitamins and eating healthful foods Mom is exercising Mom is getting a sufficient amount of rest (or at least as much as possible) Mom is planning for the delivery. Did the baby have any clue as to what Mom was doing or why? No – not aware of any of this but the baby is being drawn to birth. By comparison, in the life of the person who has not yet turned to Christ for salvation, grace or should I say prevenient grace is at work. They may not even know it, but it is at work and God is drawing them toward Him for redemption. There is a longing for God and communion with Him that is placed in the hearts of all people. John 12:32 Jesus Himself says, “’And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to Myself.’ He said this to indicate how He was going to die.” This is prevenient or preceding grace that is placed within the heart of all people to draw everyone to Him and making the truth known to them within their very spirits. And, just as the unborn infants are not aware of their mothers, the unborn Christian may not even recognize or realize that God is drawing them to salvation through faith in Christ. This prevenient grace brings the lost to a place of decision. Are you a wretch like it says in Amazing Grace? It brings to the forefront of awareness, yes, there is a heaven and yes, there is a hell but what can I do? Once the prevenient grace has brought the person to that point of decision it is time for birth. The song Amazing Grace says it like this: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear” – prevenient grace bringing the reality of eternal lostness to the unbeliever. “And grace my fears relieved” – the birth – saving or justifying grace. Listen to this story: Max Lucado, in No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, tells the story of Maria and her daughter Christina. Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent living at home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she ran away, breaking her mother’s heart. Her mother knew what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, so Maria quickly packed to go find her daughter. On her way to the bus stop, she went to a drugstore to get one last thing—pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all the money she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she got on the next bus to Rio de Janeiro. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. At each place she left her picture--taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, or fastened to a corner phone booth. On the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before Maria’s money and pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The tired mother cried as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. A few weeks later, Christina was coming down the stairs in a seedy hotel. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times she had longed to trade all those countless beds for her secure pallet. And yet the little village seemed too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back Maria had written this: "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home." And Christina went home. God is the same way. He wants us to come home. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what we’ve become. We can always come home to Him. It is like Maria, reaching out for her daughter even when her daughter didn’t realize it. It is the same with God, reaching out to us while we are living a life of sin and lost. Yet, Christ is there, reaching, longing, and desiring to bring us home. It is prevenient grace that has kept us, as Newton writes, “safe thus far.” Prevenient grace or that grace that “goes before” still works today. For many of you here today it was this grace that brought you to a saving knowledge of Christ and this grace is still working to bring others who are lost to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ! John 6:44a says, “’No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him . . .’” Let me close with this: There are “religious groups” around us today that will ensnare your soul with half-truths. They will tell you that there is an easier way, but I am here to tell you the only way we will see God is through His Son, Jesus and His shed blood. We must come to Him with a heart willing to confess our sins and to ask for His forgiveness. Remember Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” He just doesn’t save us from our sins, we must first ask for forgiveness and when we ask, He will forgive! It is His prevenient grace that prepares our hearts for His justifying or saving grace.