Prevenient Grace – God’s Loving Initiative
Ephesians 5:8-20, Romans 5:6-11
Today we get to talk about grace – God’s abounding love for all of us. You’ll notice a change of tone today as we switch away from discussing our sin and separation from God, to looking at how God’s grace is ever-present even before we recognize the need to God’s grace. Our reference sermon is not from John Wesley but from his younger brother Charles, the famous hymnist. You can look up Charles Wesley hymns in our hymnal and you will only find about 80. He was known to pen thousands of hymns using powerful words put to familiar tunes as a way of better understanding and experiencing God’s grace for us. I can tell you he was a powerful preacher as well.
That word ‘prevenient’ is an odd one – spell check doesn’t recognize it. Prevenient literally means ‘to come before.’ Often John and Charles would refer to this grace as ‘preventing grace,’ meaning it is God’s way of preventing us from dropping deeper into sin and even further away from God.
So far we have journeyed through the idea that we are sinful beings that are separated from God. Our sin drives a wedge between ourselves and our loving God. We learned that there are consequences of our sin and not being right with God. None of that sounds very good, warm and fuzzy. But I did tell you to hang in there because the good news was coming. That news is here today in the form of God’s grace – God’s unending love for each of us.
In our further discussions we will look at prevenient grace today, followed by justifying grace and sanctifying grace. These are not three different graces but one grace that may be thought of as having different meaning for us at different times in our lives. Prevenient Grace is the term used to describe the grace that comes before we recognize God’s work in our lives. It is an amazing gift from God which includes our conscience – this innate understanding of what is right and wrong. I’m hoping this little movie clip will help to bring this to light. You might recall an older Disney movie called ‘Pinnochio’ about a puppet who wishes to become a real boy. The fairy grants his wish, sort of on a trial basis, but includes his ‘conscience’ in the form of Jiminy Cricket.
I loved watching my children as they were growing up and testing the waters so to speak. All of them would invariable go to touch or take something they had already been told was off limits. And so they go for the cookie or the pan on the stove and then they would scan the area, and when they saw me they would give me that look – do you know the one I mean? That ‘guilty but can-I-get-away-with-it’ look! Their demeanor would completely change when they realized I was watching them.
Even young children learn early on what is right and what is wrong. Even before they are told not to do something, often children already know when it is the wrong thing to do. We develop this sense, this conscience, as we grow older. In essence, God is at work in all our lives helping us to realize the difference between what is right and what is wrong. There are concerns today about our young people and whether or not they are still honing in on these natural tendencies to understand right and wrong. I’ve heard it said over and over again about how the video gaming industry has helped to blur the lines between right and wrong by target-marketing more and more violent games to our young people. I would argue that God is still at work – God is still guiding us and challenging each of us to do what we know is right in the sight of God.
Charles Wesley’s sermon reminds us that God is already at work in our lives, but it is time for us to notice – it is time for us to wake up. It is time for us to pay attention to God’s direction. It is time for us to say that we will not participate in what we know to be sinful acts. It is time for us to recognize God’s work in the world and our need to respond to God’s amazing grace. There is an urgency in Wesley’s message – the time to wake up is now.
Many of us are fast asleep. Our spiritual selves are perfectly content to stay in the darkness of our separation from God. We may feel we are in fact awake because we come to church each week. Surely we are awake because we participate in worship, attend Sunday School, help out with church functions. On Sundays, we are completely in tune with God.
The problem for Wesley is how we act and live the rest of the week. Are we diligently seeking God’s will for our lives? Are we spending time regularly in devotions and prayer for others and our world in general? Are we living a life so that others take notice of a change in us as Christians? Are we really following the leading of Christ, or are we going simply going through the motions?
I promised you that today was about the good news. God’s grace is actively at work in all of us, even before we ‘spiritually’ wake up. The light of Christ is waiting for us. We do not have to continue to wander in the darkness, trying to earn our way to heaven. We do not have to proceed through life carrying our own burdens of fear and worry and grief because we feel we have to. It is time to wake up and pay attention.
There is a popular movie that was out a while back called ‘Bruce Almighty.’ A normal guy was given the powers of God for a time and he quickly developed what I will call a ‘God complex.’ Perhaps you’ve met some folks with this malady. Bruce was dead set on taking care of himself while ignoring the rest of the world. When God returns and confronts him, some interesting things happen. After a time of messing everything up, Bruce finally gets the message that his actions need to reflect his heart. He needed to stop being so self-centered and start seeking ways to help others in need.
God is calling each of us to refocus our priorities. God is calling us to set an example for those who are still spiritually fast asleep. We too need to wake up!!! We can no longer pretend that as long as we attend church we can ignore our own sinful spirit. We can no longer assume we are right with God when in fact we are fast asleep, doing everything on the outside but not letting God into our hearts. Until we wake up, we really do not love God with all are heart, soul mind and strength; therefore we cannot possibly love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s time to wake up!
Last weekend I attended the ROCK retreat with our young people. What an amazing experience as I witnessed youth from around our conference congregate in one place with a spirit of worship and a blessing of God. Many adults had come early to pray over the convention center for safety, and for God to move in a way that would wake up our youth to a better way of life. Approximately 7,000 youth and 3,000 adults spent many hours worshipping together, sharing Holy Communion, hearing inspirational sermons, and expressing their joy in ways that were truly inspiring. On Saturday evening, an altar call was given and I would estimate over 2,000 youth responded to the call to wake up from spiritual darkness, and accept the light of Christ to be changed on the inside in a way that would be reflected on the outside.
We hear about the horrors of our young people every day. We hear about shootings and bullying and a lack of conscience that may make us decide there is no hope for the next generation. I am here to tell you that hope is kindled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am here to challenge you to be the church every day of your life so that our young people will have an example to follow and a guiding hand to help them through.
Many of us have no idea what our young people face each and every day. The foul language alone that is becoming more and more the norm in our schools can make you roll your eyes and say, ‘what’s the point?’ I challenge each of us to set an example by waking up ourselves and coming into the light of Christ. I challenge each of us to live as Christ would have us to live – spending time in daily prayer, reading and studying God’s word, sharing God’s love with our neighbors, inviting others to join us in worship, help those in need without expecting anything in return and I promise you, you will be blessed and strengthened in your Christian walk.
Mandisa is a popular contemporary music artist and was featured at this year’s ROCK event. I wanted to close with her music video of her Grammy award-wining song, “Overcomer.” [Play video] Let us answer the calling of God. Let us wake up spiritually and come into the light of Christ. Let us live as Jesus’ followers. Amen.