The Nature of Grace by Maxie Dunnam
In a previous article we focused on the uniqueness of Christ, insisting that ideas have consequences. What we think about Christ determines what we do about evangelism. If we are not solidly convicted about the uniqueness of Christ, it is not likely that evangelism will have priority in our personal ministry and/or the church.
Recall Archbishop William Temple’s definition of evangelism: “Evangelism is the winning of persons to acknowledge Christ as their Savior and King, so that they may give themselves to his service in the fellowship of the church.” Reflecting on the uniqueness of Christ Christ as Savior and King leads to another theological issue: the nature of grace.
Grace is the heart of the Gospel. Beliefs matter. Ideas have consequences. Grace. Amazing, yes! What we think about it shapes our evangelistic message and determines our evangelistic urgency.
The apostle John captured it in this encompassing word:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
And this is what Paul argued about so convincingly with the Romans:
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith” (Romans 8:23-25).
John Wesley did a great service and provided a distinctive emphasis by talking about grace impinging upon us and working in three specific ways: prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. Prevenient grace is the grace of God going before us, pulling us, wooing us, seeking to open our minds and hearts, and eventually giving us faith. Justifying grace is the forgiving love of God, freely given to us, reconciling us, putting us right with God, making Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf. Sanctifying grace is the work and Spirit of Christ within us, restoring the broken image, completing the salvation, which was begun in justification, and bringing us to complete newness of life and perfection in love.
Certainly, our understanding and experience of grace impacts our witness and determines in large part the way we do evangelism. If we believe that God loves us and all people, seeking us and them before we seek God, we can witness with confidence, but also in humility, knowing that we cannot limit the saving love of God, and that we don’t do the saving work – God does.
It is not free only for those whom God has ordained to life, but it is like the air we breathe, or the wind that blows in our faces. The big question is, have we sincerely accepted that gift? Or, have we sought to live as though we could earn God’s favor and salvation?
In the first five chapters of Romans Paul gives his reason in the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. We have absolutely nothing for which to boast, and we can do nothing to earn the favor of God. Everything is grace!
But we can do something, in fact we must do something. We must believe that God lovingly and passionately wants us to have the salvation he offers. Believing that, we confess, repent and receive the gift that is ours
Our calling is to do everything we can to assure that everyone hears that message.
That is the reason Wesley sounded so clearly the note of repentance. God’s prevenient grace works in our lives to lead us to repentance which is a necessary response for salvation. Repentance is both a step and an ongoing response. God’s grace is universal, but prevenient grace is not sufficient for salvation. A person may suppress or ignore this grace. If so, scripture warns that we may experience hardness of heart, so that the stirrings of the Spirit within will go unheeded.
Our preaching, teaching, and witnessing must make the nature of grace clear. Grace is always available, but we must make a personal faith commitment to receive it.
This is the third article in a series Maxie is writing on the beliefs we hold about evangelism. Come back to Wesleyan Accent next week for the fourth installment.