g3 (Grace to the Third Power) ~ A Wesleyan View of Grace Prevenient Grace
Part One in a Series
October 1, 2018 | View PDF
Long ago in an ancient but not forgotten letter, a man named Paul wrote an encouraging word to his friends in a town called Ephesus. In this letter stands one of the most famous and exciting passages ever written about God’s grace:
“God saves you by His grace when you believe, and you can’t take credit for this. It is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT
In this series of articles, g3, Grace to the Third Power, it’s my prayer and my hope that you will discover the three ways that you can experience the power of God’s grace; the grace that Paul so eloquently wrote about 2000 years ago. I don’t know about you, but I am in constant need of God’s grace!
I often stand in need of my wife’s grace too! I don’t know what it is about me that drives me to be selfish (and cheap) sometimes…even with the one I love most.
Recently, a few days before Mother’s Day, I went to the local Sam’s Club, and I was picking up some things there with one of my best friends, David Woods. We were standing in the checkout line, and then I saw them…these huge bouquets of flowers, beautiful flowers like I’ve rarely seen. They were gorgeous and expensive looking; the kind women like! The kind that your wife would think you spent a lot of money on at a local chic floral boutique. The kind for which guys get brownie points (good will). Brownie points that you can store up and use on a rainy day when the kids aren’t home. They were the kind of bouquets you would normally pay $60.00 for, but they were only $14.99!! The hook was set!
As we were standing in the checkout line, David and I were just shooting the breeze about guy stuff. Suddenly, when I saw the flowers and the price, I said, “Man, those are beautiful flowers, look how huge those bouquets are; I think I’m going to get one of those for Janeese (my wife) for Mother’s Day.” David says, “You know, those really are beautiful, and so big.” When he saw the price tag; “I think I’m going to get my wife (Donna) one too; but, you know, they’re so big why don’t we just split one?” I am embarrassed to admit that I actually considered, for a split second, this ill-fated option. But then I quickly came to my senses. As visions of Jeff Foxworthy came to my head, “If you’ve ever split a bouquet of flowers with a friend for a Mother’s Day gift – you might be a redneck.”
I looked at him and said, “David, my friend, my brother, do you realize what would happen to us if our wives ever found out that we had split a bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day? Do you have any idea? We would never hear the end of it. We would need a double portion of God’s grace and theirs to survive Mother’s Day weekend.” In fact, we both knew that if we fell for this temptation and our wives found out, it could take years to build up enough brownie points to get a kitchen pass for future hunting trips, dive trips or fishing trips with the guys.
We all need grace in our lives, don’t we? And our self-centeredness gets a whole lot darker than splitting bouquets for Mother’s Day!! Yes, no matter how good we think we are, we all have a dark side. And, we know it! (More on that later.)
Enter John Wesley
John Wesley founded the Methodist movement back in the 1700’s, impacting the world and the church in ways that most people, even most Christians, don’t really understand. Most people don’t even have a clue who John Wesley was. And many Christians, many believers, really have no idea the influence that Wesley’s teachings, his thoughts and his writings have upon us today. But John Wesley gave the world, the Church and, I believe, every person, a great gift. He explained to us the three ways that we can experience the power of God’s grace, and, in this series of articles, we will explore them together. Wesley revealed to us that we can experience God’s prevenient grace, His justifying grace, and His sanctifying grace.
The word prevenient means to go before, to precede. So, prevenient grace is the grace that goes before us. The Bible is full of references to prevenient grace, even though it doesn’t call it by that name. Here’s one from Psalm 139 that says it so clearly. I really want to encourage you to take some time to read and reflect on the entire Psalm 139. It will bless, encourage, and comfort you!
But read this part out loud and listen to the message:
“Oh, Lord, you have examined my heart. You know everything
about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my
thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when
I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I’m going
to say even before I say it, Lord.” Psalm 139 NLT
(Slowly read this next verse – Verse 5)
“You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of
blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand.” Psalm 139:5 NLT
And then in Verse 13, he goes on to say:
“you made all the delicate inner parts of my body. You knit me
together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so
wonderfully complex. Your workmanship is marvelous.
How well I know it.” Psalm 139:13 NLT
Prevenient grace, it’s the grace that goes before us, before we even know that God is there. A great English poet, Francis Thompson, wrote a poem
entitled, “The Hound of Heaven.” In this powerful poem Thompson paints a dramatic picture of a God that is the “hound of Heaven,” and He’s the hound of Heaven, because He is relentlessly pursuing you and me!
“But even before I was born, God chose me and called
me by His marvelous grace.” Paul, Galatians 1:15
Even before you were born! This is Wesleyan to the core. Wesley has many quotes, but one of his famous quotes about grace is this. “Grace for all and grace in all.”
He goes on to say that “grace is free in all and free for all,” that grace is
universal; in other words, it’s for everybody. It’s not limited. You see, this was John Wesley’s big problem with Calvinism. (No offense to my Presbyterian and other Calvinist/Reformist brothers and sisters.) Wesley’s big problem with
predestination (a Calvinist theology) was that he felt like it limited God’s grace. John Wesley preached and believed that the Bible said that God’s grace is for everybody; “His prevenient grace is like the air we breathe,” as stated by United Methodist Bishop William Cannon.
The Bishop also had this to say about prevenient grace, and I like the way he put it:
“To be sure it is free to all in the sense that it is given without price, that it does not demand anything of us before it is bestowed and that it flows free from the mercy of God. But note the change. Grace is free for all. It’s 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. It is for everyone who dwells upon the face of the earth.”
That, my friends, is prevenient grace!
Since God wants to be in a relationship with us, He wants us to be moving in the direction towards Him. Even before we may believe there is a God or know there is a God, God’s prevenient grace is acting in our lives. God’s prevenient grace is active in our lives even before we acknowledge his actions or turn towards Him and make a commitment to follow Christ.
Now, get this – we came from God; it was He who formed us. We came through our parents’ union – but we came from God. We were the apple of God’s eye, before we were a twinkle in our parents’ eyes. And so even before we were delivered, the Bible says in Psalm 139:13, “God knit us together” and “He knew us before we were even born” He knew us in the womb. His prevenient grace was active in our lives from the start.
But exactly what is grace? Grace is when you get something that you don’t deserve. Grace is God’s unconditional love. Through all of these acts of prevenient grace (remember, prevenient = before you even know God is there) God is wooing you to Himself. So, prevenient grace is a wooing grace; the grace that goes before. Even before there’s any conscious, personal experience of God, God’s grace is wooing us to Him. He is working in our lives! God is up to something!
The First Move
It’s important for us to understand something else. The first move towards you, towards your relationship with God, is always God’s move. You may say, “I thought the Bible was mostly about humans seeking God, humans’ search for meaning, humans’ pursuit of God.” No! To be sure, that is part of the scriptural narrative. But the Bible is primarily story after story after story of God seeking us.
God seeks out and speaks to men, women, boys and girls in the Bible. He spoke to the boy Samuel, who was only 10 or 12 years old at the time, but Samuel later became the great prophet of the nation of Israel. God’s angel Gabriel appeared to a teenager named Mary who was about 15 when she became the mother of Jesus the Messiah. God spoke to Abraham when he was 100 years old and told him he would be the father of many nations. The Lord spoke to Sarah when she was 90 and told her she would bear Abraham a son named Isaac. She laughed in disbelief. The stories go on and on…Isaiah, Jeremiah, King David, Esther, Peter, Paul and many more.
God acted in prevenient ways in their lives to woo them to Himself and to lead them to greatness…to be all that He created them to be…to fulfill their purpose!
Do you believe – do you understand that God is seeking you? Why? Because he loves you. He wants to be in relationship with you. He is relentlessly in pursuit of you because of His love for you.
In Jeremiah 31:1, the Lord says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love!”
Through His prevenient grace, he draws you to Himself. That’s the goal of God’s prevenient grace; the grace that goes before. God always makes the first move!
Next month, as a part of this g3 series, we will explore “Justifying Grace”.
By His Grace