(Grace to the Third Power) A Wesleyan View of Grace "Sanctifying Grace"
Part Three in a Series
December 1, 2018 | View PDF
“For you are saved by grace through faith…” [Paul, Ephesians 2:8]
“Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” [Jesus, Matthew 5:48]
“I’m just an old lump of coal, dear Lord, but I’ll be a diamond one day.”
Sanctify – (Sank’ tə Fī) – To set apart as holy, to consecrate, to make holy, to purify.
In this article, I’m going to be talking about sanctifying grace. Over the last two months, we've covered two other kinds of grace that John Wesley taught us about. John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) gave the church a great gift. He explained to the church throughout his many 40,000 plus sermons that grace could be experienced in three different ways. I’m going to give a review up to this point:
“Prevenient grace”, as we talked about in the October issue of the Gazette, is the grace that goes before us, the grace that goes before we ever even know or believe there is a God. He is wooing us to Him! He is finding ways to inject himself into our lives, to draw us to Him!
In the November issue, we talked about “Justifying grace”. To justify means to “make right”, and we experience God’s justifying grace when we accept Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and believe that His blood was shed for us as an atonement for our sins. Once we pray that prayer and accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, and once we invite Him into our lives and repent for our sins, then God’s justifying grace takes place immediately in our lives and makes us right with God. We are justified (made right with God) by his justifying grace!
Remember, as Paul explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, “We are saved by grace through faith, not by works so that no one can boast.” It’s not anything that we've done, but it's by God's grace that we are saved. Then we experience His justifying grace, and we are made right through Christ with God. That's what justifying grace is all about!
The third way we can experience the power of God's grace is “sanctifying grace”.
To sanctify something means – “to set it apart as holy, to consecrate it, to make it holy, to purify”.
Read what Jesus said in Matthew 5:48: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” John Wesley took this verse very seriously and peached on it all the time.
That verse has always bothered me, because it seems contradictory to the Bible. Why? Because the Bible tells us that all of us are sinners, and we've all fallen short of God's glory. Right? We all know that we're sinners. The Bible tells us, in fact, that if we don't admit that we are sinners, we're liars; so, we know that we are sinners saved by grace. So how can we ever be perfect?
Let me go back to the original meaning of the word “perfect” as Jesus is using it here. Jesus is actually quoting an Old Testament text in Deuteronomy 18:13, and the word “perfect” is actually the Hebrew word “tamim”, which means “to serve God wholeheartedly, to be totally devoted.”
That changes the meaning of the word “perfect”; because, when we think of perfect, we think of somebody that is sinless, that is flawless, or that makes no mistakes, and we know that that's not us (or anybody else for that matter). The Bible clearly tells us that we will always be struggling with our sinful nature.
If Jesus is saying, “you are to serve God wholeheartedly, totally devoted to Him just as He is totally devoted to you”, that changes the meaning a lot, doesn't it?
We all know that we make mistakes. (By the way, if you are already sinless and never make mistakes you can skip this part. You have already been totally sanctified!) Sometimes we make big mistakes, like the girl from Georgia made when she broke up with her fiancée and later wrote him this letter. She said:
“Dear John, I made a big mistake. Words cannot express the deep regret I feel at having broken off our engagement. Will you take me back? Your absence leaves me empty, and no one else will ever fill the void. Please forgive me and let us start again. I love you. I love you. I love you. Your adoring fiancée, Amy.
P.S. Congratulations on winning the biggest Georgia State Lottery ever.”
We might question her motives a little bit, right?
Needless to say, we all know that we make mistakes. And most of us will admit that we are sinners, too. Yet, we also see (from the Bible) that God takes holiness very seriously. In fact, John Wesley preached on sanctification and holiness his entire ministry. We are called to be holy!
But that doesn't mean that God saves us by His justifying grace and then throws us out into the ocean and says, “Okay, it's time for you to sink or swim; you've got to go out there and live the rest of your life and live up to these high standards of Jesus and be perfect.” That’s not what God does or says!
That's what sanctifying grace is all about. It's the work of the Holy Spirit in us sanctifying us by God's grace, making us more and more into the image of Christ. John Wesley put it this way. “When we are born again, then our sanctification, our reward and our outward holiness begins; it’s at this point that God puts His Holy Spirit in us to be with us forever!”
Jesus encourages his disciples in John 14 when he says, “I will ask the Father.” He's talking about when He dies and is resurrected.
“I will ask the Father, and the Father will give you another, an advocate who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads you into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn't looking for Him and doesn't recognize Him. But you know Him because He lives with you and later will be in you.” John 14:16-17 NLT
Jesus is promising us right there that he is not leaving us - you and me - alone. “I'm going to ask the Father and He is going to send the Holy Spirit.” That's what He did in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. God sent His Holy Spirit not just, so people could feel the goose bumps and feel His presence, but that the Holy Spirit would actually come into them, live in them and never leave them. It's the Holy Spirit's work in us that perfects us for the rest of our journey in the Christian walk. It's by His sanctifying grace that He makes us holy, that He makes us more and more into the image of Christ. That's what Jesus was talking about.
Wesley used this image when he preached a lot of times. He would paint a mental picture of a house. He would say (I’m paraphrasing here): Repentance is when you invite God onto your front porch. Justification is when you invite Christ into your heart, that's like opening the front door and inviting Jesus inside your house, inside your heart and your life. Sanctification is when you invite the Holy Spirit to go into every room in your heart, your life - every dark closet - every spot in the corner of the attic - every single square foot of space in your heart, soul, life! It's a lifelong process where the Holy Spirit is invited by you to go into every place in your life and begin to perfect you and make you more and more like Jesus.
Prevenient grace is what God does to us. Justifying grace is what God does for us. And sanctifying grace is what God does in us through the power of God’s Holy Spirit!
As we celebrate this Christmas season, may we give praise to God for sending Jesus Christ to offer us His grace! My prayer for you is that you will discover the three ways you can experience the power of God’s grace!