A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Grace Helps Us to Be the People We are Called to Be

In each and every moment, God is extending grace to us.  Grace is God's unconditional love to help us be the people we were created to be.  This is probably one of the most foundational concepts of the Christian faith, but one that we either take for granted or forget about too often.

Imagine this. Every second of the day, God's grace is available to us.  This  means that in every moment, I can know that God loves me, that I'm not alone, that I can make appropriate decisions, that I can resist temptation, and that I can do the right thing in the situation I'm facing.

Every time someone joins a United Methodist congregation, they respond to these three questions:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

The first membership question reminds us that sin and evil are very real in our world.  We don't have to look too far and we will quickly see the presence of sin.  We don't just have to read about it in the news.  We can also see it lurking within our own lives. This is why meditation and confession are important.  These spiritual disciplines remind us of our brokenness and our need for God.

The second membership question reminds us that even though sin and evil are very real in our world, we don't have to be their victims!  We can accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist them.  This tells us that in any given moment, God's grace is available to help us identify and resist sin.

The third membership question reminds us that God's grace comes to us through Jesus Christ and to put our whole trust in his grace.  This is probably the most difficult part of the three membership questions.  It's not always easy to place our whole trust in God's grace. How do we nurture a faith in which we are constantly open to God's gift of grace?

The spiritual disciplines of meditation and confession are a good start.  They help us to not "pull the wool over our eyes." They help us to confront the reality of sin in our own lives and turn toward Christ for forgiveness and support. Whether it be dealing with unbridled anger, impatience, pride, cynicism, laziness, or some other sin, these need to be revealed to us so that we can allow God's grace to help us overcome them.

Participating in a small group with people who also want to trust in God's grace moment by moment is another helpful way. When people share about how they are trusting in God's grace in their everyday lives, it encourages us to do the same.

Making it a priority to be open to God's grace each day can help us respond to situations from a faith perspective.  Maybe a short prayer in the morning asking God to help us be more aware of the gift of grace throughout the day can help open our eyes and hearts to God's presence.

Sometimes, we won't think about God's grace during the day, but that doesn't mean it's not present to us.  We call this prevenient grace which means the grace that is present for us even when we're not aware of it.  Not all is lost when we don't recognize God's grace.  God's grace is always working on us and preparing us to respond.

There are other times when we are very much aware of God's grace and we have an "Aha!" moment and we say, "Now, I get it!  All along, God was reaching out to me and now I see it.  Thank you, God."  We call this justifying grace and sanctifying grace.  Justifying grace is when we accept the relationship God is offering us in Jesus Christ and sanctifying grace is when we continue to respond to God's grace through acts of devotion and outreach.

The exciting thing is to know that in any given moment, God's grace is available to us.  We just need to receive it and be the people God has called us to be.

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