God's Preparing, Accepting, and Sustaining Grace
God's grace is a wonderful gift to humankind. Grace is God's love freely offered to us. We do not do anything to "earn" it. Take a moment and reflect upon how you have experienced God's grace in your life. Jot some notes down, if you like, before reading the next paragraph. Did you know that John Wesley believed that God provides us with three kinds of grace? He believed in:
prevenient (preparing) grace
accepting (justifying) grace
sustaining (sanctifying) grace
God's prevenient grace is with us from birth, preparing us for new life in Christ. "Prevenient" means "comes before." Wesley did not believe that humanity was totally "depraved" but rather God places a little spark of divine grace within us which enables us to recognize and accept God's justifying grace. Preparing grace is "free in all for all," as Wesley used to say.
Today some call God's justifying grace "conversion" or being "born again." When we experience God's justifying grace, we come into that new life in Christ. Wesley believed that people have freedom of choice. We are free to accept or reject God's justifying grace. Wesley emphasized "Free Grace" saying: The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL.... It is free in all to whom it is given. It does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in anywise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done, or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God; they are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of free grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it.
Wesley believed that, after we have accepted God's grace, we are to move on in God's sustaining grace toward perfection.Wesley believed the people could "fall from grace" or "backslide." We cannot just sit on our laurels, so to speak, and claim God's salvation and then do nothing. We are to participate in the what Wesley called "the means of grace" and to continue to grow in Christian life. Some Christians tend to focus on God's justifying grace, but Wesley asserted that the Christian walk does not stop with acceptance of new life in Christ. Wesley said in his sermon, "On Repentance of Believers": It is generally supposed, that repentance and faith are only the gate of religion; that they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are setting out in the way to the kingdom.... And this is undoubtedly true, that there is a repentance and a faith, which are, more especially, necessary at the beginning: a repentance, which is a conviction of our utter sinfulness, and guiltiness, and helplessness.... But, notwithstanding this, there is also a repentance and a faith (taking the words in another sense, a sense not quite the same, nor yet entirely different) which are requisite after we have "believed the gospel;" yea, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian course, or we cannot "run the race which is set before us." And this repentance and faith are full as necessary, in order to our continuance and growth in grace, as the former faith and repentance were, in order to our entering into the kingdom of God.
Spiritual Disciplines: Works of Piety
John Wesley believed that Jesus is God's means of grace. For him, the "means of grace" were also "works of piety" (spiritual disciplines) and "works of mercy" (doing good to others). He said that means of grace are: "...outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace." Wesley talked about a variety of works of piety: The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon;) and receiving the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men. He also emphasized the importance of fasting and participating in Christian community. Prayer John Wesley considered prayer an essential part of Christian living, calling it, in many of his writings, the most important means of grace. Christians were to pray constantly, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). He wrote in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection: Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.
How have you experienced prayer in your own life? Do you agree with Wesley that it is the most important means of grace, more important than the Bible? Bible Study John Wesley read the Bible every day, usually early in the day or late in the evening. A scholar, he could read the scriptures in their original languages and wrote commentaries on the Bible. His Explanatory Notes on the New Testament and his sermons are a part of the Doctrinal Standards of The United Methodist Church. John Wesley gave Methodists advice on how to read the Bible. Read Wesley's advice and try it. Is his approach helpful to you? What is your method of searching the scriptures? Fasting The spiritual reasons for fasting have been pretty much lost on today's society, particularly in Protestantism. Many United Methodists are surprised to learn that John Wesley fasted two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays, in his younger days. Later he fasted on Fridays. Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., in John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life writes: Wesley was convinced that fasting, abstaining from food or drink, was a practice firmly grounded in the Bible. People in Old Testament times fasted (Ezra 8:23). So did Jesus and his followers (Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:3), and Wesley saw no reason why modern Christians should not follow the same pattern. His plan of fasting sometimes allowed for limited eating and drinking. He found that fasting advanced holiness.