Defining grace: God loves you when you act bad.

What is grace? It’s a basic question, but one that needs constant attention for the Christian life. Grace lies at the heart of the Christian faith. In my tradition, as United Methodist, we have three ways of defining grace. Grace is prevenient, justifying and sanctifying. These are not words we use a lot in common speech, but words that can give life. For today’s post, I’ll start with prevenient grace.

Prevenient grace is the grace of God that goes before us. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, spoke of it as “free in all, and for for all” (Sermon, “Free Grace,” 1739).  When Jesus gave his life on a cross, Jesus gave his life for all people and the forgiveness of their sins. There are no limits to grace. This grace is God’s unmerited, unearned, undeserved love at work in the world.

When we offer Holy Communion in our worship, I try to teach our congregation and children especially to open their hands to receive the bread. I teach them not to reach for the bread and grab it, but instead to receive. To receive is to accept a gift. Grace is God’s gift to us!

On a practical level, prevenient grace means that God is working in our lives when we are not aware of it. We Christians are not deist. We don’t believe God created the world and withdrew from it. God is always working through the Holy Spirit. In this Easter season, I’m reminded of the story of Jesus visiting the disciples on Easter Sunday (John 20:19-31). The disciples have locked themselves behind closed doors. Jesus is able to enter the room despite the door being locked. Jesus still works the same way through the Holy Spirit. When we close the doors to God, God is always working to get inside our lives and draw us to God’s love.

The work of prevenient grace is dynamic. It can awaken us to our sin. All of us have missed the mark in our lives. We have gone astray. Some of us have may have gotten greedy and made riches our aim in life. Some of may think about a time in college where we put our faith on hold. Some of us may have turned to addictive substances to cope with the stresses of life. When we least expected it, we feel God speaking to us. Maybe it was a friend who became a messenger of  God or we felt our lives hit rock bottom with a thud and knew God was trying to get our attention. That’s God’s prevenient grace.

God is working in your life. Jesus Christ cares about you and wants to help you receive the abundant life that comes through a relationship with God.

Recently, one of my daughters had a tough night. She was not listening to us. She did not want to leave the playground. There maybe have been some kicking and screaming! Hers was the kicking. Our was the screaming. After all settled down, she comes to me and says, “Dad, do you love me even when I act bad?”

For a moment, I got to experience the question we might ask God. “God, do you love me even when I act bad?” The answer for a parent and more importantly for God is, “Yes, of course. I love you even when you act bad.”

Grace is a gift. Grace is working in your life even though you might not be aware of God. I invite you to open your hands and your heart to receive this wonderful gift called grace.

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