The Case for Grace: Even Unaware - Romans 5:6-10
This afternoon in Atlanta and Foxborough, a coin will be tossed to determine it. If a group of us were to play Monopoly this afternoon (before one historic piece changes forever), we would roll the dice to determine it. If we were playing a game with some of our younger folks, with many of their games, age determines it. In some instances, “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” might be used to determine it. However, with God, there is no question, God gets to determine, and God has chosen Himself! What are we talking about? What are we trying to determine? It is all about who goes first!
God always goes first.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth as a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
“…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
“No the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said “Here I am!” and rand to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him….” (1st Samuel 3:1-7)
We could go on and on through the Old Testament and find case after case of God initiating relationships and covenants, and never once find it the other way around. God always starts it. In continues into the New Testament as God sends an angel first to Zechariah to inform him that he and his wife were to have a son, and then to Mary to call on her to carry and give birth to the Savior of the world…God initiates relationships…just as Jesus walks along the shore and through the region, identifying and calling each of the disciples…and as the resurrected Jesus stops Paul on the road to Damascus.
We began last week with our series, “The Case for Grace.” We admitted that none of us really want what we deserve. I am reminded of one of our members here who when asked how he is doing, often responds, “Better than I deserve.” That same thing could be said for all of us. What we deserve, because God is a just God, is death…for we are all sinners. However, we do not only worship a God of justice, but also a God of mercy, and because of that mercy, God provides grace that we might have life.
Grace is the merciful, life-giving gift from God. John Wesley identified three ways in which God’s grace is enacted in our lives: prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. Through our “Case for Grace” we will examine each of these.
Today we begin with prevenient grace…and what better place to begin because that is where God begins with us. Born into this world, we are sinners, we are fallen, we have inherited the curse brought on by the sin of Adam and Eve. We are creatures that, on our own, will choose nothing but sin…to act in our own self-interest and make gods of ourselves, placing ourselves above all else, unable to love God or love others, only love ourselves. The saddest part of all of this, is that, left alone, we are trapped in this way of living and do not even realize it. We are unable to flip a coin, roll the dice, stake our claim on being the youngest (since God is eternal), or win at “rock, paper, scissors” in order to make the first move.
Yet, thanks be to our loving, merciful God, He is a loving, merciful God…and He moves first and rather than condemning us to Hell to start with because we are sinners, He gives us grace.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6, 8)
“…for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
Jesus reminds the disciples that they did not find Him and choose Him, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” (John 15:16)
Without us even being aware of God, God acts first. God moves us to become aware of Him, aware of our sin and unworthiness, and aware of our need for salvation. That gift of awareness…of God going first and revealing to us our need…is a gift of grace…prevenient grace… it is God revealing to us how far we have strayed from Him…it is God enabling us to hear and respond to His invitation into relationship…for without God pouring His Holy Spirit into our lives, we cannot even come into that relationship. Paul makes this clear when he says, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, “Let Jesus be cursed!” and now one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1st Corinthians 12:3)
I think too often we think that God does not start working in our lives until we come and submit ourselves to Him, confessing Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but with this statement Paul makes it clear that it is God and God alone who enables us to make that confession. God works upon us before we are even aware of Him. That shouldn’t surprise us, as He is the One who knits us together in our mother’s wombs…the One who knows the plans He has for us before we do.
So does this mean that God makes us choose Him? That God causes us to confess Jesus as Lord? No…remember grace is a gift, and with every gift we have a choice. God’s grace enacts and enables our free will. This prevenient grace is the means by which we can choose God, but we are not forced to choose God. God’s grace does not make us programmed robots, but allows us to become truly free. If it forced our hand, then we would see no evil in the world because God pours out this relationship-initiating gift upon all of humanity. We have all received the gift; then we get to choose what to do with it.
This may seem like a lot of abstract talk that is way out there somewhere…that this is some kind of mystical way in which God touched our lives. There is something to that…there is some mystical nature in which God reaches out to grab hold us. Sometimes that happens in miraculous and amazing ways. We’ve read the stories in Guideposts, Upper Rooms, and all over the place of times when God was readily present with someone before they were even aware of who God was—most commonly in the lives of children in the midst of dangerous situations. However, there are more common ways that this prevenient grace makes itself present in our lives—ways we may not have ever thought of as grace.
How many of us, before we knew who Jesus even was, were brought to church as children by our parents or grandparents? They were agents of prevenient grace. How many of us may have come to know Jesus the first time or brought into the church by a girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse? They were agents of prevenient grace. How many maybe came to church the first time because a child or teen was in a program and learned of the love of God there? They were agents of prevenient grace.
Maybe it had nothing to do with coming to church where God reached into your life for the first time. Maybe it was simply someone showing you love that was unexpected or unbelievable…maybe it was someone offering to pray with you in a drastic or tragic situation…as they served, possibly unaware themselves, as agents of God’s prevenient grace.
Maybe it was sitting in a hotel or hospital room opening a drawer and finding a Bible placed there by the Gideon’s, and responding to an urge to read…maybe it was looking up a scripture passage someone was holding up at a ball game…maybe it was getting so far down in life, whether financially, physically, or emotionally—due to poor decisions, addictions, unhealthy relationships, or some other choice—and realizing that something had to change and finding a new door opening before us…all instances of God’s prevenient grace reaching out to us and inviting us in to His presence.
Even when we are unaware of God…God moves first…and through His grace, He invites us to come to Himself…
When we respond…what happens next? Next week…as we continue “The Case for Grace…”
In the Name of the Father…and the Son…and the Holy Spirit…Amen.