1. How might this distinction between the different kinds of grace help us to understand the different ways God works in our lives, in others’ lives, and in the world?
An important and foundational doctrine in the Wesleyan tradition is grace. A basic understanding is that grace is a free gift that God offers us. Yet, as we look at grace more fully, we discover that there are many layers to the doctrine of grace, one of which is central to this sermon, “Justification by Faith.” First is, Prevenient Grace, known as the grace that comes before. This grace is present in us before we even know who God is. Then there is justifying grace or justification, and after this is sanctifying grace or sanctification. In this sermon, Wesley offers an extremely helpful distinction between justification and sanctification. Justification is “what God does for us” through Christ, while sanctification is “what God works in us” by the Spirit. In justification, our sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice for all humankind, and we are returned to right relationship with God. In sanctification, we seek to be made holy as God works in us through the Spirit. How might this distinction between the different kinds of grace help us to understand the different ways God works in our lives, in others’ lives, and in the world?
2. Who is justified by God? Why would God justify the unholy, ungodly human, rather than those who are already holy? What does this idea of justification say about who God is?
In the world, it is common to believe that a person should already be holy before they receive justification or forgiveness of sins. By the ways of the world, we tend to assume that restitution must be made before a pardon is given. Yet, if a person is already reconciled with God and their sins have been forgiven, then why would they need to be justified? As Wesley says, “to assert this, is to say the Lamb of God takes away only those sins which were taken away before.” Wesley wants to be clear that God comes to justify the unholy, the sinner, the imperfect one. He gives examples to help understanding this point, including the shepherd who comes to find the lost sheep, not the sheep who have never strayed, or the doctor who comes to heal the sick, not the healthy. God does not require that we become holy first, but instead offers us love and grace through Jesus without any judgment of who we have been. What does this picture or understanding of God reveal about the character of God?
3. If faith is a gift, rather than something we develop and possess on our own, how might we think about faith differently?
Grace comes first. It is a gift to us, even while we are sinners and do not deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy. First our hearts are opened to this blessing, then we are able to response in faith. First God loves us; then we are able to trust in this love and live in this love.
As God gives justification and our hearts are opened to this gift, faith becomes possible. Wesley defines this faith as “a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for “my” sins, that he loved “me,” and gave himself for “me.” Faith gives us this inkling within us that God is for us, and that why we are then able to trust and believe in all that God is, in Jesus’ presence in our lives, and to let the Holy Spirit be our guide as we live and serve in the world. If faith is a gift, and thus more than something we do and develop on our own, how might we think about faith differently? What comes before faith? How does faith change the way we live?