Celebrating new professions of faith in today’s worship service, I think it is proper for us to meditate on the core of our Methodist faith, that is, our faith in God’s grace. The United Methodist Church shares basic Christian affirmations with other churches and denominations, but I believe our understandings of grace and salvation are special and unique. I can personally testify that they are very special… special enough to change a Presbyterian pastor’s kid into a Methodist pastor who is talking to you right now. So, we better perceive, cherish, and embody our special Methodist faith.
Grace. What is grace? If somebody raises this question to you, you can simply answer, “Grace is God’s undeserved and unmerited love towards us.” God loves us first, even when we don’t know God, and even when we are yet sinners. God has no obligation to love us and we have no right, no merit to deserve that love. But still, God loves us first in God’s freedom. This loving action of God among us is grace. And by this grace, God opens the way of salvation in which we become God’s children through our faith in Jesus Christ. Today’s Ephesians reading tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians, we accept this as the truth of our lives. And we are ever grateful to God for this grace.
Although all Christians may believe in this basic truth, in Christian history, people have debated on God’s grace and salvation for better and more detailed understandings. One of the main topics is the scope of God’s grace. Some people claim that God’s grace is for those who are elected by God. And some people claim that grace works primarily within the church’s boundary and through its ministry. They make their own reasonable ideas based on the Bible. But we Methodists believe that God’s grace is universally available for everyone and pervades the whole creation. Grace is not the exclusive gift delivered just for some. But it’s God’s unconditional loving action to create, heal, forgive, reconcile, and transform human hearts, communities and the entire creation.
So for the Methodists, the believers of this universal grace, the journey of salvation unfolds in a special way. It can’t be explained by today’s popular term, “plan of salvation,” or by the idea of “order of salvation,” because salvation is not something that can be laid out nicely in a simple plan or something that is just prescribed for some people. Rather, we Methodists see salvation as a journey with God’s grace; we believe, we are on our “way of salvation.” It’s a prolonged experience of “grace upon grace,” or “growing in grace.”
On this journey of grace upon grace, we first experience “Prevenient Grace,” the grace that comes even before we realize we need it. It’s God’s universal provision for everyone. It’s in creation, in natural order, in human conscience. Love of family and friends, our guilty conscience, the desire to be good and righteous, the mysterious drawing towards holiness, and secret inner searching for God…they are all expressions of God’s prevenient grace. On our journey of salvation, this grace works in our hearts and guides us to the point where we embark on that actual journey. John Wesley described this grace as the porch on a house. It is where we prepare to enter the house. But, there is more to a house than the porch. There is more to a journey than our hearts desiring to travel. We must enter the house or begin the journey.
Then, how can we begin the journey? The journey begins by responding to God’s call to the journey. As we respond to God’s call, we see ourselves be chained to the power of sin and death. Even though we want to start the journey, we can’t walk, we can’t move because of the chains. So at the moment of our beginning, it is necessary for us to “Repent.” We repent for the forgiveness of sins and for the release from the captivity of death. And at this moment of repentance, “Justifying Grace” of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us, works in our hearts and gives us the assurance of forgiveness and of acceptance into the new life as God’s children. We become free from the bondage to sin and death and able to start our journey of salvation.
Now, the journey has begun. But this journey doesn’t guarantee that we’ll have gold paved roads ahead in our lives. The journey may lead us to a desert, to a dark valley of shadow. But we Methodists believe that in every moment of our lives, through all the ups and downs, through all the joy and sadness, through all the thriving and struggling, God’s grace is with us, nurturing our growth in faith, and making a better and holier person out of you and me. This grace we call God’s “Sanctifying Grace.” On our journey of salvation, we are not alone, God’s grace is always present in our lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to grow in the love of God and in love for our neighbor. And we are enabled to restore the fullness of God’s image in which we are created. Then we can reach “Christian Perfection,” the holiness of heart and life.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, at the moment of our baptism, we are initiated into Christian church and started our journey. And today, at the moment of profession of faith and confirmation, we affirm that our journey still continues within God’s grace. And we will see, on the journey of salvation, we are not alone. We have our community of believers here in our church. As people achieve fitness goals by participating in a weight loss group or exercise group, we, as a group, help one another grow more to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. As a group on the common journey of salvation, we celebrate our victories together, support one another through struggles, and share wisdom along the way, pray and worship together to be holier, witness to “the true light, which enlightens everyone,”and above all, let us love one another (John 1:9). On our journey of grace upon grace, may God’s abundant grace be with us, transform us into the loving image of God and transform the world into God’s reign of compassion, justice, generosity and peace. Amen.