Cap's Corner: What is grace?

by Cap McIlnay

We hear a lot about “Grace” in church. We sing songs about grace, we teach about grace, we preach about grace … but what is grace? To explain grace, in whole, would take more typing space than what is allotted to me, and it would take more time than most of you would want to read. However, I want to talk about grace in a general form.

One could say that grace is the manifestation of God’s love in our life, or God’s love working in our life. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement way back in the 1700’s, talked about three types of salvation grace: prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. Well, now all I have done is added more “church-y” words to an already church-y word!

So, let’s call grace “love” and John Wesley’s terms simply stage one, stage two, and stage three. Stage one (prevenient grace) is the fact that God’s love is offered to everyone all the time. No matter what evils (sin) you have committed - no matter where you are in life - God’s love is there. It is that gnawing feeling that you get when you start to feel and think that there has to be something else - something better, something bigger than the sum of who you are; a feeling that you have that you were born for something better/bigger. Like, if there was something major missing in your life.

Now, many people are searching for that missing part in their lives, and the world offers many places to seek. Some may get into drugs or alcohol, addictions, or they might even try some alternative spiritual practices (witchcraft, worshiping Satan, astronomy, and others). But this is the worshipping they created, and not the creator. Stage one is trying to direct them to the creator: God!

Stage two (justifying grace) is the moment or moments in time when you decide to follow Jesus. This is called the salvation moment, but for many of us, including myself, this did not happen in a flash or even in one night. No, my salvation moment (stage two) took months and years. As a matter of fact, I now can look back and see the hand of God had been trying to direct me to Him my entire life, but I was too stubborn to listen. I wanted to try to do life my way, and God allows you to make that decision. It is called “free will.”
Stage two is the point when you become a Christian, as you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior. This means that you recognize that Jesus died on the cross to wash away your sins so you can have a relationship with your creator God, and you have said “YES” to that relationship.

Stage three is the “Now what?” part for the rest of your life. Now that you have become a Christian, does that mean you no longer sin? That you no longer have the temptations that you once had? For most people, it does not. There are a few that, when they became Christians, became perfect in love right then. I have heard of these lucky few, but I have not met one, nor am I one.

I have many of the same old temptations to sin as I did before, but now I don’t live for those sins anymore. You see, God found me and accepted me, with all of my faults, and He loves me enough not to leave me there in that muck. However, with me, God is taking His time. Of course, I might have something to do with that … you know, dragging my feet on my way to perfection in love.

Stage three (sanctifying grace) is that process that takes the rest of your life in molding us with love into better, loving Christians. I cannot see the day when I am perfect in love, but like my AA brothers and sisters, I am learning to take it one day at a time. Today, I chose not to act upon my worldly self, my sinful self. And some days, I do better than others.

This perfection in love that I keep talking about is not a perfection in sinless-ness, but a perfection of reflection of God’s love to all the other people in my life. It is a call into holiness. A holy life has at least two parts: One part is trying to be sinless; you know, all those “thou shall nots” and “thou shall” stuff that we sometimes find so difficult in the bible. The second part of living a holy life is becoming and reflecting the love that is God.

No matter if you are at stage one, two, or three, God does have a plan for you. A plan that will fill that gap, that hole in you that feels as if something important is missing in your life, and it is called God’s love … GRACE!