Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Grace Still On My Mind

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

Is the purpose of the preaching the gospel merely to communicate condemnation and exclusion? Certainly, people struggle due to poor choices and sinful behaviors. The authors believe it is biblically grounded to assert that the purpose of preaching the gospel, moreover, is to share the preeminent message of God’s love rather than condemnation. God’s love is best expressed in God’s grace that grants us opportunity to become better rather than infliction of bitterness; grace transforms us into the image of God rather than transfer us the face of God; grace liberates us from the pangs and punishments of sin rather than makes us liable for destruction because of sin.       

Among many theological concepts that are continuously intriguing us, we have constantly visited and re-visited the theological concept of grace and the function of grace in God’s salvific process for humankind. Grace is intrinsic to the gospel message that must be communicated maximally or emphasized more effectively. This book assumes the need for grace for everyone. In fact, while grace appears to everyone, sustaining us even in our sins before we accept salvation, grace does not disappear when we surrender to the divine call of salvation. Grace remains, rather, an essential element for the successful Christian life. John Wesley once said the following in his sermon, “On Repentance of Believers:”

It is generally supposed, that repentance and faith are only the gate of religion; that they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are setting out in the way to the kingdom…. And this is undoubtedly true, that there is a repentance and a faith, which are, more especially, necessary at the beginning: a repentance, which is a conviction of our utter sinfulness, and guiltiness, and helplessness…. But, notwithstanding this, there is also a repentance and a faith (taking the words in another sense, a sense not quite the same, nor yet entirely different) which are requisite after we have “believed the gospel;” yea, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian course, or we cannot “run the race which is set before us.” And this repentance and faith are full as necessary, in order to our continuance and growth in grace, as the former faith and repentance were, in order to our entering into the kingdom of God.

Agreeing with Wesley, this book contends that there is no place in our spiritual walk or faith journey wherein we have elevated to a state of perfection devoid of a need for God’s grace.

Important questions emerge in this discussion: what is grace?; what is the function of grace?; does grace require human transformation?; and does grace excuse the need for human transformation and justify humanity before God without human transformation? These questions and others concerning grace continue to ponder my thoughts.

Pondering God’s Grace

Thursday, July 8th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

This week is the twentieth anniversary of Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk, VA. Tuesday night John Bevere was the guest speaker. He taught on “God’s grace.” Interestingly, I am knee deep writing a book on “grace.” Wednesday night Stephen Hurd sang a new original song about “God’s grace.” I am doubly convinced that there is something about God’s grace pertinent for such a time as this– the contemperary church.

As a child being “rooted” in a church of the Spirit-filled (renewal) tradition, I observed and listened to sermons that spoke adamantly against certain lifestyles. These lifestyles included, but are not limited to, drug abuse, drug dealing, alcohol and tobacco addictions, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity (both heterosexual and homosexual), pornography, lying and the list goes on. My brother Norman Andronicus and I (the oldest brothers of eight siblings received a divine calling to ministry in our early teenage years. As we  grew into adulthood, committed our lives to the Lord and answered the call to the ministry, we became more directly involved with counseling and providing pastoral care and spiritual support to persons, both members of churches and beyond.

By our early twenties, we had counseled hundreds of people.  One thing of pervading concern  is hearing, on the one hand, powerful gospel preaching against persons involved in such lifestyles as sinners and, on the other hand, observing these persons profession to have committed their lives to the Lord (as a means of becoming accepted in the church community) while simultaneously struggling to overcome various addictions and lifestyles that the church condemns. Many Christians are hostile and condemning to people who struggle severely. All too many people are excluded from and hurt by the church.  Read the rest of this entry »

How Grace Became Mercy

Friday, May 14th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

In my devotional reading, I have been moving through the Hebrew prophets. While reading Isaiah I began to notice that the Hebrew term hesed tends to get translated by the Septuagint (LXX) as mercy. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was made by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. This may be a little surprising to some today since most English translations render hesed as steadfast love or loving kindness. The Septuagint’s simple translation has impacted us more than we know. To paraphrase Paul Harvey, we need the rest of the story. . . . Read the rest of this entry »

The Textures of Grace

Friday, April 16th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

Because grace makes beauty. . .out of ugly things (Grace by U2)

Inside I’m dying, I hide from the light, but you see me beautiful, you see; I roar like a lion, an unlovable sight, but you see me beautiful. You make me beautiful, you make me, you make me beautiful. (See Me Beautiful by Sister Hazel)

Christian tradition has always seen a close connection between grace and beauty although this connection can be obscured when one focuses exclusively on a single dimension of grace. Grace is a word rich in texture. One of its most common definitions is unmerited favor. Protestants usually connect this definition to God’s justifying activity in which sins are freely forgiven and humans are unconditionally embraced. From this perspective, grace expresses the qualities of kindness, compassion, and mercy, which are best encapsulated within the Hebrew term hesed (loving kindness, covenant faithfulness, compassionate mercy). The grace of God is his determination to remain faithful when all others are faithless, and this is his love in action (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Eph. 2:4-5, 7). I know that I am accepted because God has freely extended his favor toward me and adopted me into his family. In the words of Sister Hazel, “Inside I’m dying. . . but you see me beautiful.”

Another way of considering grace is in terms of strength and power. For Paul, grace is the strength made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), and this gift comes through the working of divine power (Eph. 3:7). Grace is the perfecting power or energizing presence of God that brings the individual to completion, causing the person to flourish. It is not enough to see humans as beautiful; we must be made beautiful.

Ultimately, these textures of grace point us back toward the triune God whose life is love. To borrow a metaphor from the second-century bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, the love of the Father extends to the world through his two hands, the Son and the Spirit.

The Incarnate Son is the shape of divine love. His life, death, and resurrection extends divine favor to the world “God so loved” (John 3:16). In the language of Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), the Son renders satisfaction to the Father for the sins of the world. To make satisfaction (satisfacere) really means to do (facere) enough (satis). Jesus did what no mere human could do by conquering the forces of sin and death and thus restoring order to a world that had descended into chaos. As Jeremiah reminded Israel during her exile, the Lord’s loving kindness never fails and his compassion does not end (Lam. 3:22-23). The Son is the shape of love because he embodies the Father’s determination not to allow the powers of sin and death to hold humans captive on a slave ship bound for the abyss of nothingness.

There is no distance between justice, love, and righteousness: By restoring order, the Son brings justice; by rectifying what was wrong, the Son brings righteousness; and by ordering and rectifying a world in the chaos of exile, the Son fully expresses the love of the Father. These connections emerge when we cease to think of justice solely in punitive terms and begin to see it as not allowing the broken to remain broken or the disordered to remain disordered. So, I would call for a rejection of views of Christ’s work that pit justice against mercy and love. Justice is love in action and righteousness is the expression of justice.

The Spirit is the power of divine love. As the love of God poured out into human hearts (Rom. 5:5), the Spirit restores order to human desires and emotions thereby releasing us to express our love rightly and fully. We are liberated from sin as a self-destructive power (the flesh), or the emotion and desire that binds us to all kinds of things that can consume us. Such liberation comes from the Spirit’s passionate love that inflames our love for the eternal and cools our love for the temporal. Some Christian thinkers, like Evagrius of Pontus, have called this love eros to underscore its consuming, burning, fiery presence. This is power, the power of love. Augustine likened it unto a weight to underscore its gravitational force. It is nothing less than the Spirit’s own regenerating and sanctifying presence.

Anyone who has experienced the power of attraction has a sense of this kind of love. The Spirit catches us up into the life of the triune God by simultaneously breaking the attraction to the “world” that forms the basis of our slavery and igniting our love for another world, another place, another order. We begin to perceive a richer hue, a deeper melody behind the colors and rhythms of creation. This is not to deny creation’s own beauty, but it is to recognize that, like the moon’s light, it is reflective of a brighter source. If beauty is order, harmony, or symmetry, then the Holy Spirit makes us beautiful by rightly ordering our loves so that love for God, love for neighbor, and love for the created world all take up their rightful place. In other words, to be made holy is to become beautiful–the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29:2, NKJV; Isaiah 61:10, ESV; Isaiah 62:2-3, ESV). We are made holy when our emotions and desires are re-directed toward God as their proper end and thus brought back into balance, harmony, and wholeness. Once again, we see that love, justice, and righteousness have no distance between them.

So what is the connection between grace and beauty? Does it have something to do with the rich textures of grace? By exploring those textures, maybe we can glimpse how grace enables us to see ourselves as beautiful and, more than that, refashions us so that we become beautiful. As the two hands of the Father, the Son and the Spirit embrace us by painting afresh on the canvas of our lives so that, like the colors of a butterfly, they reflect the beauty, symmetry, and order of the triune life. This happens when we become caught up in the harmonious movement of that triune dance between Father, Son, and Spirit as we learn to move to the rhythms of God’s grace. Here is love vast as the ocean. . . .