He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. —Psalm 23:3
As the son of a Nazarene pastor, I grew up hearing the church sing the hymn “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” I can still hear the words: “Higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea; Greater than my guilt, nailed to the cross; Grace that satisfies the soul with full salvation, Grace that leads to heaven; It is the wonderful grace of Jesus.”1 The worship leader would hold the hymnal open in one hand and enthusiastically wave the other, encouraging the congregation. The choir would divide into two groups, their voices intensified as they sang the words in rounds. With jubilation and hands raised in victory, the congregation ended in unison: “I will praise your sweet name for eternity.” What profound lyrics! What eternal truth! What an undeserved gift!
The Christian life is a pilgrimage, a long path of obedience, a journey of continuous learning, a growing and formative experience that is enriched at every step by the work of God’s wonderful grace. This grace that works through the Spirit to awaken us to our sins is made effective by our faith in the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation and sanctification, and it continues to work throughout our lives until glorification. Being like Jesus is a daily challenge, and that is the journey of grace.
The Path to Wholeness: God’s Purpose for Every Believer
In this way, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
The church at Philippi was the first Christian community that Paul established in Eastern Europe. Despite the adversities that these believers faced in that city, they were an exemplary, faithful, and generous church. They believed in Jesus and were bearing witness to their faith in the face of hostility, but when Paul wrote his letter to them, he revealed his deep conviction that the Lord was still working on them.
When we think that we have already reached a certain spiritual level, God adds a new stepping stone to our path of growth.
The believer’s path to fullness of life is never static but is surrounded by new and dynamic experiences.
In His public ministry, Jesus clearly manifested His redemptive purpose when He said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The first chapters of Genesis show the contrast between the perfection of the creative act (evidenced in the divine design of everything as harmonious, fruitful, and full of life) and the tragedy of sin that damaged everything. Sin not only altered the spiritual arena; it altered the harmony of all the various human relationships: humans with God, with themselves, with their neighbors, and with creation.
But God was not paralyzed in the face of the ravages of sin. His divine plan continued in force to redeem all of His creation (Colossians 1:20) and transform human life in all its dimensions, so that everyone (without distinction of nationality, culture, race, gender, or social condition) could enjoy the full life that God made possible through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.2
Christian Discipleship: A Way of Life
“... grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, KJV)
What distinguishes a Christian disciple? The marks of a disciple are the radical confession that Jesus Christ is Lord of the whole of his or her life and the commitment to follow Him faithfully each day (Romans 10:9). In Wesleyan terms, this is the essence of Christian perfection, which refers to “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving God all our heart; it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers.”3
From this perspective, Christian discipleship is not only a cognitive experience of indoctrination into the rudiments of faith but a lifestyle in the Spirit who accompanies the believer, transforming him or her through sanctifying grace into the image of the Lord.
If God has provided His undeserved grace for our growth, then what is our role? Should we passively wait for His grace to perfect us? On the contrary, being aware of the divine purpose to transform us from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), we must be intentional in seeking all possible resources that God can use for that transformation.
For Wesley, the means of grace were divine channels for communicating God’s undeserved gift and helping us heal all of the things distorted by sin.4 In that sense, practicing the means of grace becomes a source of growth. On this path, the believer does not aspire to become independent from the Master. Instead, as the believer advances in the pilgrimage, he or she discovers that the greatest need is for the Master’s presence and divine grace. Christian maturity is distinguished by a greater and absolute dependence on Jesus.
Grace and Suffering: Companions on the Pilgrimage
“… what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Philippians 1:12
Relating grace with joy and pain seems to be a contradiction because we live in a world that resists suffering. We flee from any situation that may cause any kind of discomfort, and many times we measure the quality of our spiritual life by the absence of difficulties. We have not learned to value the contribution that the valley of pain can bring to our maturity.
The New Testament gives repeated examples of suffering as a divine instrument for the perfection of the Christian life (Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 1:7, Hebrews 11:39-40). James describes clearly how the chain reaction formed by trial, faith, and patience contributes to our perfection and fullness (James 1:2-4). It is necessary to clarify that this does not mean the believer must seek self-penance as the way to purify him or herself spiritually; rather, he or she is someone who believes in a sovereign and present God who walks with us and redeems the most painful situations as a means of forming our character. And that is also evidence of His grace.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, he was in prison, knowing that he could die. He was suffering for the sake of the gospel, yet he could recognize that everything that happened to him had a greater purpose. Suffering without acknowledging that God has a plan leads us to despair, but seeing His presence even through the haze of pain gives us rest as we are refined and perfected by His grace.
Our Highest Call: To Be Like Christ
The core of the Epistle to the Philippians is the Christological hymn found in chapter two, verses 5-11, which masterfully summarizes the incarnation, work, death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Lord. Paul implores the Philippian believers to imitate that same attitude (2:5) and demonstrate it in their faithfulness (1:27-30), harmony, and humility (2:2-3).
Accepting the lordship of Jesus Christ is the challenge needed in order to reach the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). That is the goal for every Christian, and therefore His grace continues to operate in all areas of our lives. In this regard, “the divine plan is not fulfilled only by the new covenant . . . but also by the restoration of the divine image, begun in regeneration, continued in entire sanctification, and will conclude in glorification . . . Although the final transformation still lies in the future, the Holy Spirit works effectively now within the followers of Christ to make them like Christ.”5
For Christians, Jesus is our unique model because of His holy life that He offered in sacrifice for the love of humanity and the perfect consistency between His preaching to humans and His attention to their human needs. For this reason, the call to holiness in the image of Christ is not a solitary, individualistic call, exclusively personal in scope. With their lives transformed by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit, the disciples “let see”6 their master and announced the good news in a complete way: not only through their words but in their love towards others. When we yearn to be like our master, we can make Charles Wesley’s hymn “Only Exalted Divine Love” our own by asking the Lord:
Now fulfill Your promise, give us purification;
in You well secured, let us see full salvation
take us from glory to glory to the heavenly mansion,
and before You there, prostrate we give You devotion.7
No human methods or work would be sufficient to pay for our salvation, sanctification, and growth toward wholeness. Only the wonderful and free grace of God makes it possible for us to receive that gift through the perfect work of Christ.
Let us walk with faith and faithfulness toward our high calling. God is executing His eternal plan to perfect us in this pilgrimage, and His grace is working in us through His Spirit.
Jorge Julca is president of the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Pilar, Argentina, and the regional education coordinator for the South America Region.
1. Haldor Lillenas, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” 1918. Translator’s note: This is a literal translation of the Spanish words of the hymn. They do not exactly match the English words.
2. René Padilla and Harold Segura, ed. Ser, hacer y decir: bases bíblicas de la misión integral (Buenos Aires: Editorial Kairós, 2006), 8.
3. Translator’s note: This is paragraph 27 of Plain Account of Christian perfection. The author quotes the Spanish version, which translates directly as “purity of intention, dedication of all life to God. It is giving God our whole heart, allowing him to rule our life.”
4. Translator’s note: This is a direct translation of the Spanish, which the author cites as the Spanish Works of Wesley Volume I. Sermon: The Means of Grace. (North Carolina: Wesley Heritage Foundation Inc, nd), 313-332.
5. John A. Knight, In His Image (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 1979), 166.
6. Translator’s note: This is an idiomatic phrase that means “allow something to be seen” (it is used in the negative sense in the phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees”).
7. Translator’s note: This is the direct translation from Spanish of the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” As you can see, the translation is not literal, but poetic. The meaning is not necessarily the same in Spanish as in Wesley’s English.
Holiness Today, March/April 2021
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.