An Undeserved Grace
God’s grace, and only this grace, can offer salvation to humanity. “So God created mankind in his own image…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Humankind disobeyed and corrupted their original relationship with God. In our fallen state, we can do nothing by ourselves to recover this image and our original relationship with our Creator. No effort we make can restore the image of God in us. Only grace can restore us to a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Everything begins and ends with grace.
Because of the fall, we experience death. God had warned Adam and Eve that they would surely die if they ate from the tree (Genesis 2:17). Paul confirmed the human condition when he stated that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). This condition was not the intent of our Creator, and without the grace of God, we cannot be restored.
Understanding the condition of fallen humanity leads to understanding grace. There is nothing in humanity that is good (Romans 3:10-12). We can take no pleasure or confidence in our efforts to earn God’s favor. God the Father, in His infinite goodness, sent God the Son to die on the cross for our redemption. Believers understand grace when they realize that it is something entirely undeserved.
The Grace that Goes Before
God intervened on behalf of humanity, preventing the full consequence of sin from taking place, and enabling every person to respond to Him in faith. He has not left us alone and helpless in our condition of living under the power and contamination of sin. The expression “prevenient grace” has its origin in the Latin gratia preveniens, meaning “grace that goes before.” Gratia preveniens is not something, but rather, it is about Someone who comes before and who anticipates any previous reaction. It is really about God: He, in His grace, goes before.
God seeks us even before we are aware that He is looking for us. He is already there, drawing near in order to awaken us and show us the way to salvation. Grace accompanies us and goes before us. God’s active presence is a part of a process that involves the continuous presence of the Spirit, which helps us to advance within a relationship that will sustain and restore us into the image of God. No situation or person is beyond the reach of divine grace.
The blood of Christ provides the means for each believer’s redemption (Hebrews 9:12). God is actively working in us and with us. The grace of God provides the opportunity for the restoration of each human heart and mind. This grace provides a vital and primal stimulus that anticipates every human response while still giving the opportunity to respond positively or negatively.
God’s Loving Gift of Freedom
To understand grace essentially as love is to see it as being relational. God’s love does not force or coerce the human will. Wesley writes: “The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made… But he will not force them to accept it.”1 Wesley believed grace to be a free and undeserved gift. God’s grace is fundamentally His love for humanity: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...” (John 3:16a). God’s gift of grace continues to give us life to this day.
Wesley’s concept that God’s grace preserves human freedom to make choices (for otherwise His purpose of restoring humanity to His image would be frustrated) helps us to better understand our current situation regarding human responsibility. Wesley, quoting Augustine, says: “He that made us without ourselves, will not save us without ourselves.”2
People often ask why all people do not respond positively to this grace. Maybe you are thinking right now that it is because of sin, a power that can take control of the human will (Romans 6:14). God in His love allows for men and women to choose Him freely. He allows humanity to accept or reject Him. People disobey God’s will not for lack of knowledge but because they are not obedient with the knowledge they have. Nevertheless, God continues to give everyone the opportunity to be with Him or against Him. In Wesley’s words:
“Everyone has…good desires, although the generality of men stifle them before they can strike deep root or produce any considerable fruit. Everyone has some measure of that light, some faint glimmering ray, which sooner or later…enlightens every man that cometh into the world…Everyone…feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary to the light of his own conscience. So that no man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath.”3
The grace of God, which is His love, is the beginning of all that is necessary for our salvation.
Justifying grace is part of a process, preceded by another dimension of grace that is equally important. According to Wesley, salvation as part of a process begins with the first stimulus that God gives to us even before we are aware. God’s love is the primeval and vital stimulus that anticipates the human response. Wesley called this primal impulse “prevenient grace.”
The cooperation between human and divine freedom is active in prevenient grace and thereafter in justification and sanctification. This synergistic association is important in understanding that the restoration of the image of God will not take place without our response. We will not advance in solving the problems that plague us today unless we understand our participatory and shared role with God within the divine purpose in the entire process of salvation made possible by the grace of God.
Marco Velasco is the academic dean of Seminario Nazareno de las Americas.
1. John Wesley, “On The Wedding Garment (Sermon 120),” The Wesleyan-Holiness Digital Library, https://www.whdl.org/wedding-garment-sermon-120. Accessed June 15, 2020.
2. Quoted in John Wesley, The Works of Rev. John Wesley (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, n.d.; and Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958, concurrent editions), VI, 53.
3. John Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation (Sermon 85),” The Wesleyan-Holiness Digital Library, http://whdl.nbc.edu/working-out-our-own-salvation-sermon-85. Accessed June 15, 2020.
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Obras de Wesley, ed. Justo L. González. Tomo I, Sermones I; Sermón 1.
Runyon, Theodore. The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today. (Nashville: Abingdon Press,1998).
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Holiness Today, September/October 2020
Please note: This article was originally published in 2020. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.