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Monday, November 28, 2022

Choose Your True Identity

It's the time of year when many people put out Christmas decorations.  Christmas decorations often have deep symbolic meaning--whether they are traditional meanings or meanings specific to your family.  Do you have any ornaments that hold special meanings for you?  Maybe it's something your child or grandchild made for you and your cherish.  Often we forget the traditional meanings of ornaments like stars and lights and angels and only choose to decorate with them because we like the way they look.  It might be helpful to recall why we use those special symbols at Christmas and what they have to do with the original Christmas story or traditions that grew over the last 2000 years since Jesus was born.

Each of us as individuals have a purpose too, but sometimes we forget why God made us.  This series of blogs in meant to rediscovery our purpose as Methodist Christians.  Last week, we learned about God’s prevenient grace that works to help us before we are even know about Him or have any thoughts about God.  

Grace is God’s undeserved, unearned divine help. Prevenient grace is the divine assistance of God that works ahead on our behalf before we even think about God.  Today, I want to talk about God's justifying grace.

Ephesians 2:8-10
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Justifying Grace
This passage says you are saved by grace when you believe.  We need to be saved, because we have all sinned and turned away from God.  We don't deserve to exist because we've denied our reason for existing.  But God is gracious.  He doesn't turn away from us even though we've turned away from Him.  Instead, He works to save us.  His saving grace becomes active in our lives when we believe.

Now, the belief that activates God's saving grace is not just an intellectual agreement.  It's active belief.  You can believe your mother-in-laws Thanksgiving turkey is safe to eat, but your don't really believe unless you're willing to eat it!  The kind of belief in Christ that saves us is a belief that causes us to listen to, obey, and follow Christ.

All Christians believe in God’s grace.  Methodism has a distinctively wholistic approach to grace.  We believe God's grace helps us before we are aware of Him.  But we also believe that you can't coast along on God's prevenient grace forever.  At some point, you must make a personal choice to turn away from your sin to God in order to experience God's saving grace. (There is also another grace to that helps us after we make our choice and saved, but we'll get to that in a later blog post.)

·       When you put your trust in Jesus, you are justified.  To be justified means your wrong actions are excused.  I once shot my little sister in the foot with a BB gun when we were kids.  My actions were not justified, even though she was being a pest.  But there may be other times you could think of when wrong actions could justified.  Suppose you were being attacked by a murderer and your life was in danger.  You might be justified to kill that murderer in self defense.

There is no justification for turning away from God though.  We were made by God for a loving relationship with Him.  It's why we exist.  But people have turned away form God and abandoned their reason for being.  There is no justification for it.  Isaiah 29:16 says, "He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”?"  And Isaiah 53:6 says, "All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all."

Methodists teach the justifying grace of God.  Justifying Grace is the undeserved divine assistance of God makes us innocent.  God prevenient grace works to draw you to Him.  Gives you the wisdom to see you need God and enables you to choose God.  But you still have to choose.  When you choose, God justifies you with His justifying grace.

Other denominations also teach justification too, but John Wesley and early Methodists were at there at the very beginning, driving the Protestant Christian rediscovery of the essential need for people to be “Born Again.”  Jesus taught us the essential need to be born again.  He said in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  Unfortunately, Christians over the centuries grew complacent.  They were mist often born into Christian families in Christian communities and went to church all their lives.  Most people never knew a time in their lives when they weren't thought of a "Christian".  

But John Welsey and the Methodist and other evangelical Christians rediscovered the truth of what Jesus said, "You must be born again".  Let me share what it means to be born again? You are born physically once.  God’s prevenient grace (often signified through infant baptism) works to mature you until you ecognize you need of God saving grace.  Eventually, you believe, you trust, and you declare your allegiance to Christ.  At that moment, you are justified and you are born again,  You become a new person (a new creation).  It may not be an immediate change, but it is a new birth.  And over time, you will grow from a new baby Christian to a more mature Christian if you cooperate with God's Holy Spirit and follow Christ.

Have you been born again? Here are some signs:

  1. Do you really believe and trust Jesus? If You’re born again, you really will believe in and trust Jesus Christ.
  2. Are you fruity? If you’re born again, you’ll start seeing the fruit of God’s Spirit growing in your life (Gal. 522-23) – “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
  3. Is your life changing for the better? If you are born again, you’ll start to change for the better. You’ll no longer want to live in sin. You’ll want to do the right thing even is you still often fail. And when you sin, it will bother you.
  4. Do you love your neighbor as yourself? You will start to love your neighbor. (And remember, love is not a feeling. It’s a doing…)
Jesus said, “You cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you are born again.”  Have you really been born again?  I challenge you to examine your heart about this matter right now.

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