Kinds of Grace: Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying

When I was a pastor, grace was one of my favorite sermon topics.  I especially loved talking to the youth in Confirmation Classes about God’s grace:  the undeserved gift of being loved and accepted by God.  In Confirmation Class we talked about the three kinds of grace:  prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying.

Yesterday at church, Confirmation Sunday (also Pentecost, although it wasn’t mentioned), the pastor talked about the three kinds of grace.  But he didn’t use my favorite illustration of grace, so I thought I would share it with you today.

Imagine that there is a large, beautiful mansion set on acres of garden-like land.  People are wandering all over this piece of land, some being respectful and some not.  Some know who owns the land and mansion, but most do not.  You know the land is a place of peace but you don’t know the purpose.

This land is God’s prevenient grace:  God’s grace working in our lives before we are even aware of it.  From the very beginning of our lives, God loves us and cares for us.  God is constantly drawing us to himself, inviting us, even when we do not pay attention.  Prevenient means “to come before” and prevenient grace is the grace of God working in our lives before we are aware of God.

Some people want to go into the mansion.  They ask others how to go in, but those who are outside don’t know.  Finally someone notices that there have been people, all along, just opening the door and going in.  Can everyone go in?  Are those special people? You decide to go to the door.  No one prevents you.  You knock but no one answers.  Finally you open the door and peek around it.  The house is full of people, so you take a chance and step across the threshold into the house.

The door is God’s justifying grace:  the threshold to the kingdom of God.  Stepping over the threshold is accepting Jesus as our savior.  It is the only thing that we can do toward our own salvation – everything else is part of the gift of God’s grace.  Justifying grace is the gift that sets us right with God.  Because his son, Jesus, died on the cross, when we accept Jesus as our savior, our sins are set aside.  By going through the door of accepting Jesus, it is “just as if I’d never sinned – justification.

There are many people in the house and as you wander through, you notice that there are also lots of rooms.  In some rooms people are reading the Bible and talking together.  In some rooms people are praying.  In some rooms people are singing and worshipping.   In some rooms people are teaching others.  The rooms go on and on and the activities in each are different.  But each room is wonderful and each room is a place you want to be.

The mansion itself, with all its rooms, is God’s sanctifying grace.  Sanctifying grace is the grace that draws us deeper into holy living.  After we have accepted Jesus as our savior, we want to be more like him and more like God wants us to be.  We want to set aside our sinful habits and live in ways that please God.  Being sanctified (becoming holy) is something that goes on through our whole lives.  John Wesley called it “going on to perfection.”  We can strive for perfection in holy living but we won’t be perfect in it until we get to heaven.  There will always be times when we stumble, fall, and fail.  But we get up and try again knowing that we are loved and accepted by God for who we are.  There is a place for us in the mansion of God’s grace.

5085d3a4946784810dafdbb6bd470873Three kinds of grace, all active in all our lives at some point.  We live on the land of God’s prevenient grace.  God is constantly inviting us through the door of justifying grace.   When we walk through that door we are able to live in the mansion of God’s sanctifying grace.

Where have you felt God’s grace strongest in your life? Which of the kinds of grace is most meaningful to you? Do you have another way of thinking about God’s grace?