Hey Wesleyans, Let’s Stop Talking about 3 Types of Grace

It happens all the time. We Wesleyans love to talk about what are often called three types of grace – prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. The problem is that there are not three types of grace. There is only one type of grace, the type that joins a person to Christ and saves that person from sin and death. The three adjectives we use to modify the word “grace” are not referring to different types of grace; they are referring to different times of grace.

Grace is not a substance

Part of the problem is that we seem to think of grace as if it’s a substance – a substance that comes in different types. If you do not yet know Jesus, then you get the prevenient sort of grace. If you are in the moment of meeting Jesus, you need the justifying type of grace. If you’ve already met Jesus, you get sanctifying grace. And we are left erroneously thinking  in terms of different things.

But grace is not a thing that God gives us. Grace just means gift. And when the Bible talks about God’s grace, it means God’s gift of himself to us in a way that rescues us from condemnation and slavery to sin. Grace is union with God in Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit. That’s a single reality, not a range of substances or types of things. There is no grace outside of Jesus. So, when we think about grace, we need to be thinking about union with a person named Jesus. We need to be thinking about how Jesus gives us access to the Father. We need to be thinking about how the Spirit renews us as a consequence of our union with Christ. When we think about grace, we don’t need to be thinking about some thing or things. We need to be thinking about reconciliation with God.

Seasons of grace

So, what should we make of these three terms – prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying? In theology, these terms don’t refer to substances, they describe the work of the Holy Spirit in distinct periods of time as he draws us into union with Christ, unites us to Christ, and works out the implications of that union with Christ in all of life. Prevenient grace describes the work of the Spirit through the gospel before conversion that draws us to Jesus by convicting us of sin and enabling us to repent and believe. The Latin word “prevenient” only means “to come before.” Justifying grace is the forgiveness of sin and experience of peace with God that comes from the Spirit’s work of uniting us to Christ. This is not a different thing; it is the beginning of a new season of life – one in which we are reconciled to God in Christ. The reality is still union with Christ. The difference is two periods of time, one in which that new reality is anticipated and the other in which that new reality is realized. Likewise with sanctifying grace. Again, grace isn’t describing a thing in itself but the work of a person (the Holy Spirit!). The language of sanctification encapsulates the new period of time after our initial union with Christ in which the Holy Spirit renews us and works out the many and varied implications of our union with Christ. The adjectives are describing a range of temporal realities, distinct periods in time, seasons in God’s economy of grace in our lives, not distinct substances or types of grace.

Grace is grace all the way through. It’s the work of the Spirit to draw us to Christ (prevenient), unite us to Christ (justifying), and form Christ in us (sanctifying). We do better thinking of these in terms of a single continuous work that stretches out over time. This is about seasons of growth in reconciled relationship with Jesus rather than different sorts of things that happen to us. So, dear Wesleyan friends, can we agree to stop talking about three types of grace?

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Falling Away or Cut Off? Romans and the Question of Apostasy

I’ve recently had the opportunity to contribute to a three-part series of essays on the question of apostasy. The essays are being published at the Center for Pastor Theologians blog and will be written by fellows of the Center from different eccesial traditions who (consequently) handle the question in somewhat different ways. My contribution was posted today. Here’s the intro:

The recent departure of Joshua Harris not only from Christian ministry but from Christianity altogether has brought questions regarding apostasy and falling away to the forefront of recent evangelical dialogue. Can a true believer fall from grace? If someone commits apostasy, were they ever really saved? If it is indeed possible to lose your salvation, how does it happen? What’s the condition? How should we understand the notion of perseverance? What do key biblical texts say about the issue?

You can read the rest at the CPT blog. If the CPT is new to you, be sure to check out the other resources on the site. I’ll also add links to the other contributions once they go live.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Why Calvinism Gets Election in Romans 9 Wrong


There are a number of reasons I’m not a Calvinist. One of them stems from the problematic way Calvinism frames the biblical doctrine of election. In this video, I consider how God’s choice of Abraham’s family (over others) shapes the way we should read the language of election in Romans 9-11.  Watch the video below. Then click over to YouTube and subscribe to my channel to get notifications when new content is posted.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

#GC2019 Interview Roundup (#UMC)

I’ve recently had the opportunity to be interviewed on a couple of podcasts regarding the outcomes and implications of the United Methodist Church special session of General Conference earlier this year. This post puts all the links in one place.

The first one was came on The Kuyperian Commentary and was hosted by Pastor Uri Brito. You can listen here.

The second interview came in two parts on The Pastor Theologians Podcast hosted by Todd Wilson and Zach Wagner.

I’m grateful to have had these invitations. Feel free to chime in with comments and questions. Thanks for listening.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

John Wesley Asks: Who is a Gospel Minister? #UMC

 

The answer comes in his essay: “Thoughts Concerning Gospel Ministers”:

Who is a Gospel Minister, in the full, scriptural sense of the word? He, and he alone, of whatever denomination, that does declare the whole counsel of God; that does preach the whole gospel, even justification and sanctification, preparatory to glory. He that does not put asunder what God has joined, but publishes alike, “Christ dying for us, and Christ living in us”. He that constantly applies all this to the hearts of the hearers, being willing to spend and be spent for them; having himself the mind which was in Christ, and steadily walking as Christ also walked; he, and he alone, can with propriety be termed a Gospel Minister.

Let it be particularly observed, if the gospel be “glad tidings of great salvation which shall be to all people”, then those are, in the full sense, Gospel Ministers who proclaim the “great salvation”; that is, salvation from all (both inward and outward) sin, into ” all the mind that was in Christ Jesus”; and likewise proclaim offers of this salvation to every child of man. This honorable title is therefore vilely prostituted, when it is given to any but those who testify “that God willeth all men to be saved”, and “to be perfect as their Father which is in heaven is perfect”.

New Video: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12)

We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly explains why it was necessary – and how our weaknesses can be a theater Jesus’ power.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

 

A Home for Everyone? (#OneChurchPlanMyths #UMC)

Does the so-called One Church Plan create a “home for everyone” in the United Methodist Church? That’s the question in this second installment of #OneChurchPlanMyths. The claim comes in this video where the suggestion is made that the so-called One Church Plan makes a home for everyone by removing language in the Book of Discipline that says same-sex practices are incompatible with Christian teaching. The idea is that the removal of that sort of language also removes a barrier to some from full participation in the life of the Church. With this post I argue that the removal of one barrier actually creates another, which means the so-called One Church Plan doesn’t actually create a “home for everyone.” That claim is a myth.

Except for them

The problem with the myth in question is the untold numbers of people who’ve said they won’t be at home in a denomination that makes such a change. Many who affirm the current stance of the Church have being saying for decades that they will be forced to leave the UMC, if it were to change its position, a position that (as is noted in the video) has been in place almost 50 years. I vividly recall as a ministry candidate twenty years ago how other traditional folks were saying that if the Church changes its position on sexuality, they could not stay. Their conviction was that such a change would mean the UMC could no longer be their denominational home.

More recently, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has reminded the larger Church that the adoption of the so-called One Church Plan is “untenable” and would force the formation of a new Methodist denomination. It’s worth remembering that this is not a new posture taken by these folks. Conservatives have been saying this for a very, very long time. What’s new is the amount of pressure and influence being presently given to changing the Church’s definition of marriage and its ordination standards. So, the question is: how can the so-called One Church Plan be a home for everyone when a significant number of United Methodists have been saying for decades that they cannot live under such a plan? And therein lies the myth. The so-called One Church plan doesn’t make a home for everyone. It makes a home for everyone except the people who can’t live with it.

What’s even more striking is that the so-called One Church plan is the only plan (to my knowledge) that any major group has officially said it cannot live with. No one has said they’ll feel forced from their home if the Connectional Conference Plan passes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of any Progressive groups who’ve officially said they’ll leave if a version of the Traditional Plan passes. I do know of some individuals who’ve said as much, but no group-as-a-whole. Again, leave a comment and let me know if I’ve missed an announcement of that sort. Somehow, the only plan under which a significant constituency has publicly said it would feel forced out of its home is the one plan that alleges to be a home for everyone. Curious that.

It’s not working

The video also rationalizes the so-called One Church Plan with the suggestion that we are already living in a situation that resembles the results of that plan. The idea is that we currently live in a Church where people disagree on the matter of human sexuality. We’ve now have Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists in one Church. The so-called One Church Plan makes adjustments to affirm this and moves us forward. The argument is supposed to make you think: Oh, well if we already have it, what’s the problem with passing it? What’s strange about this line of reasoning is that what we have now isn’t working. At the risk of sounding repetitive, we are living in conflict that has spanned nearly 50 years. Why should we think a plan that reflects where we are will resolve that conflict? Why should we think it won’t exacerbate the conflict instead?

Earlier this week we sorted out the myth of neutrality. You can call this one the  myth of “a home for everyone.” And the point is this. Whether you support the so-called One Church Plan or not, let’s at least be honest about what it does and doesn’t do. The so-called One Church Plan is the quickest and most likely route to a full split. It will make a substantial number of United Methodists feel as if they’ve lost their home. It’s doesn’t make a home for everyone. Don’t believe the myth.

Stay tuned. More #OneChurchPlanMyths to come.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.