Grace in the Woodshop

For woodworkers, a router is not a device to wirelessly route signals from one computer to another. It is a tool used to make shapes, joints and edges in wood. woodshop-philosophy-featureYears ago my Dad gave me a router and since I did not understand how to use it, it sat on a shelf collecting dust.  When I finally blew the dust off to use it on a cross for my church, it opened up new opportunities for creative woodworking and has become a primary tool in my workshop.

The router reminds me of God’s Grace.

It was given to me at considerable expense by my father who felt it would help me be a better woodworker even though I had not shown any real skill set for using it.   Similarly, God gives us grace as an act of love, paid for at great price by his Son, and intended to make us better disciples. I ignored the router for several years because I was uncertain how to use it. In the same way, I ignored God’s grace because I did not know what to do with it. Yet when I decided to use the tool, it was readily available just as grace is always available. It took some practice yet I managed to learn and it has become a central tool for my woodworking. As a Christian I found that grace took some practice, yet the more I use it the stronger my faith has become and it is now an essential and basic tool for discipleship and Christian living.

A theologian would define grace with a deeper intellectual clarity.  However, framing the meaning of grace in work-related terms give it an actual reality that can be understood more readily than a scholarly example framed in academic peculiarity. Author and theologian Randy Maddox frames John Wesley’s model as “responsible grace”. Maddox writes, “It focuses Wesley’s distinctive concern on the nature of God and God’s actions, rather than on humanity. It makes clear that God’s indispensable gift of gracious forgiveness and empowerment is fundamental, while capturing Wesley’s characteristic qualification of such empowerment as enabling rather than overriding human responsibility.”[1] Wesley disputed the Calvin dogma on predestination and advocated a “free will” doctrine. Yet he did not question that grace was an exclusive gift given by a sovereign God. What Wesley believed is that it was freely given to any who choose to accept it and that it was “enabling rather than overriding human responsibility”.

Thus, God alone is responsible for giving us grace and it defines who God is and what his intentions are for us. Grace is the gift God bestows so we may be empowered to grow as Disciples of Christ.  It demonstrates that God has taken full responsibility for our well-being yet he does not reprimand, correct or maneuver us into obedience. Wesley advocated “free will” so that God’s grace can be understood as a primary tool we can use to grow in Christ.  Grace is not forced upon us yet it is not withheld either. When we choose to use grace, we are not manipulated into doing God’s work but empowered to fulfill the potential that God intended for us.

As with the development of vocational skills, grace is built up and developed over stages that progress towards a purpose that results in Christ-centered living. Maddox states, “In its most normative sense, salvation appears neither unilaterally nor spontaneously in our lives; it must be progressively empowered and responsibly nurtured along the Way of Salvation.[2] The evolution of grace in Christian life essentially involves three stages. There is awareness of grace (prevenient), acceptance of grace (justification) and finally transformation by grace (sanctification).

The misconception that the presence of grace eradicates sin does not allow for the transformational process that God does in us through the Holy Spirit. Theological historian Justo Gonzales explains Luther’s view of grace, “On the contrary, upon being justified one discovers how deeply sinful one is. Justification is not the absence of sin, but the fact that God declares us to be just even while we are still sinners. The indissoluble bond between gospel and law is paralleled by our own Christian life as both sinners and justified believers.”[3] What grace does is to allow the buildup of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual life which does not free us from sin but frees us from the power of sin. We are thus transformed from obedience to sin toward obedience to Christ.

Grace is not intended as an incentive to motivate us towards piousness.  According to Wesley, “But in process of time, when “the love of many waxed cold,” some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion rather in doing those outward works, than in a heart renewed after the image of God.”[4]

This requires engaging in specific activities, not as a demonstration of grace but “means of grace”. Deliberate action invites the Holy Spirit into our presence that then begins the process of “sanctification”, leading to a Christ-centered awareness. According to Maddox, “The items included in these lists range from such universal Christian practices as fasting, prayer, eucharist, and devotional readings to more distinctively Methodist practices like class meetings, love feasts, and special rules of holy living.”[5] These “means of grace” are not intended to demonstrate the presence of grace but the desire to let God’s love work in our lives by allowing the Holy Spirit to help us grow as spiritual beings. Wesley states that, “We allow, likewise, that all outward means whatever, if separate from the Spirit of God, cannot profit at all, cannot conduce, in any degree, either to the knowledge or love of God.”[6] For grace to be nurtured Christians need to engage spiritually in such activities to achieve fulfillment of God’s purpose in our lives.

While Christ is the epitome of God’s love, we should not imagine that Christ is the “carrot on a stick” which God dangles before us as a motive. There is no final destination in which the prize is won and we are altered into a Christ-like being.  Yes, our bodies decay and die and we become spiritually reborn in God’s Kingdom. However if seeking grace simply prepares us for death, than the cross and resurrection was unnecessary. Maddox refers to the “Kingdom of Grace” which is an earthy kingdom.  “Those in whom the Kingdom of Grace is present will do God’s will here on earth. In that sense, the Kingdom of God begins below and is continued and perfected when we remove from this life.  As Charles put the basic point to verse, in the present experience of the Spirit’s transforming power we “anticipate our Heaven below.”[7]  Thus while it can be argued that grace prepares us for God’s Heavenly Kingdom, grace’s reign is on earth where it is needed.

Receiving grace allows us to live as God intended, spiritually while still in the flesh. It is by the Spirit that the means of grace are manifested and fulfilled.  As Jesus told his disciples, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”[8] If grace is the gift by which God will change us, and Jesus the embodiment of God’s love, then the Holy Spirit is the power that fulfills spiritual incarnation. Maddox quotes Wesley to illustrate this idea, “He insisted that while Christ is the meritorious cause of grace being provided to humanity he is not the efficient cause by which it is conveyed. This efficient cause (or power), in the most proper sense, is the Holy Spirit’s Presence.”[9]

From a Wesleyan viewpoint, acknowledging, accepting and being renewed by grace is a communal endeavor.  While the quest for grace results in a spiritual makeover for the entire community of faith, it manifests itself in communal activism in the real world. Grace is not a means to achieve heaven but a means to begin spiritual transformation in the world. As Maddox put it, “Cast in these terms, the believer’s present experience of the Spirit’s transforming power (i.e., the Kingdom of Grace) is not so much an “anticipation of Heaven above” as a “taste of the powers of the world to come.”[10]

[1]Maddox, Randy (1994-10-01). Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series) (p. 19). Kingswood Books. Kindle Edition.

[2] Maddox, Randy (1994-10-01). Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series) (p. 192). Kingswood Books. Kindle Edition.

[3] Gonzalez, Justo L. (2010-07-25). Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (The Story of Christianity) (Kindle Locations 833-835). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[4] Wesley, John (2014-12-08). The Complete Works of John Wesley: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (The Complete Works of John Wesley) (Kindle Locations 3971-3977). http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.

[5] Maddox, Randy (1994-10-01). Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series) (p. 192). Kingswood Books. Kindle Edition.

[6] Wesley, John (2014-12-08). The Complete Works of John Wesley: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (The Complete Works of John Wesley) (Kindle Locations 4029-4030). http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.

[7] Maddox, Randy (1994-10-01). Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series) (p. 240). Kingswood Books. Kindle Edition.

[8] Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 62929-62930). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.

[9] Maddox, Randy (1994-10-01). Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series) (p. 193). Kingswood Books. Kindle Edition.

[10] Maddox, Randy (1994-10-01). Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series) (p. 240). Kingswood Books. Kindle Edition.