A Personal Response to Responsible Grace

Let me introduce myself. My name is Beverly Kay. I was born into a Free Methodist Christian family just over forty years ago now. My father became a pastor in the Free Methodist Church when I was about eleven. I went to Bible College for four years in Moose Jaw , Sask. where I met and married my husband of eighteen years. Together we have been serving in the Free Methodist Church in Canada all this time, with two years of seminary in the early days to educate us practically and spiritually. All my life I have sought to understand more fully both the awesome Love of God and the Sanctified life that comes as we respond to that love.

Since I was four years old I was totally convinced that God loves me; how or why or how much became more of a mystery the older I got. Because I was privy to the personal spiritual battles of my parents, I came to believe early in my faith walk that the sanctified life was truly possible. I knew that it was often initiated in a time of crisis. A time when a believer, like Paul in Romans chapter seven, becomes so sick of trying to do and be good in his or her own strength that they admit their total dependancy upon the grace of God.

Aha! There’s that word! Grace! What on earth does it mean really? I think that most of my life I have been content with the standard answer of, “The unmerited favour of God”. However, over the last few years, this definition has lacked fulness or meat for my heart and mind. I have been searching both scripture and solid Christian teaching to gain a deeper understanding of this amazing attribute of our Great God of Grace. It seems, if you look in your local Christian bookstore, that I am not alone in this quest.

One thing that I, and many others have discovered is that grace was not only active in my initial act of salvation, but it enables me to grow in my faith and to be empowered to live it out in my daily life. Just look at the old John Newton hymn, “ ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed,” salvation. “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead my home,” the enabled life.

Does this sound familiar? If you have studied the teachings of John Wesley, the human instrument in the movement of God that birthed Methodism, then you will recognize the multifaceted understanding of Grace that was expressed by Wesley. From before we were born, let alone saved, God was reaching out to us to draw us back into fellowship with Him. Then after we believed and received His forgiveness and righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus, He offered more grace. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, He offers us the power to live the righteous life that we have been re-clothed in.

That may all sound familiar. But this year, as I’ve been studying to complete my course requirements for ordination, I’ve come across a term that opened wide the understanding of this empowerment for me. That term is Responsible Grace. According to Randy Maddox, a Wesleyan theology professor at Seattle Pacific University [SPU] and author of “Responsible Grace”, this idea of “grace that is responsible” and the God of Grace who makes us “response able”, was what Maddox termed Wesley’s “orienting concern”. In other words, the concern that grace shouldn’t be received glibly or without effecting change in the life of the receiver effected every part of the teaching of John Wesley.

The Baptist teaching that so permeates our theological understanding today, tends to leave one believing that if God means for us to be saved, then we cannot escape His grace and we cannot help but grow in it. It is all a God thing. But Wesley insisted that we, by faith in God’s grace are enabled to receive the benefits of that grace only in as much as we are willing to cooperate with that grace. The Bible uses terms like, “walking in the light,” “keeping in step with the spirit”. These infer a need for us to do our part by following the lead and using the resources made available to us through grace.

We have a responsibility to let the grace of God make the difference He desires it to make. Like any gift we receive, if we don’t use it the benefits of receiving it are lost to us. If I got a beautiful new toaster for Christmas and still chose to make my bread warm and crispy under the broiler in my oven, I would not only be wasting the gift, I would also be wasting time and energy. The same goes for living the life of faith in my own strength vs. cooperating with the indwelling Spirit of God, who enables me to be a willing participant in the will of God.

This, I truly believe is the key to understanding the sanctified life in the way that our theological roots insist is possible. Yes, it begins with crisis, as we confess our need. But it continues only as we remain humbly open to the continual leading of the Holy Spirit, who is the gift of grace personified. May we never quit cooperating with God who tells us through Paul that no matter what we face, His “grace is sufficient” in our every weakness! Let us continue to come boldly before His throne of Grace and find His “grace to help us in our every need”! Let’s get serious about living the sanctified life, a life set apart for God’s purposes and glory, and embrace “Responsible Grace.”

Beverly Kay is a Ministerial Candidate at Centennial FMC in Belleville, Ontario.