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You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

 


John’s centre of influence was the Jordan River. People went
into the wilderness away from the cities and towns to find spiritual direction.
But John knew that Jesus influence would head to Jerusalem, home of the Temple.
Jesus ministry would move from the fringe where John lived to the heart of
Judaism.

 

John’s message would inevitably say, “You ain’t seen
nothing yet. Watch out because the really big shift is coming. That change will
come with the Messiah’s arrival.”

 


Matthew 3:

11 “I
baptize you with water, calling you to turn away from your sins. But after me,
someone is coming who is more powerful than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his
sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His
pitchfork is in his hand to clear the straw from his threshing floor. He will
gather his wheat into the storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire
that can’t be put out.”

 

 

What is the significance of the Messiah’s threshing floor?
Who was it in history that had bought a threshing floor and to what end? Jesus’
ancestor King David had bought a threshing floor as a place to offer
sacrifices. It would become the site upon which his son Solomon would build the
first Temple. The Temple was God’s threshing floor where the wheat and chaff
would be separated. The wheat that brought sustenance and life would be stored
at the Temple. The unusable waste would be burned.

 

John prophesied that Jesus would be the one to bring about
repentance at the highest level of spiritual influence. John could see with
God’s vision that his own life and ministry paled in comparison to the one
coming.

 

 

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Being Mentored By An Outstanding Leader

 

John the Baptist was indeed a powerful, provocative and
influential teacher. Part of the strength of his message was in recognizing
that he was a forerunner. It was given to him to call people back to God in
preparation of the coming Messiah.


Matthew 3:

In those days John the
Baptist came and preached in the Desert of Judea. He said,
“Turn away from your sins! The kingdom of heaven has come near.” John
is the one Isaiah the prophet had spoken about. He had said,

“A messenger is calling
out in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord.
    Make straight paths for him.’

 

 

John belonged to a Jewish subgroup known as The Essenes.
They lived in the desert away from the city and believed that faithfulness to
God meant separating from the diluted and worldly Judaism they saw elsewhere.
That is why the description of John’s camel hair clothing, and his diet of
locusts and wild honey was recorded in the Scriptures. He dressed and ate like
someone who lived in the wilderness. Much of his ministry was around the Jordan
River, sacred to Israel and Judah as the place of crossing into promise. To be
baptized in that river was an acknowledgment of returning to God’s plan for his
people.

 

As crowds would travel to hear John, they would hear a
strong voice in a quiet place. Jesus would have made that journey and heard
John teach. How might Jesus in turn be influenced by having such a teacher and
proclaimer of truth?

  


Matthew 3:

John
saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing. He said to
them, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the
coming of God’s anger? Live in a way that shows you have
turned away from your sins. Don’t think you can say to
yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you; God can raise up children for
Abraham even from these stones. 10 The ax is ready to cut the
roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut
down. They will be thrown into the fire.

 

 

Jesus’ message to religious leaders would become a
continuation of God’s prophetic message flowing from John’s mouth. It was hard
words for hardened hearts. However, the message of correction is always to
point to something or someone greater to watch for.

 

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Get Ready To Be Reverse Mentored

 


The former CEO of General Electric®, Jack Welch, is
credited with inventing the concept of reverse mentoring. He recognized his
lack of technology skills in the late 1990s and believed that the youngest
people joining the company were far more knowledgeable about new technologies
than their managers. So, he asked 500 of his top executives to seek out mentors
from among these new joiners.

Traditionally, a mentor is expected to be more senior and
more experienced than their mentee. However, reverse mentoring recognizes that
there are skills gaps on both sides, and that each person can address their
weaknesses with the help of the other’s strengths.
[1]

 

How do we see impartation and reverse mentoring play out in
spiritually centred relationships? If we look closely at these biblical
pairings we can see the importance of having meaningful relationships in our
lives.

 

Who mentored Jesus? Certainly, we know that his parents had
a profound influence and imparted a willingness to trust God. They would have
raised their boy in the faith and in the ways of work, respect and community
values. Their own testimonies of encounters with God would have left an imprint
on their children.

 

In the case of Jesus, he would become the teacher to those
who taught him. We may think of Jesus as always being in the superior role, but
he learned godliness through submission. Think about his relationship to his
cousin John, known as John the Baptizer.

 

Professor Helen K. Bond wrote:

 

Much of the Baptist’s preaching has undoubtedly been lost
to us, but it is quite likely that Jesus joined his circle of disciples for
some time, learning from the prophet and working out his own views. At some
point, however, Jesus decided to lead his own mission. The impetus for this may
well have come from his own baptism, which clearly had a profound effect on
him. Whatever we make of the dove and the divine voice that reportedly
appeared, it is clear that he underwent some kind of a mystical experience. The
closest analogy is the prophetic call in the Hebrew Scriptures, a sense of a
special commission by God for a particular purpose.
[2]

 

For a time, Jesus would have been a listener and learner of
John the Baptist. Jesus followed him as a mentor/teacher and then the shift
point came when Jesus was baptized by John. John’s message had been for God’s
people to prepare for the arrival of Messiah.

 

When John humbly and under inspiration recognized who Jesus was,
he made way for Jesus to be increase.

 

John 3:

27 John
replied, “A person can receive only what God gives them from heaven. 28 You
yourselves are witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah. I was sent ahead
of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the groom. The friend who
helps the groom waits and listens for him. He is full of joy when he hears the
groom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He
must become more important. I must become less important.

 

 

An essential element to working together is knowing when one
needs to decrease so that others can increase. John did not want his ministry
to compete or interfere with the work that Jesus had come to do.

 

Think of a wedding planner. They assist the bride and groom
but it’s terrible if the planner starts to take the place of the groom. This is
how we need to view our ministries. We will assist people in their relationship
with Jesus, but we will not cross the line of treating people as if they are
‘our people’. They are his people.

 

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Making Animals In Our Own Image

 


If you watch children’s shows (and I do with the
grandkids
), there is always a humanizing of non-human creatures. They talk,
they sing, they dance, and they solve moral dilemmas. They will often show baby
creatures being directed by parental figures or odd pairings with other
creatures.

 

What we observe is that the humanized creatures become moral
teachers in a way that entertains and instills sentimental attachment. The
fictional creature becomes our moral puppet. We are making animals in our own image. It’s a great story-telling
technique and yet it is largely divorced from the reality found in large
swathes of life forms.

 

Think about lizards.

 

Most of the lizards do not even remember about their
eggs. After depositing their eggs, the lizards cover them and immediately
forget about the action. A possible reason for this can be that since they have
a cloaca, an opening for their reproductive, digestive and urinary systems,
lizards like the western fence lizards may consider eggs as poops and forget
about them.
[1]

 

There are many birds, amphibians, sea creatures and mammals
that become independent of their parents in a very short time. Humans on the
other hand parent their young and may even find it hard to let go, just in case
their adult child needs more nurturing and development from them. Why does
parenting takes such a long time for humans? It seems to be mostly hardwired
for us to act that way toward our offspring.

 

We might respond to rescuing wild animals partly because we
are human and have little understanding of the ways of nature. We are not
independent creatures that come out of the womb and start walking in fifteen
minutes. There are animals that can do that, but not us. Humans are unique in
their lengthy journey from dependence to inter-dependence.

 

God’s plan always includes life impartation with specific
pairing and grouping of people to accomplish His purposes. You will be
mentored, and you be reverse mentored to the degree that you are teachable and
humble. You can learn a lot if you are willing to listen to those younger and
possibly skilled in ways that you are not.

 

For better or worse, we will influenced throughout life by parents,
siblings, teachers, mentors and guiding relationships. Furthermore, you will
most likely have a profound influence on somebody else. Likely, there will be
several people over a lifespan that you give wisdom or foolishness to. And you
will always be influenced by someone else.

 

The Bible is filled with great pairings and groupings of
influential relationship. An essential part of understanding what it means to
be Jesus’ disciple is to be teachable and to become a teacher. What can we
learn about impartation and reverse mentoring?

 

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Empire vs. Shalom

 


The world is based on the human dream of empire. We
will build systems, governments and business empires that provide a human
strength to accomplish the common good.

The Cambridge dictionary defines empire as, ‘a group of
countries ruled by a single person, government or country.’
It is Israel in
its formative stages wanting a king to rule, the way other nations are
governed. It is the notion that a king, queen, president or prime minister can
preserve the strength and develop the resource of the commonly shared identity.

 

Some read the Scriptures and think that the Kingdom of God
is an empire that needs a good king with a plan to overtake the world. But what
does this vision miss?

 

Empire misses most of the points that Jesus makes about how
we are to live. He came preaching the Kingdom of God as the anti-thesis to
worldly empire. He preached the ancient concept of Shalom, often shorthanded as
the word ‘peace’. But Shalom has more depth than a simplistic wish for
troubles to go away so we can be at peace and do our own thing.

 

“Shalom” was used as both a greeting and farewell. It
wasn’t just meant to wish a person a lack of war or struggle; rather, shalom
goes deeper. Shalom might be called the peace of the Lord. It is completeness,
soundness, wellbeing, complete reconciliation.
[1]

 

Jesus is not the King of the Empire, but he is the Prince of
Shalom. How does Jesus call us to live at peace with God and bring completeness
and wholeness to the world we live in?

 

When we think about God’s grace at work in us as a
community, how are we being transformed from ‘empire thinkers’ to ‘Shalom
thinkers’
? The grace that is greater than all our sin requires us to share
the responsibility for the sins that come from worldly thinking.

 

We see God calling to Israel to forsake the empire thinking
of Egypt and learn the shalom way of following a Shepherd’s voice. While empire
likes lots of pageantry and displays of power, shalom thinks about the
vulnerable first.

 

How impressed is God with our worship services and
inspirational gatherings? Even these can become nauseating to God.

 

 

Amos 5:

21 “I
hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain
offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

 

  

God is not impressed
with showy spirituality that has nothing to do with establishing Shalom, his
Kingdom of peace and reconciliation. We can easily become the Pharisee in the
Temple with our victorious and self-righteous declarations. We can thank God
that we are doing better than the despicable sinners around us. And we can
completely miss out on the mission of God to become Shalom-makers.

 

 

Isaiah 1:

16 Wash
and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop
doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take
up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

 

 

But you may protest– we can get sidetracked with social
justice causes and miss out on the personal call to live a holy life!

 

What is it about us that wants to live in the world of
either/or? Either you focus on social justice causes or you focus on personal,
spiritual formation. Pick the side that you feel is singularly important and
put all your attention there. If we are to understand that sin is an
incompleteness, a missed target and a missing of the point, we will pick a side
and fail to see that we have sinned by settling for less than God’s best
intention.

 

Where is the sense of being called to both/and?

Isaiah 1:

18 “Come
now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like
scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as
crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good
things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by
the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

 

 

The grace of God that conquers sin is the grace of sharing
our responsibility to the least of these. God says that when you make yourself
clean and then turn your focus to being a Shalom-making community, God will
remove the Empirical stain of worldliness from us, and we will eat the good
things of the land– the very good things that we do unto others. God’s
blessing rests on how we love Him through the least of these.

 

In the end, if we resist God’s best intention, we will be
devoured by the thinking of Empire. We will sin because we thought God’s
mission was only about me and mine. God’s call is for us to be people of the
Shalom Kingdom.

 

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The Goal Of Grace

 

We have seen that grace is a journey that we are all moving
through. This chart gives us a simple way to understand three important stages
in the life of Christ follower. Note that these all are most often understood
in the personal sense of individual responsibility to God.

 

Justification happens when a person comes to Jesus, puts
their trust in Him to save and affirms the truth of His resurrection. It is
this saving faith in Him that sets a person in the right place to walk with
God. We are saved by God’s grace and not by human effort.

 

Sanctification is the child-rearing stage where adopted sons
and daughters of God receive the Father’s love and discipline. That’s what it
means to be a disciple.

 

Glorification is the goal of a disciplined follower of
Jesus. Through a lifetime of learning how to be obedient and responsive to
God’s grace, the saint of God is prepared for a future responsibility in the
eternal Kingdom.

 

1 Peter 1:

13 Therefore,
with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be
brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As
obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in
ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy
in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am
holy.”

 

What is our responsibility to live in grace now? It is to
have our minds alert to God’s leading, fully sober and not stuck in delusional
worldly thinking. We need to practice hopefulness for the coming grace that is
not quite here yet.

 

We are to assume the posture of obedient children. Why do
children obey? Some will conform out of the fear of retribution or punishment
and that helps produce a sense of right and wrong. But there is a higher
obedience that comes from the heart of a child that wants to please and express
love toward the parent or teacher. A child can genuinely desire to do the right
thing because they want to replicate what they see in the lawgiver.

 

Obedience is wrapped up in the notion that we become like
Jesus. We become holy because we love what we see in Jesus. This holiness is
what sets Jesus apart from all others and why we love His nature.


 

 

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What Could Be Greater Than Our Sin?

 


Societal norms are always changing. What one generation
forbids, the next generation may exploit. There is a place for recognizing
commonly held ethics, but there is a higher standard when it comes to what God
has in mind.

 

In the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, the suffrage movement took place in much of the Western world. It
was a movement to give women the right to vote and to participate more fully in
society. And it was a movement that many Christians either supported or
condemned.

 

The battle for voting rights, according to Elaine Weiss
and other experts, drew together women across a spectrum of religious practice,
from Quakers to women active in the holiness movement who saw social reform as
a means of testifying to their pursuit of holiness
.
[1]

 

That’s the thing about social justice– people may make an
inspiring case from Scripture for a noble cause, but there will others that
resist the change and also appeal to Scripture. For Christians, change in
society must be shaped by a comprehensive reading of Scripture and a deep
introspection of our motives.

 

Around 1910, Julia H. Johnston penned the words,
“Grace Greater Than Our Sin.” This hymn is a commentary on Romans 5,
particularly on Romans 5:20b, which says: “But where sin abounded, grace did
much more abound.” Considering that many women were forbidden to teach, preach,
or pray in “promiscuous” (mixed gender) gatherings, writing a
commentary on scripture would also be, most likely, not tolerated. However, the
medium of hymn writing was utilized by women like Johnston in order to circumvent
societal norms.

 

While society in general and religious society in particular
frowned upon women having a public teaching ministry, Julia was faithful to a
higher call and put her message into a song. She took the grace she had
received from God and found a way to communicate it. Listen the deep, biblical
introspection found it these words.

 

Julia Johnston wrote,

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount out-poured–
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Sin and despair, like the sea-waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater– yes, grace untold–
Points to the Refuge, the mighty Cross.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
All who are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
[2]

 

The hope that all Christians rest in is the idea that God’s
grace will not be stopped by our slow learning. Where sin abounds, grace much
more abounds.

 

That’s one more thing that’s amazing about grace. Grace is
counter cultural. When the world is against something good, grace finds a way
to make it happen. The world and sometimes the church can get the right and
wrong things mixed up and grace moves in pure hearts to restore the good.

 

There’s something I note in the title of this hymn, and its’
reoccurring them. This is not just aimed at individual conscience, but to the
shared sin that God’s grace is greater than. Not just grace that is greater
than all my sin, but our sin.

 

How does God’s grace conquer our collective sin?

 



[2] Daniel Brink Towner | Julia Harriette Johnston, ©
Words: Public Domain; Music: Public Domain

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The Trail of Breadcrumbs

 

 

Last summer, my wife and I visited Flowerpot Island in
Georgian Bay. A short boat ride from Tobermory brought us to the dock on the
island. We looked at our options and chose to follow a trail through the woods
to visit the Lighthouse.


Someone was there long before we were and cleared a path
through the woods and marked the trail with signs. Even though it took a while,
we moved forward confidently knowing that the destination would eventually be
reached.

 

The beautiful truth is that God’s grace leaves us a marked
trail that we can follow into the Kingdom of God.

 

There are certain things that we do as religious practices
to remind us of the path that we are on. One of those is communion.

 

Jesus marked the trail with the bread and the wine. We look
at the sign and see that Jesus body was broken like bread for our consumption;
to feed and strengthen us.

 

Jesus blood was shed like the juice of a crushed grape to
point us to the saving grace in Christ’s blood.

 

There is bread and then there is ‘bread’.

 

Jesus said,

 

John 6:

48 I am
the bread of life. 49 Long ago your people ate the manna in the
desert, and they still died. 50 But here is the bread that
comes down from heaven. A person can eat it and not die. 51 I
am the living bread that came down from heaven. Everyone who eats some of this
bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give it for the life of
the world.”

 

 

The manna was an example of God’s prevenient grace that
miraculously kept them alive day after day. In the long transitory stage of the
wilderness manna demonstrated God’s grace. The manna was a trail of breadcrumbs
meant to lead them forward to God’s promise of salvation – the living bread
that came down from Heaven.

 

In that regard, the manna was an example of prevenient grace
intentionally given to come before and point to the future salvation.

 

This teaching about being the living bread was given on the
heels of the miracle of the loaves and fish where thousands were fed
miraculously. The miracle had similarity to the manna in the wilderness coming
from God’s hand. But the miracle bread would be for the day. What would sustain
them forever? The manna pointed to Jesus, the bread of Heaven that forever
would fill them with saving and sustaining grace.

 

To all who would ingest Jesus into their spirit, eternal
life would be given.

 

Have you experience some unexplainable phenomenon, a miracle
that has no easy explanation? If so, that is one of the ways that the Father is
calling to you. The miracle may be misinterpreted like the crowd who thought
God’s voice was thunder, but a sign is always purposeful. A sign always points
to a destination.

 

Signs and wonders point us to God’s saving grace, His desire
to reconcile and restore us to Himself. Have you recognized how the Father is
speaking to you and doing good things to get your attention?

 

Have you discerned the trail of bread crumbs that leads you to
Jesus?

 

 

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Message In The Thunder

 

 

A key to understanding God’s prevenient grace is to
understand that we will not come to salvation unless God takes the initiative.

 

Jesus said,

 

John 6:

44 “No
one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise
them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets:
‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father
and learned from him comes to me.

 

 

How does the Father draw us to Jesus? After all, it is God’s
unusual kindness that brings us to the point of willingness to change our mind.
In His desire that no-one perish, the Father speaks to the world in many ways.
There is the message encoded into nature that design, beauty and life are all
intentional.

 

When nature is not enough to convince us, God surprises us
with Super Nature. Supernatural signs are intended to draw us in with curiosity
and bewilderment. The once enchanted world has become disenchanted. So, God
intervenes to signal His presence.

 

Consider how the Father spoke audibly about Jesus within
earshot of the crowd. This happened on more than one occasion. In this example,
Jesus was getting anxious with the approach of his coming betrayal and
crucifixion.

 


John 12:

27 “My
soul is troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, keep me from having to go through
with this’? No. This is the very reason I have come to this point in my life. 28 Father,
bring glory to your name!”

Then a voice came from
heaven. It said, “I have brought glory to my name. I will bring glory to it
again.” 29 The crowd there heard the voice. Some said it was
thunder. Others said an angel had spoken to Jesus.

 

 

God’s anticipatory grace is shown here by speaking audibly.
It was clear to some but uncertain to others. The materialists in their midst
explained the noise as being thunder. The mystics among them said an angel had
spoken to Jesus. But it actually was the Father that spoke from Heaven.

 

“I have brought glory to my name. I will bring glory to
it again.”

 

The Father was adding commentary to Jesus words. Although
the Father’s words were affirming to Jesus, they were intended to be heard by
the people there. This was a supernatural work of God to amplify Jesus’ prayer
that he would bring glory to the Father’s name. 

 

 

John 12:

30 Jesus
said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

 

 

Signs and wonders are intended to draw attention to what God
wants to do.

 

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I’m Sorry, I Didn’t Know

 

 

God is kind and generous to all that He created. Whatever or
whomever has been corrupted may also be restored and redeemed into God’s
original idea for its existence.

 

Or it can forever be diminished at the end of its mortality.
Every human breath has the potential to become a call for redemption.

 

When we talk about the Law of God, do you think that ‘ignorance
of the law is no excuse
?’ Or does God have mercy for your ignorance? This
is an important question when we think about those who have not heard the good
news about Jesus and who may break God’s law without ever having heard it.

 


Romans 2:

12 Some
people do not know God’s law when they sin. They will not be judged by the law
when they die. Others do know God’s law when they sin. They will be judged by
the law. 13 Hearing the law does not make a person right with
God. People are considered to be right with God only when they obey the law. 14 Gentiles
do not have the law. Sometimes they just naturally do what the law requires.
They are a law for themselves. This is true even though they don’t have the
law.

 

 

In God’s common grace for all Creation, we see that knowing
the Law of God makes you accountable for what you know. Even if someone has
never heard about Jesus, there is sometimes a conscience at work in the
individual that tells them right and wrong without exposure to God’s Word. In
this regard, God permits ignorance of the Law to be a consideration when they
die.

 

They may not have received God’s standard to be measured by,
but they have a conscience that sometimes helps them to do the right thing. There
are some things that anyone can know simply on the basis of personal and
societal conscience. And that is because of the common grace of each being made
in the image of God.

 

 

Romans 2:

15 They
show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. The way their minds
judge them proves this fact. Sometimes their thoughts find them guilty. At
other times their thoughts find them not guilty. 16 This will
happen on the day God appoints Jesus Christ to judge people’s secret thoughts.
That’s part of my good news.

 

 

This brings us to see another facet of God’s unusual
kindness– prevenient grace.

 

Prevenient grace is a phrase
used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner
exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term prevenient comes from a Latin
word that meant ”to come before, to anticipate.” By definition, every
theological system that affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a
sinner’s conversion teaches a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine
of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.
[1]

 

How is God’s grace commonly at work in the world to come
before a person’s salvation? What are the ways that God is providing clues to
the honest seeker?

 

We see that a person’s conscience is at play in anticipation
of coming to a point of moral inventory. God loves people so much, that he
gives us a conscience to help us distinguish between right and wrong, good and
evil, life and death. Unfortunately, your conscience can also be corrupted and
distorted and lead to your downfall. More on that later when saving grace is
explored.

 

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