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Prevenient grace does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in any wise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God. They are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it. Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. Thus is his grace free in all that is no way depending on any power or merit in man, but on God alone, who freely gave us his own Son, and with him freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32) (John Wesley)
Paul wrote the book of Titus to his co-worker who was sent to Crete to correct some problems among the churches there. One of the glaring problems was leadership. More complicated however, was a wrong understanding of God’s work that expressed itself in two extremes, with the same damning result. This wrong understanding was so significant that in a book with only three chapters, Paul devotes two of them fully to the issue.
The issue was that the Cretans thought their relationship with God or lack of relationship was about them. The two extremes of that belief for the Cretans could have been articulated in this way. (1) My relationship with God is what it is because I am good enough, or (2) My relationship with God is what it is because I am not good enough. Paul wrote to Titus to help him address this deadly problem where, though the two major strains of thought were polar opposites, they were equally destructive because both were wrong about the one at the center of a relationship with God.
Why does this matter to us? Because approximately 2000 years later we are still a bunch of Cretans. When I look in the mirror, I see a Cretan—someone who by my actions, emotions and thoughts, celebrates or aches and moans over my spiritual condition—depending on which of these two wrong understandings I buy into today. When the relationship is good: my relationship with God is what it is because I am good enough. I work hard at it, I read my Bible, I go to small group, I go to church, I serve, I pray, I fast. When the relationship is bad: my relationship with God is what it is because I am not good enough. I don’t read my Bible, I am not in a small group, I don’t pray, I don’t fast, etc.
So in my broken understanding of relationship I have placed myself at the center. Paul, however, clearly points to God as initiator and the central Actor in this drama. Titus 3:4 opens—“When God…” and continues “…he revealed…he washed…he generously poured out…he declared.”
Paul is pointing out that before we could take any steps toward God, God reached out to us. God acted on our behalf while we were still “foolish and disobedient” (3:3). God came looking for us.
My wife and I met as freshmen in college and when you are young and infatuated you spend almost every waking moment together (at least that is what she told me!). My classes were on one side of campus and hers were on the complete opposite side of the school. But, between certain classes, if I hurried, I could get to a spot where she would be walking by and I could say hi or catch a glimpse or hold her hand for a minute. I ordered my day to be with her, and when I couldn’t be with her I worked for any snippet of time, any planned chance meeting so that I could be near her. Sounds like stalking doesn’t it? But it wasn’t.
God orchestrates life so that we are constantly bumping into him. God wants to catch any time with us, any snippet, any chance meeting to be near us (John 6:44, Acts 17:28, 2 Timothy 1:5). This same God initiated, gave that beforehand grace that is a part of every human being’s life. 2.11 tells us that “the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to ALL people…and this is true no matter which of those Chapter 3 verse 3 descriptors describes us.
The question is are we paying attention? Because our relationship with God is NOT what it is because we are good enough or because we are not good enough. It is what it is because we are paying attention to the God who is trying to get our attention or we are not. This is the work of God’s prevenient, beforehand grace.