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Lesson 4: Grace That Goes Before

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.

– Titus 2:11 (NRSV)

Devotion: Read Romans 5:6-11. Ponder the descriptive terms Paul uses when discussing humanity at the point Jesus sacrifices himself for us: powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies. While we are in this helpless state, we are reconciled to God through Jesus, opening up the possibility for us to be “saved by his life.” The divine grace that precedes our response to God opens the door for us to be obedient to Jesus’ teachings and example. The “grace that goes before” is not only found in the gift of life God gives us (which we do not earn), but in the actions of Jesus on our behalf, actions which make possible our response to the reign of God on earth. Just as Paul uses an example from our lives (“rarely will anyone die for a righteous person…”), what are human examples of “grace that goes before” or love offered to someone before they earn or deserve it? When have you been on the giving end of such grace? When have you been on the receiving end of such grace?

Personal Worship Option: Read Psalm 19. How is the creation of the world itself an act of grace that goes before? How should the idea the earth proclaims the presence and power of God influence the Church’s view of proclaiming the Word of God? Do people have an innate grasp of the divine? 

Dig A Little Deeper:

5:6 This discussion of God’s love is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Rather than being sentimental (stirring up emotion beyond what is reasonable) or manipulative, Paul points out God acts before humanity responds/is capable of responding to God’s initiative.

Read the following passages and consider how they represent Christ interactions with the “ungodly:” Matthew 8:5-13; 8:28-34; 9:2-8; 9:9-13.

5:7 For whom are you willing to die? What criteria do you use to answer to that question?

5:8 The doctrine of prevenient grace, or the grace that goes before, is a necessary corollary to Paul’s earlier statement, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). How much guilt should a forgiven Christian carry? Should humanity carry a sense of collective guilt? When is guilt a positive, healthy force? At what point does guilt become a negative, unhealthy force? How does guilt affect our ability to believe and receive God’s love?

Read Romans 5:1-5. Notice that while Paul uses past (“since we are justified”) and present (“we have peace”) references earlier, he now adds a future focus: “Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God” (5:9). Which concerns you more: God’s present displeasure or future judgment? What does your answer to that question teach you about your spirituality?

5:9 The term “God’s wrath” is used in a variety of ways in Romans. Earlier, Paul uses it in the sense of God’s angry displeasure at the presence of sin (1:18). Here the phrase seems to mean the ultimate retribution against sin that will take place in the future when Christ returns.

Reflect on Paul’s words “justified by his blood” in light of Romans 4:25, where Paul assumes justification comes through Jesus’ resurrection. What is the benefit of thinking about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension as one theological action which brings justification?

5:10 We are not only “ungodly;” our sin makes us enemies of God. Jesus’ sacrifice justifies and reconciles humanity to God. However, Paul wants to remind readers that reconciliation (being restored and at peace with God) drives us to “boast” in God. Is it possible for an un-reconciled (un-justified, un-forgiven) person to worship God?

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