Mark 1: 9-11
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
“You are the Children of God”
Today is a joyful day for all of us to celebrate (a) new young member(s) who confirm in faith and initiate into our church, the body of Christ. I guess that many of you might remember your confirmation. How many of you do remember your confirmation? If you were baptized, whether as in your youth or as an adult, you might remember the time of your baptism. Baptism and confirmation are different. The confirmation is for those baptized as infants by their parents’ decision to raise them in faith. When they grew enough to make their own decision, they can confirm their faith to be God’s children. Because of this, confirmation is precious. Today is the day we proclaim the confirmands officially as the children of God and as a professing member of the United Methodist Church.
Confirmation and baptism are the covenant to initiate the holy community for life. Therefore, your baptism and confirmation would only happen one time in your life. Like baptism, confirmation is an act that looks back with gratitude on what God’s grace has already accomplished when we do not know who God is; it is here and now an act of God’s grace; and it looks forward to what God’s grace will accomplish in the future. In other words, confirmation is by God’s grace.
You might hear many times during the Communion Service, “Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that is proof of God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, we [you] are forgiven.” We are indeed saved by faith in Jesus Christ through God’s divine grace. We could not live without God’s grace in the past, and we cannot live now and in the future without God’s grace.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, addresses God’s divine grace as the way of salvation. He addresses God’s divine grace with prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. Prevenient grace is God’s grace for those who do not know about God. So, God’s grace is free, and for everyone, whether they have sinned or not. The United Methodist church allows infant baptism believing the prevenient grace. Even though infants do not know how to confess their sin or have not sinned yet, they can be baptized by their parents and the holy community’s covenant with God. Infant baptism is a kind of prevenient grace.
Here is the other example of the prevenient grace. Sometimes we feel unfairness and injustice in the world. Sometimes we wonder why bad people still live well. As we do so, the Prophet Habakkuk also cried out to God, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3a). By the prevenient grace, God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Therefore, we have to love everyone, and even love our enemies; they are also under God’s prevenient grace. If God’s grace is only for the righteous people, are you sure that you are under God’s grace? Are you sure you are doing good always? That’s why it is God’s grace which is free and for all.
The prevenient grace empowers people who do not know about God yet to learn about God and God’s will. And then, their minds begin to ponder who God is, and why Christians are so nice to them. It is like those who are baptized without knowing God, try to know who God is. As with youth who received infant baptism start a confirmation class.
The prevenient grace leads to justifying grace. Justifying grace is not for everyone. It is for unique people who are distinguished as the children of God. It requires our own decision to confess our sin before God and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and the Savior. The Gospel of John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). So, justifying grace is open to everyone, but not for all: only for those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord.
In today’s scriptures, we find God’s voice toward Jesus, “you are my Son, the beloved; with you, I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). It happened when Jesus was baptized. After being baptized, Jesus began his public ministry. Baptism is a symbol to initiate into the faith community. In the other scripture we read today, we also find God’s voice, “This is my Son, the beloved; with him, I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). It is when Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop before he is crucified. God confirmed Jesus as God’s son before his particular ministry. Like that, the justifying grace is to justify us as God’s children before we start God’s ministry.
Justifying grace is the unique grace to embrace those who come to God, and confirm them as the children of God. Even though we did wrong things mistakenly, when we go back to God and confess our sins, God justifies us as the children of God again. It is like the parable story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He left his father’s house and spent his father’s property, and became one of the hungry who looked for food and was in need. But, when he regretted his wrongdoing, came back to his father’s house, and confessed his sins to his father, his father embraced him as his son.
It is like a decision to live as God’s children, not to live as the children of the world anymore. Today’s confirmation is not only by the confirmand’s own decision but also by God’s justifying grace. Through confirmation service, we proclaim the confirmands officially that they are the children of God and a professing member of our church.
Now, we might be curious about what the next step is after justified by grace. Those who are justified by the divine grace begin pondering how to live as the children of God. They try to know about God and God’s will more through the means of grace such as attending service, Bible study, faith community meetings or gatherings, prayers, fellowship, praise song, and even through nature and all the creatures. Finally, they may experience sanctifying grace.
Sanctifying grace leads us to live for others by loving God and loving our neighbors. It is like we act in justice, mission, and volunteer work for communities and states. We want to contribute to our church, community, country, and the world with our gifts, talents, and everything we have. If you have this kind of mind, you are under the sanctifying grace. It is like to turn our mindset from self-centered to God-centered. Therefore, through God’s divine grace, we could be the channel of blessings to restore, heal, and reconcile the entire world’s brokenness.
We all are under God’s divine grace, whether we know God or not. The prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace come to us sometimes step by step, but it is not only once in our lives. We may experience them multiple times in our lifetime. To experience God’s grace, we have to open our senses to God and open our minds to others. God’s grace comes to us through others as God’s grace goes to others through us because we are the channel of God’s grace.
Remember that we are the children of God. I encourage you to consider what God’s children’s lives look like and how to live as God’s children. The confirmand now stands at the starting point of their faith journey. Please encourage them to continue their faith journey in any circumstances and let us grow in faith together by God’s divine grace.
Thanks be to God. Amen.