This isn’t anything I would want to be unique about St. Mark’s Church. This is for every parish, every congregation of Christ’s people, and for the communities they serve. For God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:4-6).
God’s grace and God’s love are practically synonymous. If grace is, indeed, “God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot do on our own,” as Dallas Willard defines it. And if, as St. John writes, “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). Then we can trust that God’s primary and continuing activity is to love us. We experience his love as grace. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical” (ST I, 25, 5, ad 1).
Living in this love, this act of God, this grace, we live by this love which is grace. We act from this grace, which is love, growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 3:18), “for grace was given to each of us . . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:7, 13).
Here I may profitably quote Willard again. “To ‘grow in grace’ means to utilize more and more grace to live by, until everything we do is assisted by grace. Then, whatever we do in word or deed will all be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17). The greatest saints are not those who need less grace, but those who consume the most grace, who indeed are most in need of grace—those who are saturated by grace in every dimension of their being. Grace to them is like breath” (Renovation of the Heart, 93-94).
This connects with a previous quotation in this series from William Temple, “The divine love, which is the Holy Ghost, is . . . a pervasive atmosphere in which we may dwell, and which we may breathe, so that it becomes the breath of our lives.”
We breathe God’s love; we breathe God’s grace. Breathing God’s love and grace we learn, quite naturally (or, rather, supernaturally) to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).
This love, this grace, is the active power, energy, or fuel that shapes and sustains us into Christlikeness, fulfilling our destiny as human beings created in the image of God, fallen in Adam, but raised in Christ and “being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The regular means of grace (Mass, Daily Office, and the other Sacraments) and judicious practice of classic Christian spiritual disciplines (solitude, silence, and fasting; worship, study, and service) help us interact with and depend upon the unending, infinite power of God’s love by which we shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).
By faith and grace we live in the love of God by the love of God. By faith and grace, we will also live for the love of God.
To be continued and concluded.