Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Is There a Connection between Perceptions of God's Grace and Spiritual Maturity?

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Is There a Connection between Perceptions of God's Grace and Spiritual Maturity?

Article excerpt

Grace is complicated. For example, the construct of grace can be found in various faith traditions. Within Islam, there are the five pillars of faith (El Azayem & Hedayat-Diba, 1994). One of the five pillars involves fasting during the month of Ramadan. This fasting is for the purpose of fostering compassion for the poor and fostering gratitude to God for His good gifts (El Azayem & Hedayat-Diba, 1994). Another of the pillars involves giving alms, being gracious to those who are in need. Although God's grace can certainly make one compassionate and grateful and God's grace is certainly unmerited (McMinn, 2008), it is interesting to note that fulfilling the five pillars of Islam is assumed to produce future rewards (El Azayem & Hedayat-Diba, 1994).

Within Hinduism, grace is considered the equivalent of God taking up residence in the human heart (Hanshaw, 2010). It is further assumed that the community will benefit from this personal transformation. Fulfilling moral and religious duties will allow the individual to more fully receive God (Hanshaw, 2010). Again, it is assumed that good living will lead to a good life, a life filled with grace.

In contrast, Christian theology seems to put more of an emphasis upon God as the causal and mediative agent when it comes to grace. Also, Christian grace can be construed in various ways. In particular, John Wesley distinguished between three types of grace: prevenient grace, salvation grace, and sanctifying grace. "These three categories correspond to the three essential Wesleyan doctrines of original sin, justification by faith, and holiness of heart and life" (Rakestraw, 1984, p. 195).

Prevenient grace is the free grace that is given to all, no matter what. John Wesley looked at this type of grace as grace that could be given to anyone, even someone of a different religion because God loves everyone, and everyone deserves his grace (Gorman, 2013). Salvation or justifying grace is redemption through what God has done for everyone. While prevenient grace is free for all, salvation or justifying grace needs people to be committed to God by faith (Rakestraw, 1984). This type of grace is still free, but needs more work and commitment from the individual (Rakestraw, 1984). "By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favor of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God" (Rakestraw, 1984, p. 197-198). Sanctifying grace is God's work in one's life that increases one's resemblance to Christ. For this type of grace, Wesley held Christians to the highest standard of holiness and becoming more and more like Christ (Rakestraw, 1984). Wesley coined the term "Christian perfection," meaning that Christians must aim to be most like Christ (Rakestraw, 1984, p. 200).

Bassett et al. (2013) has suggested that one of the most amazing things about grace is that during a time when psychologists seem to be intrigued by spirituality, there has been so little empirical work done with the construct of grace (a construct which is so central to one of the major faith systems in the world: Christianity). One early study on grace attempted to measure its relationship to guilt, sin, and self-functioning (Watson, Morris, & Hood, 1988). This early work found that experienced grace predicted less depression and hopelessness.

Most recently, there have been three efforts to assess grace orientation as a dispositional construct: the Grace Scale (Payton, Spradlin, & Bufford, 2000), the Richmont Grace scale (Watson, Chen, & Sisemore, 2011), and the Amazing Grace Scale (Bassett et al., 2013). Recently, all three of these scales were included in the same study (Bufford, Blackburn, Sisemore, & Bassett, 2015). There were moderately strong positive correlations between the three scales. However, the scales varied in how they connected constructs like religious well-being, coping, and childhood experiences. …

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