Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. —Isaiah 7:14
One of the most powerful stories of a life-changing encounter with Jesus in the New Testament is the story of the two disciples on the road to the town of Emmaus on the day of the resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). Although this is a unique story, it has become an example of the journey of grace for many—certainly for me.
What is amazing to me about the journey of grace is that God is working for and in our lives before we are aware of it. It is this grace that “goes before” (prevenient grace) that makes it possible for us to even begin thinking about God and being able to respond to Him. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus experienced that truth in a powerful way. Jesus was with the two of them on their journey before they even knew that it was the Lord (Luke 24:15-16). That is exactly what happened in my own life.
I was born into a traditional Lutheran family in Germany. Growing up, I learned Bible stories in church, my mother prayed with us, and my grandmother admonished us to live God-fearing lives. As a child, I enjoyed that and liked the stories. When I became a teenager, it was not so cool to go to church—and so I didn’t for some time until one day a friend invited me to a special church service of a newly developing Church of the Nazarene with lots of young people. The songs were sung with joy and enthusiasm. The preacher spoke in a way that touched my heart. That evening was followed by many more and other meetings of the youth group until one day I felt “my heart burning within me” (Luke 24:32) and I recognized that God was inviting me into a personal relationship with Him. I entrusted my life to Him. At that point, I thought it was the beginning of my journey of grace. In a sense that was true in that I began to follow Jesus more intentionally. However, as I looked back at my life, I became aware that God had been with me all of my life—in my family, in church, through people around me, and in countless other ways.
What helped to bring about the decisive change to follow Jesus in my life were moments when the Scripture was opened to me, just as Jesus did for the two disciples on the road. For me, that happened through preaching, Bible studies, Bible reading, devotional and theological literature, songs, testimonies, people giving me advice for life, and simple, personal conversations. The necessary information I needed to understand who God was and who I was before God had been revealed through the Bible. The Bible has become nourishment for my soul, just as God had said to Israel in Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
There are numerous examples in my life where Scripture helped me make important decisions. I had just finished my education in business management and was getting ready to enter my first “real job” when I felt the Lord calling me to pastoral ministry. Through Bible reading, sermons, and Bible studies in the youth group, I sensed God drawing me to consider studying for ministry. I was going through a battle. There had never been a minister in our family before—why should I become one? One evening, as I was getting ready for bed, I looked at the brazen cross that had been hanging over my bed since my confirmation in the Lutheran church when I was 14. I took it from the wall and turned it around. Inscribed on the back was the verse that was given to me at the confirmation service as a life-verse. To be honest, I never thought of that verse before that evening. Yet there I read, “The Master has come and is calling for you!” (John 11:28). Wow—God was speaking loudly to me!
The next day I talked to my parents about what I was going through and shared that I had the intention of preparing for ministry. Although my parents did not fully understand and they were hesitant to accept my decision, my mom said to me some time later: “When you were a little boy and your grandmother saw you playing one day with other kids she said to me, ‘Mark my words, this boy will become a preacher one day!’” My mother laughed at her remark but never forgot it; now it seemed to be coming true.
Scripture, in the context of a personal relationship with God and a community of faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the guiding principle on the journey of grace.
Another important aspect of the journey of grace is that nobody should travel alone. It is not a solo trip where a follower of Jesus is on his or her own. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were not alone—we read of two of them traveling together. The journey of grace is experienced as a community. The importance of this point must not be underestimated. God created us to be in communities, in relationships—with Him, with other people, and even with the rest of creation. Therefore, community is fundamental for the journey of grace. Think about it: we all need support, encouragement, help, exhortation, and even warning words from others who love us. And we must do the same for others in our lives, especially in the community of faith. The Bible emphasizes this point when it speaks about the “people of Israel” or “people of God,” the “body of Christ,” the “household of God,” and instructs us to live intentionally in that community to be a light to the world and make a difference. Together, we are called to participate with God in His mission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
When I look at my own journey of grace, it would have been impossible without the help and support of other people. Quite a few of them had become mentors to me at different stages of my life, and some even throughout most of my journey. It became clear to me that I was also called to accompany others on their journeys, some for a shorter time and others for a longer time—to help, encourage, or admonish them at times, all in order to help them on the journey to become stronger followers of Jesus.
I find one more important aspect of the journey of grace in this story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. After they had realized that it was Jesus who was with them and whom they had encountered, they could not keep that good news for themselves. They returned to Jerusalem to share what they had experienced with the other disciples. The journey of grace did not start with me—I was invited to join others on this journey—but it also doesn’t end with me! I must invite others to join in the journey of grace. This is not so much a demand but rather flows out of the joy experienced and the love received. I just cannot keep it to myself!
I am thankful that I have had the privilege of sharing my faith and my experience with other people in my life. One of the first people I shared my faith with was my own brother. He was skeptical in the beginning, but God was at work in his life. He met other Christians, among them a girl who would later become his wife. To be a part of that change in my brother’s life was one of the most exciting experiences for me. I began to understand that the purpose and goal of the journey of grace was not “for me to get to heaven.” Well, that was part of it and certainly one of the results of following Jesus, but the main goal was to be transformed into Christlikeness (sanctification) in order to share this good news with others so that they would experience the grace and love of God in the fullest measure.
God has created humanity in His image. Through sin, this image was corrupted and distorted. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, God has been on a mission to restore that image in us and to renew all of creation. And as He does that, He invites us (His people) to participate in that mission. That is the purpose of the journey of grace, and the goal is that we will experience God’s presence and glory in the renewed creation for all eternity.
The journey of grace is not a program of the church, nor is it a method to disciple others. The journey of grace is life with God! That is what I want my life to be—a journey of grace; I invite you to embark on that journey as well!
Klaus Arnold is global education and clergy development director for the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, March/April 2021
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.