Friday, June 12, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited -- Part 11: Sanctification and Christian Perfection

Article XI—Sanctification and Christian Perfection We believe sanctification is the work of God's grace through the Word and the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God's will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one's neighbor as one's self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God. We believe this experience does not deliver us from the infirmities, ignorance, and mistakes common to humanity, nor from the possibilities of further sin. The Christian must continue on guard against spiritual pride and seek to gain victory over every temptation to sin. A person must respond wholly to the will of God so that sin will lose its power over them; and the world, the flesh, and the devil are put under their feet. Thus they rule over these enemies with watchfulness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

With the days of Annual Conference still ringing in my head I am drawn to a couple of my favorite times of the session. Ordination if my ultimate favorite time. Second is the time of the Historical Questions. For those who have not shared in the journey that is the United Methodist Historical Questions, this is a time when the Bishop asks those who are about to be ordained questions that have been asked of the ordained throughout the life of Methodism. They revolve around the theology and practice of ministry that are the hallmarks of Wesleyan theology. During the questioning all the people are asked if they are moving on toward perfection, and if they hope to achieve it in this lifetime. 

This is the question of sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace of God that continues to work in our lives as we grow in our love and response to the work of God in our lives. In this we find that we are not simply done as a Christian once we give our lives to Christ and are born again to use Wesley's language. Once we are justified through the grace of God in Christ Jesus our journey is by no means over. In fact it is just beginning in many ways.

Until the moment that I breath my last the work of sanctification will be ongoing. There will not be a day when I can simply sit back thinking I have mastery over sin and do not need to remain vigilant. Further, I will constantly be growing in my ability to live the life that Christ has shown me, as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Through it all we find a faithful Christian to be one who is on a quest not one who has figured it all out. Constant reaching and striving for more of who God is and who God is calling us to be in requires the grace of God. Sanctification and the pursuit of Christian Perfection remind us there is always more to learn and practice as we follow Jesus. Also, we are reminded the grace of God is present with us every step of the way.

Am I moving toward perfection, with help of God. Do I expect to achieve Christian Perfection in this lifetime, again with the help of God. The commitment of my ordination, more importantly the commitments of a person trying desperately to follow Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited--Part 10: Good Works

Article X—Good Works "We believe good works are the necessary fruits of faith and follow regeneration but they do not have the virtue to remove our sins or to avert divine judgment. We believe good works, pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, spring from a true and living faith, for through and by them faith is made evident."

The relationship between faith and works has been explored and debated for centuries and I am confident the post will not end the discussion. My hope is that it adds to the discussion in some meaningful way, and that it instigates conversation among you the readers. 

At the root of the faith and works discussion is whether or not we can earn a right relationship with God, or if it is something that is given to us. More plainly, can we earn our salvation? A quick review of the previous posts and the Scriptures reveals that there is only one way to experience justification and regeneration(salvation), at that is through the acceptance of the offer of grace through Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn that which God is offering to us through no effort of our own.

Still there is a danger in this understanding. It is easy to accept what God has done in Christ Jesus for us and think that is the end of the story. What if salvation is not the end of the the story but the major turning point of the story? The goal of following Jesus is not salvation, the goal is to be fully the person God has create and called us to be. For me, and perhaps for you this requires significant growth, especially after accepting the grace of God finding justification and regeneration. My natural or normal way of being in the world does not always reflect the life of the One who has called and restored me. As I grow in faith and understanding, however, my life, my works hopefully begin to reflect God more.

Our good works do not instigate regeneration, not at all, they are a product of a life that is forever different because of the work of God in our lives through Jesus Christ. Management of sin and elimination of judgment are not the goal of good works. Good works are the evidence that our lives are no longer driven by our sinful nature or lived in the fear of judgement. The works are proof that God is active in our lives, and it is no longer sin but it is Christ that is alive and at work in me.

May we be people that cultivate a relationship with God that producing good works. May we avoid doing good works hoping that it will produce a full relationship with God. I pray that my life and good works show evidence of a great God who by love and grace offered in Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming the hearts of all people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited--Part 9 Justification and Regeneration

Today we continue to look at some of the theological underpinnings of the United Methodist Church as we revisit the Articles of Religion.

Article IX—Justification and Regeneration: We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe regeneration is the renewal of a person in righteousness through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature and experience newness of life. By this new birth the believer becomes reconciled to God and is enabled to serve him with the will and the affections. We believe, although we have experienced regeneration, it is possible to depart from grace and fall into sin; and we may even then, by the grace of God, be renewed in righteousness.

This article feels like a direct continuation of the previous on reconciliation through Christ. We are reminded that it is only through our faith in Jesus Christ that are counted as righteous, not by good works. Further, that our reconciliation with God through Christ transforms who we are. The power of the Holy Spirit works in our lives to transform the way we think and behave in the world. We move from being self-focused to being focused on the the transforming grace and love of Jesus Christ which brings about hope, love and justice for all people in all places.

It has become commonplace to hold the claim of reconciliation with out showing the evidence of regeneration. Claims are made to be justified and reconciled yet the way we, note the we, struggle to live into the new creation that we are because of Jesus. The life of a follower of Jesus is not as much about being "saved" it is about the transformation of our lives to reflect the reign of God in our world. Understanding that our ability to live the transforming life requires our decision to receive the gifts of God's grace and love in Jesus Christ. To be justified thought Christ and reconciled to God through Christ. However, this is not the end of the story of God. The story of God in the world and in our would continues today as we live transformed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us, "Therefore is anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone and new has come." This begs the question that Steven Curtis Chapman asks in the above video, what about the change?

I so struggle with this. All too often I struggle to live a changed life. The level of commitment and intention is constant and can feel overwhelming. Yet when I do remember to stay connect with Christ, and that in Christ I am a new creation doors open for me to live the change. My movement is not in perfection rather it is toward perfection and only by the ongoing grace and love of God as shown in Jesus Christ can I continue to grow in my ability to live a transformed life. I am so grateful that the grace of God is never-ending. That even though I have begun the work of regeneration and fail, God's grace remains.

May we all embrace the love and grace of Jesus. May we open our hearts and lives to the transformation of the Holy Spirit that the reign of God would be experienced in and through us.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited—Part 8 Reconciliation Through Christ

Thanks for digging in for the next installment of this series on revisiting the Articles of Religion from the Evangelical United Brethren that became part of the United Methodist Church in 1968. We have now reached the eight article of 16. Yup that puts us at the halfway point. I am hopeful and covet your prayers that I will get back to more regularly posting. Not only so we can complete this series, but so another series can begin. Before jumping into today's post I want to invite everyone to check out another blog that my wife Sarah and I have started, it is our devotional journey through the year.
Article VIII—Reconciliation Through Christ
"We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The offering Christ freely made on the cross is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, redeeming man from all sin, so that no other satisfaction is required."

This is one of the shortest of the Articles, and in some ways the most simple. At the same time this is one that is most intensely struggled with. I remember back to the days in seminary when there was great discussion about atonement. All the different theories of atonement were, and are, often enough to create sharp differences and intense discussions. It seems particularly interesting to have this discussion in light of Wesleyan theology, and in respect to the Articles of Religion considering the language that is used. The Articles do not use the language of atonement, rather the focus in on reconciliation, that all people are reconciled with God through the free offering of Christ on the cross. Further, that no other satisfaction is required to be part of this reconciliation. So, for today the conversation will not be about atonement, rather it will be about journeying to a full and whole relationship with God.

As I see it this means a few important things. First, God is at work in the reconciliation. Not only is God at work, but God is the director of the work of reconciliation. There is an intense and passionate desire by God to have a complete and whole relationship with individuals and all creation that something had to be done to deal with the sin present in creation. It is completely possible God could have continued the patter of destruction and exile we find in the Old Testament. However, that is not the course of action God chose. Instead there is a path of reconciliation, and that path must run through Jesus Christ.

This leads to the second thought. It is through Jesus that all creation finds reconciliation. Throughout time, and currently, many have proposed a many paths to God understanding. To some extent I agree with this and by saying to some extent I am also saying there are aspects of the sentiment that I do not agree with. The best way to sum up my understanding on Jesus as the path for reconciliation is this. Jesus is the only way to a full relationship with God, and there are many paths to Jesus. In other words there is no one set way by which we come to Jesus, yet no matter the path to Jesus we must journey through Jesus to get to the fullness of God.

The final thought is to remember that nothing more than Jesus is needed for reconciliation. As we will see in coming posts, when we connect with the reconciliation offered by Christ to all creation we are never again the same. We begin to embody the way of life that Jesus modeled during the earthly pilgrimage. It is more than a matter of saying I have Jesus so who cares how I live. Reconciliation is not the end point of faith, it is a turning point. Perhaps better said, reconciliation is the point of reorientation of our mind, heart, soul and strength so that we may in greater ways embody Jesus teaching to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 14:30-31.
All the works of the faithful are important and are part of the re-oriented life found in Christ, however be clear it is only through Jesus that we are reconciled to God not by works.

A challenging question for me and whoever would engage it. What are the things other than Jesus am I trying to find my reconciliation with God? In the days of old we would call these things Idols, perhaps we can still call them that. As we move into the new year, I invite us all to lay down the idols of our lives and run to Jesus.