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.