There are many ways the body of Christ talks about how to do life with Jesus. This is evidenced by the number of denominations that exist and will continue to exist until Christ returns and we learn that all of us were right about some things and wrong about many others and that the one thing we all have in common is our desperate need for a Savior. But of the many denominations there is a reason I love being a Methodist in the Wesleyan tradition.
I love being a Wesleyan Methodist because when we are our best and connected to our roots we believe passionately that God is not done with any of us yet.
In theological terms we call this the work of sanctification, or growing in holiness, or Christian Perfection. It is, for Wesleyan’s, the thing which sets us apart from many other ways of following Jesus, insisting that salvation is holistic and ongoing. The doctrine of Christian Perfection, rightly understood, insists (even against evidence to the contrary) that the root of sin in all of us can be put to death. We can become not better people but new people through and by the grace of God (2 Cor. 5:17).
This grace of God is to us not just a gift from God that forgives us of our wrong doing but also an empowerment by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead to resist the devil, flee from sin and change our very natures. But why do I need that? Because we believe as Methodists that all of us are born in sin and every facet of the image of God within us has been effaced. Our will, our intellect, our desires, our reason – all of it – have been dulled by sin. We are all broken and in desperate need of a Savior.
This is why we are such a grace-filled church. We don’t expect you to be perfect. We don’t expect you to come to us without struggles. We don’t expect you to be without desires that elicit shame and guilt or that fly in the face of God’s perfect plan. We don’t expect you to be cleaned up because all of us come to God as beggars in need of grace.
But we don’t stop there. Or should I say, when we are at our best as Wesleyan Methodists we don’t stop there. Rather, we claim that while Jesus accepts us just as we are he did not die that we should remain as we have been. We hold out before one another a vision of being transformed from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). We insist that holiness, or growing in the likeness of God, is the destiny for each and every person called of God. We confess our great need for sanctifying grace to change our hearts – our will, our intellect, our desires, our reason – so they they will conform more to the image of God tomorrow than they have today.
And because salvation is holistic, it encompasses not just our mind and soul and heart but also our bodies. What we do with our bodies matters to God. We have been bought with a price and are not our own to do with as we please (1 Cor. 6:20).
I love that as a Wesleyan Methodist I am never told that my desires are always right and holy but that they must daily be surrendered on the altar of Self. I must daily offer up my self to the God who is not finished with me yet or with any of the people I encounter whether they be my wife and kids or my congregants or the random person whom I meet in the store.
The degree to which transformation can occur in me and in which God can be glorified through that process is the degree to which I agree with God that what He desires trumps my desires, what He wills trumps my will, what He thinks trumps my thoughts, what He reasons trumps my reason. For us Wesleyan Methodists, that is what it means to die to self, take up our cross daily, and live as slaves to righteousness.
I need that vision of the gospel for my own life and I believe the world is crying out for it, too. Wesleyan Methodists, at their best, offer a hope of transformed lives from the inside out which then transforms the world into places where the holiness of God is made manifest. Should we as a church ever cease to boldly proclaim such a vision, I, and I’m sure many others, will not cease being Wesleyan Methodists. Rather, the church will have ceased to be what Jesus died to create and the Holy Spirit calls out from among the world.