Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:18-29.
Devotion Focus: Ephesians 2:1-10.
What is a toddler’s favorite word? Statement? Question? Demand!?
(say it with me!)
It is fitting to answer that question in context this week. Why are the people called Methodists called to the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? Why are the people called Methodist living out our of love God through our love of others?
Why? Because – deep within our hearts – the Spirit of the Living God is stirring an ever-greater awareness of humanity’s need for divine grace. And we, fellow friends and Methodists, can and are called to be the vessels that pour out grace upon grace to answer humanity’s need.
All humanity is created in the imago Dei – the image of God. Because of Original Sin humanity fell away from the imago dei. It is only by God’s grace that we will recover the image of God in which we were made. Living in God’s grace necessarily draws us to live in accordance with God’s will.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, understood God’s grace acting upon an individual and an individual responding to God’s grace in a participatory manner writing, “God does not continue to act upon the soul, unless the soul reacts upon God.”*
When an individual first experiences God’s prevenient grace – that grace that goes before us – he or she has the choice to either accept or deny God’s grace because, for Wesley, grace never compels. Wesley believed that until a person responded to God’s grace, he or she “remains a willing servant of sin, content with the bondage of corruption; inwardly and outwardly unholy.”** Nevertheless, through grace, “God touches the heart of him [her] that lay asleep in [the] darkness” that is sin.*** The sleeper cannot awaken him or herself, but once awakened, the sleeper can cry out to God for salvation. This ‘crying out’ is the soul reacting upon God – this ‘crying out’ is the soul responding to God’s prevenient grace.
Justifying grace follows prevenient grace. Whereas prevenient grace stirs the “sleeping” sinner, in justification – which, for Wesley was a ‘double-moment’ of justification and regeneration – we are, in the same instant – made right and made new before God. Wesley writes, “God in justifying us does something for us: in begetting us again (regeneration) he does the work in us”…justification takes away “the guilt of sin” whereas regeneration takes away “the power of sin.”****
Though justified and regenerated, individuals are susceptible to “backsliding” into sin. As Wesley conceives, Original Sin leads to actual sin, which has two branches: outward sin and inward sin. Outward sin is the sin physically committed, whereas inward sin is the inclination or disposition to sin. Inward sin is not a loss of faith, but outward sin is because committing outward sin does not yield the fruits of faith. Being made new through regeneration breaks the power of sin and causes an inward, spiritual change, which necessarily fragments the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.
God’s sanctifying grace is the grace that draws us towards holiness throughout our life. Sanctification saves an individual from the “power and root of sin and restores [him or her] to the image of God.”***** While we seek complete restoration to the imago dei by way of entire sanctification, Wesley prescribes we wait in and be strengthened by the means of grace – those “outward signs, words or actions ordained by God to be the ordinary channels whereby [God] might convey to [all] preventing, justifying or sanctifying grace.”****** Chief among the means of grace are prayer, searching the Scriptures, and receiving the Lord’s Supper as they are attested to in Scripture; however, these are only the ordinary means of grace meaning that God still speaks and encounters individuals in extraordinary ways.
I am convinced I have experienced God’s grace through hearing Widor’s Toccata, through eating a piece of fried catfish at a church fundraiser, and through assuring a young girl that her infant sister was indeed – at that very moment – in Jesus’ arms.
As United Methodists – as members of Christ’s universal church and “in the midst of a sinful world – through the grace of God, we are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We become aware of the presence and life-giving power of God’s Holy Spirit…As servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer” (¶124 BOD 2016).
We work out our salvation through and because of the moments of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Through participating in this process – this way of grace with God – we are fully restored to the imago dei. By living in response to what God has done for us through this process – in reponse to what God has done for us through grace! – we alert those around us to their need for divine grace. It’s is God’s desire and dream that our message and witness be one of hope rather than condemnation. What God has done and is doing for us, God will and desires to do for others. It is our privilege and pleasure to join God in God’s grace-filled literal life-saving work.
Prayer: “I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved and free, in awe and wonder to recall his life laid down for me, his life laid down for me. As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends.”*******
*“The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God,” John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, III.3.
** Ibid., I.7.
*** Ibid., II.1.
**** Ibid., Number 2.
***** “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, II.2.
****** “The Means of Grace,” John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, II.1.
******* “I Come With Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 617.