Article XIV-Salvation-New Life in Christ

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶115 Salvation-New Life in Christ

A new life and a right relationship with God are made possible through the redemptive acts of God in Jesus Christ. God, by His Spirit, acts to impart new life and put people into a relationship with Himself as they repent and their faith responds to His grace. Justification, regeneration, adoption, sanctification and restoration speak significantly to entrance into and continuance in the new life.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 8:15-17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:9-10.

This article is about who we are in Christ. It is the lead-in article for the next several that look at the different stages of the Christian life listed in the last sentence. As such, I will deal with those topics more fully in the following posts.

Yet this article is also especially poignant at this time in America. This past weekend there was a murder in Charlottesville, Virginia that was perpetrated by someone who almost certainly is a white supremacist. The current President of the United States seems unwilling to denounce this attitude and outlook. Tensions are rising high. Hate is growing.

And we have an Article that speaks to new life in Christ.

America is a young and diverse country. It is a proud country. It has a proud people. Yet her people are divided. When I was young, I was taught America was a melting pot, where a little from every part of the world came together and made something new. It was not true, but it was what I was taught. I thought it was true, because everyone I knew growing up looked like me, talked like me, and had similar families to my own. Then I began to see other groups within America, each with their own backgrounds. I came to know people my age who grew up with people who looked like them, talked like them, had similar families to them, and they weren’t like me. I began to understand that America was more of a stew pot, with chunks that do not melt together. Now I think the stove top has been left on high, and the pot is starting to boil over.

And we have an Article that speaks to new life in Christ.

Here is the dilemma. For Christians, our identity is supposed to be in Christ, and in Christ alone. We are not White Christians or Black Christians. We are not even American Christians. We are not English-speaking Christians. We are not Republican Christians or Democratic Christians or Independent Christians. We are not even Methodist Christians or Baptist Christians or Eastern Orthodox Christians or Roman Catholic Christians or Non-Denominational Christians. If we are in Christ we are new creations, and our identity is now Christian.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we take this teaching from the Bible seriously, no longer do we have a place for any kind of “identity politics” in our lives. I am not defined by my color, ethnicity, political persuasion, denomination, who attracts me, gender, or any of the like. I am Christian. I am a recipient of God’s grace in my life, and by that grace I am growing more into the likeness of Christ every day.

Christ is the original melting pot in which there are no divisions. When we come to faith in Christ, we are all the same new creation. We are all on equal footing before our God, as equal sinners sharing in an equal redemption by him. We still have a diversity of experiences and preferences, but that is what makes the Church so wonderful. It is a place where all of our cultures and contexts meet and are redeemed together–where the fullness of splendor God endowed creation can be on display with love and compassion. The Church is supposed to be the place where heaven and earth meet and human morals, culture, society are elevated to their highest potential.

The fact that we in the Church who call ourselves Christian have settled for less than this in our lives and the lives of our churches is sinful. We need to repent of being just as captive to the identities of this world as those outside of the Church. Moreover, we need to repent for when we have failed to be agents of the Kingdom in bringing peace and reconciliation, salvation and grace, to those around us.

Jesus Christ created a Church out of a very diverse group of people, people who under normal circumstances would literally want to kill each other (zealots and tax collectors, for one unheard of paring). If we as the Church cannot demonstrate that same kind of new identity found only in Christ, if we cannot love in the name of Christ those who go by our same family name of Christian, why would we expect the rest of the world to do what we cannot or will not?

I am not saying that a white supremacist driving his car into a crowd protesting hate is our fault, but I am suggesting that we have done a very poor job of demonstrating in real life that there is a viable option to hating different groups simply because they are different. How are people going to know there is a different way, the Way, if they cannot see it in our own lives?

If we are going to claim the name of Christian for ourselves, we must know that it comes at a high price. This is not usually how we phrase it, reminding ourselves of God’s free grace, yet Jesus was adamant that if we are going to follow him, we must deny ourselves daily. He also said, right after giving us the Lord’s Prayer, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are going to call ourselves Christian, we must remember that we can only do so because we have died with Christ and have been raised to new life. Our previous identity is dead. The new creation is here. “For me, to live is Christ,” said Paul.

As we pray and process what happened this past weekend, as we grieve and get angry at sin, let us remember that we have new life in Christ. That new life is equally shared with ALL CHRISTIANS from EVERY tribe, nation, language, and race upon the earth.

Leadership Lesson from the Trump Administration

wh-pressThe Trump administration has certainly moved with great effort and rapidity since taking office. I usually do not comment on political issues as such, but I was caught by one item that I could not shake.

The issue is the temporary halt to refugees and/or immigrants from seven specific countries. Many have labeled this a Muslim ban. Many have taken issue with that characterization. I am not going to comment on the policy decision in and of itself, but rather how the administration has reacted to the responses to it.

First, I am amazed that the administration would use the “lemmings” defense for justification of the executive order. This is also knows in my house as the “six-year-old” defense. It goes like this:

Everyone else is doing it. Why can’t we?

Rather than make a decision and stick to it, the administration pointed to all of the other administrations that have also enacted similar policies to try and justify its actions. This is actually not the mark of strong leadership. (I was also amazed at how the Obama team won its first election on the “Bob the Builder” platform of Yes we can!, but that is for another time.)

Actually, this response shows the real leadership lesson I wanted to point out. When a leader makes a decision, it is not just the decision itself that is debated or analyzed. It is the perceived character or intention behind the decision that is debated. The fact that other administrations may or may not have made similar decisions and did not face the same repercussions in the public sphere is exactly the point. It is not just the policy that is in question, it is the intention and character of the person creating the policy that is the concern.

For leaders at any level in any organization, whether it is civil service or the church, our character matters. Our character matters even more than our decisions at times. This is because we can make all the right decisions our entire lives, but if people suspect our character of being self-serving or antagonistic or hateful, they will not agree with the decisions on principle.

The Trump administration has reminded me of this leadership lesson every time I turn on the news. My character counts in my leadership and my decision making.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Article XIII-Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

jesus-between-crucifixion-and-who-was-crucified¶114 Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Christ offered once and for all the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. No other satisfaction for sin is necessary; none other can atone.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Luke 24:46-48; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:8-11; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-3; Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:13; Hebrews 9:11-14, 25-26; 10:8-14.

This Article is a very small statement of something that is at the core of Christian belief and theology. It is only through Jesus Christ that atonement for sin can happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only thing in all of history that can provide a way out of the mess of the Fall that we have in creation. Whether someone’s primary concern is guilt over sin or fear over death, Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problem.

Even in Christian circles this seems to be an issue that is not always practically accepted. There are Christian traditions that focus on evangelism to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “out sharing your faith and winning souls to Christ.” Being involved in evangelism is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on social causes to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “on the side of the poor and marginalized.” God does care for the poor, but protesting unjust actions or actively advancing a social program is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on fasting and attending multiple services at the church to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you do not “keep to the fast or attend all the services.” Fasting and corporate worship can help one grow closer to God but they are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on not drinking or smoking or dancing to the point of questioning your salvation if you drink or smoke or dance or go to the movies or read Harry Potter. Any food or drink can be harmful (sugar is worse than much of what we worry about) and any activities can be taken to an extreme and pull us away from our commitment to God, but abstaining from these actions are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

This Article reminds us of the Good News that the work of salvation has already been accomplished for us. We do not need to earn it or work hard enough to be worthy of it. It is a gift. We have to accept it.

Article XII-Humankind-Good Works

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶113 Humankind-Good Works

Good works are the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, but works cannot save us from our sins nor from God’s judgment. As expressions of Christian faith and love, our good works performed with reverence and humility are both acceptable and pleasing to God. However, good works do not earn God’s grace.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 5:16; 7:16-20; Romans 3:7-28; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 1:8-9; Titus 3:5.

In this Article, we try to show the distinction between living a Christian life and how we are saved. Free Methodists stand firmly in the tradition of the Reformation and boldly declare that we are saved by grace alone. Yet we also know that this salvation is for a purpose, and it is to live a holy life in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we also boldly proclaim that our lives ought to exhibit good works because of our faith.

faithworksTo put this very simply, and to try and avoid a lot of debate on the nature of good works and faith, we believe that we need faith in Christ to be saved, but it must be a faith that is strong enough to change the way we live. If we say we have faith but continue to live a life as if we were never brought into contact with God in Christ–never having an experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives–then it really is a faith in words only. If my faith does not prompt me to yield my life to God and allow God to transform me from the inside out into the new creation God wants me to be, then it is not a faith that is worth anything.

John Wesley said essentially the same thing when he said that we are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them. Our good works become the result of our saving faith as we are transformed more fully into the image and likeness of Christ.

Chapel at Central Christian College


I had the honor and privilege of preaching in Chapel on Wednesday morning this week. This is the service. The sermon begins around fourteen minutes into the service. The prayers and the poems before the sermon were really good as well. If you have time for this service, enjoy!

Article XI-Humankind-Law of Life and Love

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

greatest_command_button¶112 Humankind-Law of Life and Love

God’s law for all human life, personal and social, is expressed in two divine commands: Love the Lord God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. These commands reveal what is best for persons in their relationship with God, others and society. They set forth the principles of human duty in both individual and social action. They recognize God as the only Sovereign. All people as created by Him and in His image have the same inherent rights regardless of gender, race or color. All should therefore give God absolute obedience in their individual, social and political acts. They should strive to secure to everyone respect for their persons, their rights and their greatest happiness in the possession and exercise of the right within the moral law.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 22:35-39; John 15:17; Galatians 3:28; 1 John 4:19-21.

This Article describes how we as Free Methodists ought to look at everyone in creation and how we ought to treat them. It also reminds us how we are to fulfill our civic duty in the countries in which we reside. In America, we have an election tomorrow and this Article reminds us that Christ wants us to make our decisions out of love–love for God and love for others.

It is important to remember that we are called to love. It is too easy to forget that God calls us to a life of love, not a life of being right. It is easier to be right on certain issues than to offer love to others, especially ones we think are completely wrong on certain issues. Imagine how the original apostles felt. Matthew was a tax collector, a collaborator with Rome, and Simon was a Zealot, a terrorist committed to destroying Rome and all who stood with them. These two were brought together in Christ. Simon, Andrew, James, and John were blue collar fishermen, and Philip and Nathaniel were students of Torah, the white collar trade of the day, and these six were brought together in Christ.

If we are not living in a love for God and a love for others, we are not living in Christ. It does not matter what we profess to believe. If we do not have love, we have nothing.

Article X-Humankind-Free Moral Persons

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶111 Humankind-Free Moral Persons

God created human beings in His own image, innocent, morally free and responsible to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. By the sin of Adam, humans as the offspring of Adam are corrupted in their very nature so that from birth they are inclined to sin. They are unable by their own strength and work to restore themselves in right relationship with God and to merit eternal salvation. God, the Omnipotent, provides all the resources of the Trinity to make it possible for humans to respond to His grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. By God’s grace and help people are enabled to do good works with a free will.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Genesis 1:27; Psalm 51:5; 130:3; Romans 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:8-10.

This Article gives a clear picture of how Free Methodists understand the Fall of humanity. Adam is used as a placeholder for our first parents, as the Scripture in Genesis 3 clearly indicates that both parties were present and participants in the sin of turning away from God and towards themselves.

From here, though, we have a different understanding of the current state of humanity than some Christians. First,there are some who believe that we have inherited Adam’s guilt for this Fall. This is not what our Article states. It says we are corrupted and inclined to sin. Adam was guilty of his sins and I am guilty of mine. I do not get punished for the sins of my family members, and I do not get punished for the sins of Adam. Because Adam’s sin resulted in a broken relationship with God and banishment from Eden, I bear the consequences of his sin, just as a baby born addicted to any controlled substances has to live with the consequences of that sin. The baby is not guilty of the sin of the parents, but the effects of the sin are unavoidable to the next generation. So it is with the Fall.

Second, there are some within the Church today who believe that the original image and likeness of God is totally lost and destroyed by the Fall. In this state, there is no way any human being could choose to follow God. This is because humans, in this line of thinking, are completely and totally depraved people. It is only through God choosing to save these individuals that they experience redemption and salvation, the ability to choose a life for and with God. Because God has to work in this way, almost choosing which individuals to redeem, the idea is that humanity does not have the ability to make our own choices and thus we are foreordained by God to be saved. Free Methodists do not believe this, either.

Instead, we believe that God “provides all the resources of the Trinity to make it possible for humans to respond to His grace…” In other words, we are depraved individuals left to our own devices. Yet God does not leave us alone, even in our sinful state. This is the beginning of God’s grace in our lives as humanity. God gives us grace to counteract the banishment of Eden just enough to enable us to make a “free and responsible” choice to follow God or not to follow, just as Adam and Eve had. Technically, since this grace comes even before salvation (because it is the grace that helps us to make a choice for salvation) we call it previenent grace. Previenent means to go before something, and this is the grace that goes before salvation. God gives this grace to all of humanity even though we are born outside of Eden and the unbroken relationship with God.

Because of God’s grace in our lives, we have the same choice we can make as Adam and Eve did, and we can choose to follow God, accept even more of his grace and mercy in our lives, and experience the reality of salvation–a right relationship with him and a life that never ends. This is all by God’s grace and our response to that grace in our lives. We do not earn it, nor is it a way in which we “merit eternal salvation.” All we do is say Yes to God’s presence in our lives and we experience this reality.

calvin-free-will