Article XVIII-Salvation-Sanctification

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):

¶119 Salvation-Sanctification

Sanctification is that saving work of God beginning with new life in Christ whereby the Holy Spirit renews His people after the likeness of God, changing them through crisis and process, from one degree of glory to another, and conforming them to the image of Christ.

As believers surrender to God in faith and die to self through full consecration, the Holy Spirit fills them with love and purifies them from sin. This sanctifying relationship with God remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart to God, and empowers believers to please and serve God in their daily lives.

Thus, God sets His people free to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves.

¶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. Leviticus 20:7-8; John 14:16-17; 17:19; Acts 1:8; 2:4; 15:8-9; Romans 5:3-5; 8:12-17; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 12:4-11; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 10:14.

John Wesley called the doctrine of sanctification the “grand deposit” God gave the people called Methodist. It is this doctrine that sets us apart from other denominations. It is not because it is new or different. On the contrary. It is because we have been called by God to make it one of the hallmarks of our preaching and teaching.

As one can see by the many Scripture passages above that reference sanctification, this is not a new concept. Another way to describe the same idea is Christian maturity, although sanctification is more traditional.

Put simply, we believe that God can truly conform us to the image and likeness of Christ and enable us to live a holy life in his power here and now in this life. Full salvation from the power of sin is not beyond the power of God, nor is it beyond the purview of humans in this life. As we respond to God’s grace, we are gradually transformed from grace to grace and glory to glory. We see nowhere in the Bible where it states that God can only complete the good work in us at the moment of our death.

As well, we have witnesses of sanctified lives among us. There are numerous stories of people who were truly the salt of the earth. We know people who did truly perfectly love God and neighbors. And we pray that those ranks will increase.

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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.

Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.

2 John 6 and Loving God

Love God. That is the greatest commandment. It is one of the two commandments from which the entire Covenant is formed (the other being to love others). Truly, though, the commandment is a bit abstract. How do we love someone who is completely different from us, even in ways we cannot comprehend, and we have never seen?

John gives us a very simple and basic statement of what it means to love God:

This is love: that we live according to his commands. This is the command that you heard from the beginning: live in love.

That is it. To live in love is to live according to God’s commands. In other words, those that truly love God will obey him. Those that seek to love him more fully and completely will seek to obey him more fully and completely in their lives.

One representation of the Sermon on the Mount

One representation of the Sermon on the Mount

Remember, God’s commandments are all-encompassing in our lives. He tells us how we ought to act and react. And he tells us how we ought to treat others around us. The best summation of the commandments given to the followers of Christ are found here: The Sermon on the Mount.

Do not forget as well, that Jesus also gave a commandment to evangelize. I know people who claim to be entirely sanctified and refuse to share the Good News with other people. They think they perfectly love God and others and yet will not even invite other people to church. If they are going to break this fundamental commandment of Christ, then their love is not perfect.

God does not demand perfection from us. He expects growth. When we sin and fall short, we confess those sins and seek his help in truly repenting from them so we do not sin in that manner again. As we grow in our faith, we obey Christ more fully. We systematically overcome sins in our lives and obey him. The Holy Spirit, who lives in us, helps us to do this. The Church, the covenant community Christ set up on earth, is founded to help us do this. As we grow, we begin to love more deeply and fully. This leads to more obedience to Christ’s commandments. It is a beautiful image of a spiraling effect working its way from us to Christ.

Love God by obeying what he set before you. It is really quite simple, and he will help us to do just that.

Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

Hebrews 1:1-4 and Christmas Makes Christianity Different

20150802Every religion in the world has a list of rules that were given, in some form or fashion, from on high. Adherents to that religion then need to do the best they can to live up to those rules and laws. At the end (either one’s personal end or the end of all things), these people will be judged by how well they kept those laws. Whether it is Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or any other religion, this is how it works. The vision and understanding of what a reward is may be different, but the process is the same.

Christianity is different, though. It is different precisely because of who Jesus Christ is. He is the One True God who came in the flesh. Look at the introduction to the Book of Hebrews:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The reality of Christianity is that it is not a message that was given by human prophets nor is it a message that was mediated by semi-divine beings like angels or demigods. Instead, the One True God came to this world and gave us the truth of the Gospel. Because of God’s presence on earth in Jesus Christ, we now have access to the very presence of God in heaven.

God, through his ministry on earth, has opened the heavens to us. Instead of us trying to work our way to the presence of God through following a legal code, God comes to us and offers himself to us. The requirement on our part is that we offer ourselves to him and live for him. It is not a long list of rules and laws we are to follow, but rather it is a life of love for God and all other people that we are to live, and the presence of the Living God in our lives actually enables us to do this. We are not left alone, struggling to climb our way to God. God has come to us and offers us his grace and power in our lives to remain in his presence.

Christmas is about God coming to earth to eliminate the distance between us and him. Christmas is about the Son, the Living God, who took on flesh and dwelt among us so that we could dwell with him.

1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and Crimes Against Humanity

P12_0Crimes against humanity are usually categorized as war crimes that targeted civilians or genocide. They can happen in a time of war or peace, and are when there is a wholesale policy of dehumanizing a certain group of people and taking action against that group. The title for the crime is because we believe, as a human race, that when one part of us suffers in this manner, it is an attack and a crime against us all.

While Paul did not have in mind the International Criminal Court, he did detail a crime against humanity:

They don’t please God, and they are hostile to the entire human race 16 when they try to stop us from speaking to the Gentiles so they can be saved.

Paul was speaking here about the non-believing Jewish people in Judea who were opposed to the Gospel. By attacking the prophets, killing Jesus, and seeking to prevent the spread of the Gospel to Jews as well as Gentiles, they were hostile to the entire human race. This is because only the Christian Gospel message can truly bring healing and wholeness to the brokenness of the world and in each one of us.

In this line of reasoning, anyone who impedes the spread of the Christian message is an enemy of humanity and has committed a crime against humanity. This is not to say that those who oppose the spread of the Christian faith would ever be brought up on charges at the Hague. Our society has decided that it can do well without any one religion being promoted. Ironically, that is a crime against humanity as well, from this biblical point of view.

Do not be complicit in this crime. Do not be a co-conspirator with those who seek to keep the Christian message marginalized. Share your faith and the reason for the hope in you with others around you. Some may think you are weird or strange. Others may think you are judgmental and self-righteous. Yet those uninformed slanders are nothing compared to the charge of being an enemy of the entire human race. Do not commit a crime against humanity. Tell people about Jesus.