Article XIX-Salvation-Restoration

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):

¶120 Salvation-Restoration

Christians may be sustained in a growing relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord. However, they may grieve the Holy Spirit in the relationships of life without returning to the dominion of sin. When they do, they must humbly accept the correction of the Holy Spirit, trust in the advocacy of Jesus, and mend their relationships.

Christians can sin willfully and sever their relationship with Christ. Even so by repentance before God, forgiveness is granted and the relationship with Christ restored, for not every sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit and unpardonable. God’s grace is sufficient for those who truly repent and, by His enabling, amend their lives. However, forgiveness does not give believers liberty to sin and escape the consequences of sinning.

God has given responsibility and power to the church to restore penitent believers through loving reproof, counsel and acceptance.

¶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 12:31-32; 18:21-22; Romans 6:1-2; Galatians 6:1; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2; 5:16-17; Revelation 2:5; 3:19-20.

This Article hits upon a topic that seems to have a lot of baggage within it. This is because it deals with the very real issue of sin in believers. There are some who think that if someone is truly in Christ, he or she will not sin again. Ever. There are others who believe that humans cannot help but sin and that it is merely a demonstration of God’s mercy and grace that there is a Church at all because of that fact. Reality lies in the middle.

We are called not to sin. We are called to be holy. And we know that we can fail at this high calling. When we do fail, we must repent and seek healing of our relationships with the people against whom we have sinned and God. There is no way around the fact that all sin requires repentance, especially if we are in Christ. God is not dumb and knows when we sin.

There is also the unfortunate reality that people who were once in Christ can walk away from him and renounce their salvation. I have numerous Christian friends who believe that a Christian can never lose their salvation, but that is not the issue. This is not one of losing salvation, but rather one of voluntarily giving it up. Again, God is not dumb. We may confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord, and even confess with our attendance on Sunday mornings that we believe, yet if our hearts and minds and actions and attitudes are far away from God, God will not ignore the reality of our lives.

The way I usually say it is like this: If our faith is not strong enough to change the way we live, it is not strong enough to save us. We are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. If we accept that call, we must endeavor to walk in the light. If we fail, we must repent. If we do not repent, we will not be forgiven. Without repentance and forgiveness, we are in the dark and only delude ourselves into thinking that our words or attendance mark us as in the light.

Sin is serious. God is equally displeased with sin in our lives before conversion as after conversion (and perhaps more so after conversion). We must confess, repent, and seek forgiveness for the sins in our lives to continue to have a relationship with God.

Think of it in terms of one of the most-used metaphors of our relationship with God in the Bible–a marriage. The wedding ceremony is our conversion and entrance into the fellowship of the Church. The marriage is every day after that. Just as in a human marriage, the wedding might have been perfect and wonderful and beautiful, but that does not mean the marriage will also be those things or continue. Sometimes people who are married grow apart. Eventually the wife confronts the husband and says, “You are having affairs. You are distant. Even when you are home, you are not here. Your attention and your energy are always directed somewhere else and at someone else. I don’t care what you say, you are not here.” And that would be the reality. If human beings can figure this out in our own marriages, do you not think that God may have to say the same things to people with their “relationship” with him?

Our love for God must be not in words only, or in attendance only. It must be active, faith-filled, and true.

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Article XV-Salvation-Justification

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):

¶116 Salvation-Justification

Justification is a legal term that emphasizes that by a new relationship in Jesus Christ people are in fact accounted righteous, being freed from both the guilt and penalty of their sins.

¶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. Psalm 32:1-2; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:21-26, 28; 4:2-5; 5:8-9; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 3:9.

Justification is good news. It means that our guilt is gone and our slate has been wiped clean. It means that we have been declared in the right by God. This is by virtue of being in relationship with Christ, not by what we have done or what we have learned.

The age-old adage is actually true when it comes to justification: It is not what you know, but who you know, that counts.

Philemon and Public Honor in the Church

philemon1Jesus said his followers ought to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  I always thought that was five parts serpent to one part dove.  The letter of Philemon is perfect proof of this concept.  Paul’s subject in this letter is a runaway slave named Onesimus.  He converted to the faith while in prison with Paul, and now has an opportunity to return to his owner, Philemon.  Philemon happens to be a Christian, converted under Paul’s ministry as well.

Paul writes this letter to try and convince Philemon to free Onesimus and treat him as a brother in Christ rather than as a slave.

Here is where the wise as serpents is applied to this letter.  The letter is not sent directly to Philemon.  Look at to whom this letter is addressed:

 From Paul, who is a prisoner for the cause of Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy. To Philemon our dearly loved coworker,  Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church that meets in your house.  May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

This letter was sent to specific people and the entire congregation that meets in their house, of which Philemon was a member.  Paul takes this issue of a runaway slave, something that was personal property, and throws it out into the public realm of congregational life.

Now, instead of this being an issue that Philemon can decide in the privacy of his own home, this becomes a an issue of Philemon’s public honor.  Will he claim his rights under Roman Law as a dishonored owner of a slave, or will he show his honor as a Christian to the congregation?  Everyone now knows this is the choice Philemon now has.

We surmise that Philemon did free Onesimus because his name shows up in two other places.  Colossians 4:9 has Onesimus as one of the deliverers of the letter.  And in Ignatius’ letter to the Church in Ephesus in around 108 AD Onesimus is identified as the bishop of that congregation.

Paul was wise in having this become an issue for the entire congregation, not just one person.  After all, Christian behavior and ethics are not personal.  When we are Christians, we are all a part of the same body.  When one of us suffers, we all suffer.  When one of us has suffering relieved, we all rejoice.

We would do well to remember this as we look at the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.

Matthew 18:23-35 and The Absolute Necessity of Forgiveness

PD-Gold-Bars-and-Coins17-300x199Most people who are at least a little familiar with Christianity will know that forgiveness is a necessity for us. We have all fallen short of who we were created to be, and therefore we all need forgiveness from God. This is a staple of Christian preaching, from the most gracious and positive preachers to the hellfire and brimstone preachers.

Jesus talks about our need for forgiveness, but he also places an equal emphasis on our need to forgive others. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to link the two together. Look at this parable:

23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt.31 When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

In this parable, Jesus uses money to illustrate how we are to forgive. We have an unpayable debt to God. In the parable Jesus uses theSilver-Morgan-Dollars-and-Walking-Liberty-Half-Dollars-300x208 amount of ten thousand talents. This amount, in today’s prices, would be $22,012,560,000. Twenty-two billion dollars! This is almost unimaginable to us today. In a world where most people lived on $1.68 per day this was an astronomical amount. Yet this is what God forgives us. Then, the one forgiven turns around and finds someone who owes him $168 and has him thrown into prison. Here is the amazing part of the parable when we apply it to God–because this man did not forgive the small debt (the sin against the other person), God took away his forgiveness and condemned the man he had forgiven!

Forgiveness is absolutely essential to the Christian life, and not just us being forgiven by God. If we truly want to experience God’s forgiveness, we have to extend the same grace to others who have sinned against us. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us no matter how many times we pray a sinner’s prayer, call out to God in repentance, serve the poor and needy, or do anything else in the name of Christ. If we harbor grudges and will not forgive others, we can never be expected to be forgiven by God.

That is straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Zephaniah 3:1-4 and The Impossibility of Legislating Morality and the Need for the Holy Spirit

bible-zephaniahKing Josiah of Judah was probably one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 22-23. He followed two horrible kings who led the people terribly astray from the Lord, Manasseh and Amon. But during Josiah’s reign great reforms were accomplished and the Lord even relented of the judgment he was going to send on Judah because of Josiah’s faithfulness. It always amazed me, therefore, how quickly the people fell back to worshiping false gods and doing detestable things after Josiah died.

As I read Zephaniah, I realized that his prophetic ministry was during the reign of Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). With that in mind, look at this passage:

Doom, obstinate one,
        the defiled one,
        the violent city.
She listened to no voice;
        she accepted no discipline.
She didn’t trust in the Lord,
        nor did she draw near to her God.
The princes in her midst are roaring lions.
        Her judges are wolves of the evening;
        they leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are reckless, men of treachery.
        Her priests pollute that which is holy;
        they do violence to the Instruction.

Josiah may have loved the Lord with all his heart, and he may have legislated the destruction of the high places, the temples to the false gods, and re-instituted the festivals to the Lord in a cleansed Temple, but he could not change the people’s hearts. The civil leaders, the princes and judges, were still corrupt. The religious leaders, the prophets and priests, were still false. It is no wonder that the nation reverted so quickly after Josiah died to its idolatrous ways. Josiah could change external actions, but not internal spirits.

The amazing thing about Josiah is that the Lord, full of grace and mercy, actually held off judgment during Josiah’s lifetime because of his faith. The rest of the nation had not repented of its sins, nor did it feel the need to repent, yet the Lord counted Josiah’s faith-filled life as worth holding back the coming judgment.

The only way for true reform is with the power of the Holy Spirit to change our lives, our hearts. And the only way to access the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Legislation morality or appropriate behavior will never work, as evidenced with Josiah. The corruption in people goes too deep once it is there. The people were merely waiting for Josiah to shuffle off this mortal coil so they could get back to the pagan ways they desired. True change can only come through God. This is a good reminded for anyone in any type of leadership at all. We can be as faith-filled as Josiah, and we can see tremendous blessings like he did, but if it was our wills superimposed on the people around us, it will not last. We need to seek the Lord for our people and help them learn to seek the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their own lives so real, lasting reformation can take place.

Hosea 4:1-3 and Our Connection to the Environment

Disaster-CollagePeople have a connection with the environment. This is obvious. We live on the earth, therefore we are connected to it. What happens in nature affects us (just look at the flooding in South Carolina) and what we do has an effect on nature (remember Exxon Valdez?). This link was written about in Genesis 3, when after the Fall of humans part of the curse involved the land. God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-18, “…cursed is the fertile land because of you; in pain you will eat from it every day of your life. Weeds and thistles will grow for you, even as you eat the field’s plants…”

This is not a one-time relationship established between people and environment, though. In Hosea God makes the link between people’s actions and the state of the environment:

Hear the Lord’s word,
        people of Israel;
    for the Lord has a dispute
        with the inhabitants of the land.
    There’s no faithful love or loyalty,
        and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, murder,
        together with stealing and adultery are common;
        bloody crime followed by bloody crime.
Therefore, the earth itself becomes sick,
        and all who live on it grow weak;
        together with the wild animals
            and the birds in the sky,
        even the fish of the sea are dying.

Because the people are living in a state of rebellion against God, even the land and animals are suffering. The people’s sins are disrupting the entire world around them. Please note, as well, these are not sins of exploitation of natural resources or pollution (although those are sins as well), but these are intensely personal sins. They are committed by individuals upon other individuals, and yet the earth is sick because of them.

If we would like to see the earth healed, we ourselves need to be healed of our sins. There are no private or personal sins that do not affect others, as this passage shows. All sin has effects on the world around us. Only when we are healed of our sins will we see nature thrive once again. In Christ all things are made new, and that includes us as well as creation, but creation will not be renewed if we are not.