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 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.

Article XVI-Salvation-Regeneration

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):

¶117 Salvation-Regeneration

Regeneration is a biological term which illustrates that by a new relationship in Christ, one does in fact have a new life and a new spiritual nature capable of faith, love and obedience to Christ Jesus as Lord. The believer is born again and is a new creation. The old life is past; a new life has begun.

¶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. Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 5:24; Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; Titus 3:4-5; 1 Peter 1:23.

The last Article we had dealt with salvation as justification, which is a legal term and speaks to our guilt of sin and freedom from judgment because of that guilt. This Article deals with salvation as a brand new creation. This is important. Our salvation is not just about moving from guilty to not guilty. That is one, vital aspect, but it is not all there is.

Regeneration reminds us that our salvation is also about moving from death to life. All of creation is dying. Many insightful people have said that the moment we are born we begin to die. The arrow of time for physicists is entropy, the natural process of decay in the universe. Everything and everyone dies. Salvation is the antidote to that seemingly inevitable process.

Because a saving relationship with Jesus Christ involves new creation, we human beings are restored to our immortal selves we were supposed to be. Obviously, this statement can be argued against very vehemently, since all of the Christians who have ever lived still died. Yet we hold by faith this very important concept that without Christ, without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in our lives because of salvation, we are spiritually dead and condemned. With the regeneration that comes from salvation, we have passed from death to life and even though our bodies still hold the consequences of sin in them, resulting in them either burning out or rusting out and ceasing to function, our spirits have been awakened. Because our spirits are now alive in Christ we will continue on long after our bodies do not, and we will receive a new body that will never perish. Regeneration leads directly to one of our later Articles on resurrection and eternal life.

Practically speaking, this means that if we are in Christ, we do not just revel in the idea that we are now forgiven and not guilty. We also know that we have been given a new life in Christ and we are called to live out that new life by the standards Christ has set. We are called to live as if we truly are citizens of the New Jerusalem here and now. And we are called to live as faithful ambassadors of the King whom we serve.

Revelation 19:7-8 and the Bride of the Lamb

0c4b598464e74cf48cf92730223e6c5aGood guys wear white.  This is true in old westerns where the good guy always had a white hat, and it is true in Revelation.  If someone is wearing white, they are a part of the covenant people of God, an angel, or Christ himself.  Look at these verses towards the end of the book:

Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was given fine, pure white linen to wear, for the fine linen is the saints’ acts of justice.

The bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, is the Church.  She wears white because she has been redeemed.  Yet there is more to the white clothes than just being redeemed.  The wedding clothes she has were given to her.  By whom?  By God.  This is something called a divine passive voice in writing.  Jewish authors would write in passive voice (as opposed to active voice) if they were talking about something God does so they could communicate the idea without writing God.  This is one of those instances, since John was one of the original apostles, and thus Jewish.

So, the garments were given by God, yet they are white because of the saints’ righteous deeds.  There is a sense of cooperation here.  God gives grace to us, then it is up to us what we do with that grace.  Since grace is really a short-hand way to speak of God’s power and presence in our lives through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the framework looks something like this:

God gives us his presence in the Holy Spirit, and it is up to us to allow the Spirit to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  When we do this, we become more and more holy and accomplish righteous deeds.  If we do not allow the Spirit to transform us, we reject God’s grace because we have turned our backs on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another wedding story in the Bible that helps illustrate this point.  In Matthew 22 Jesus tells a parable of a wedding feast.  The guests would not come, so the servants are sent out to invite anyone they can find to come.  When the king is walking through the party, he sees a man without a wedding garment and has him thrown out.

My initial thoughts on this parable were always confused.  People don’t usually walk around carrying their best clothes in case they might be invited to a wedding that very hour!  But knowing how weddings worked at that time and in that culture makes perfect sense of the parable.  It was the duty of the groom’s father to provide the clothes to all the guests of a wedding.  When the servants invited people and brought them to the party, they gave them the clothes from the king to wear.  This man refused to wear the clothes provided.  In essence he was saying to the king, “I’ll accept your invitation and I’ll feast at your banquet receiving from you all the wonderful aspects of being at the party, but I’ll do it on my own terms.  Don’t expect me to conform to your desires.  I’m just here for what I can get out of it.”

God gives the garments.  God gives his Spirit, his grace.  It is our responsibility to put the garments on, to allow the Spirit to transform us.  It is not enough to be invited to the wedding feast; we must fully accept all that God has for us, which includes working with him to change and renew us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

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.

1 John 2:1-6 and Christmas Gifts and Holy Living

71cc576fe952ab951258150e0766797dChristmas is in a few short days, and as Christians we try to remember that the best Christmas gift was Jesus himself. We have signs and bumper stickers saying Keep Christ in Christmas and Jesus is the Reason for the Season. It is all true. As a sign I saw yesterday proclaimed, Mary wrapped the first Christmas present. Jesus’ person is the best Christmas gift, and a holy life for us is the second best gift. Look at what John wrote:

My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.

Jesus is our advocate before the Father if we fall into sin. Gift #1. We do not have to fall into sin. Gift #2.

When we try, with God’s grace and love, to keep his commandments, we are enabled to do so. In fact, John goes so far as to say that God’s love becomes perfected in us when we try to keep the commandments. If we fall short and still sin, we can thank God for Gift #1. But what we cannot do is cease trying to live a holy life. Christ is our redemption so that we can live a holy life. When we cease trying to live how God would have us live, how Jesus lived, then the truth is not in this person, according to John.

As we get closer to Christmas, thank God for Jesus Christ, Christmas Gift #1. And ask him to help you with holy living, Christmas Gift #2.

James 2:26 and Dead Faith

2013_08_FaithI have lived in many places over the years and every once in a while I end up in a community that is adamant that Christians can’t have “works” because we are saved by faith alone.  Apparently those Christians have never read James.  It would not be surprising.  Martin Luther, that venerable reformer, wanted to remove James from the Bible (why not, he got rid of several Old Testament books!) but was prevented from doing so by others.  James didn’t fit his theology of sola fides or faith alone for salvation.  Here’s why:

As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.

That is pretty clear and straight to the point.  If you want to read it in context, here is a link.  In fact, the only place the phrase faith alone occur in the Bible are in James 2:24:

So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.

Luther was fighting against a corrupted system in the Roman Catholic Church of his time in which there was no discussion of faith, but only a system in which people worked for God to work off their sins.  His message of salvation by faith alone was a radical return to the idea that God saves us by grace so that we can live a Christian life.

Christians today who say there is no place for works in their lives take Luther’s statements (consciously or unconsciously) and try to apply them to a radically different situation.  They would do well to reexamine James, because James has the antidote to much of what is wrong in many Churches in the West today.

Faith is not really faith if it is not strong enough to lead to a transformed life.  This is because faith is not an agreement to a group of ideas about God.  It is a relationship with the Living God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–that leads us to be transformed step by step, grace by grace, and glory by glory, into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  If there is no transformation, if there is no changed life, if our lives do not increasingly look like Jesus, there is no faith.

John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, said that we are not saved by works, but neither can we be saved without them.  If we say we believe in Jesus Christ, but our lives do not show that belief, what does it say about our profession of faith?

Does this mean that in order to say we have faith we must be perfect?  Absolutely not!  If we have faith we must struggle against sin and seek to do God’s will, obeying Christ’s commands–for if we believe in him we acknowledge him not only as our Savior, but also our Lord.  We obey our Lord or we are unfaithful.  As we try to live the life Christ calls us to live we seek his help in fulfilling his calling upon our lives.  God gives even more grace to those who pray for it so they can live the Christian life.  This transformation occurs over time, as our relationship with God grows deeper.

Do not be drawn away by the idea that we are saved by saying we have faith alone.  Faith is not faith unless it results in a transformed life.