Perfected in Love
Who then is a Methodist? In the words of John Wesley, himself, A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion forever!”
The core of who we are is the belief that we are connected to a loving, just, and merciful God in ways that our heart, soul, and mind are brought together as one.
Wesley called people to a deeply personal faith in Christ, to accept God’s love them, and to reciprocate God’s love. He taught and preached that we must trust in Christ for our salvation and be born anew. But Wesley was also clear that this was not the end of faith, but only its beginning and foundation. Wesley taught that growing in Christ, moving to sanctification, also involved loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Yet so many of us Christian’s live as if we have only half the Gospel.
On one end of the religious spectrum we have Evangelical Churches whose mission was to bring people to Jesus and to be more personally pious–“don’t smoke, drink or chew or hang around with those who do”. When it comes to the social gospel the focus is always inward.
On the other end, there are some churches that focus so much on changing the world that Christ becomes an after-thought.
Rich Stearns, the head of World Vision and an evangelical Christian, wrote a terrific book, a critique of modern evangelicalism, called The Hole In Our Gospel. One of the quotes I love from it says, “We must move beyond an anemic view of our faith as something only personal and private, with no public dimension, and instead see it as the source of power that can change the world.”
The key to the revival Wesley and the early Methodists led was that they held both sides of the gospel together. They preached a personal faith, a desire for holiness of heart, and the pursuit of spiritual disciplines by which God’s Spirit would restore the image of God in us.
But they also believed that if God were restoring us into his image then he would be restoring us to be more loving to our neighbors, giving us a heart of compassion, charity and mercy so that we would look at the world and see the brokenness, hurts and needs, and we would seek to address these needs as God’s instruments.
This dual emphasis on both sides of the gospel is very, very important to understanding Methodism. While it is not unique to Wesley and the Methodists, it is a defining mark of the Methodist revival. This two-sided gospel is just basic biblical Christianity.
Wesley ultimately developed what became known as the General Rules of the Methodist people–three simple rules that were meant to be memorized and to remind Methodists of a pattern of life that would help us love God and neighbor.
The rules can be summarized as: 1) Do what helps you grow in love for God.
2) Do no harm and avoid evil.
3) Do all the good you can. Avoid evil, do all the good you can as often as you can to everyone that you can, and pursue spiritual practices or means of grace that help us grow in love with God–prayer, scripture reading, public worship, meeting in small groups, receiving the Eucharist, talking about your faith with others, serving others. This was what it meant to be Methodist–trusting in Christ, then consciously, daily, seeking to live for God by Avoiding Evil, Doing Good, and Pursuing the Spiritual Disciplines.
Are you a Methodist?…
I believe that each and every one of us needs to commit ourselves to some form of mission that gets us out of our pews and beyond our walls. Perhaps some of you would like to share in a mission trip experience, either going or being part of the support staff. Last summer a group from New Life UMC went to Fentrous County, Tennessee to do home repair ministry in Appalachia region.
There is local outreach helping at the warming shelter. There is so much more we can do to deepen our love for Christ and towards the least of our brothers and sisters.
This is what it means to be real Christians and it is part of the goal of the Christian life–that you might be restored to the image of God, and used by him.
We’re all called to help heal the world. What role will you play? What calling will you fulfill?…
Salvation is about God saving us from ourselves, from complacency, and heartlessness, and self-centeredness. He is saving us not simply for heaven, but to be his instruments here on earth. He created us to love him, but also to love one another.
Are you ready to begin this journey of perfecting your love? It starts with one simple phase, “Lord here I am”!