Note from the Editor: Enjoy this sermon from Rev. Tara Beth Leach, Senior Pastor of First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena in Pasadena, California.
The sermon begins at minute marker 40:10.
Note from the Editor: Enjoy this sermon from Rev. Tara Beth Leach, Senior Pastor of First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena in Pasadena, California.
The sermon begins at minute marker 40:10.
Let’s talk about hate.
In the first few verses of the Bible, we meet our God in his Trinitarian wholeness. The Father creates, the Son speaks, the Spirit hovers. This Trinitarian God partners within himself in the work of creation. You can sense the single-mindedness — the energy flowing within himself creating goodness. There is no sense of hierarchy here. In fact, a hierarchy within the Trinity would tear at the fabric of unity and prove our faith in one God to be a lie.
God is love, and within himself he is in complete unity and complete partnership. This is the substance and character of our God.
Humans were created in the likeness of this loving God, so the first two chapters of Genesis tell the story of humans being created as partners in the work of stewarding God’s creation. Side by side, male and female were to tend the land, govern the animals and be intimately unified. There was a creative energy and goodness between them. As with the one, true God, a hierarchy among humans would tear at the fabric of created design.
And yet, this is precisely what happened at the Fall. In Genesis 3, we learn that the enemy of God turned what was created as a partnership into a hierarchy. Ever since, humans have battled for control. This battle rages across genders, races, languages (in some countries, hierarchies are established by what language you know), nations … you name it. On this side of Genesis 3, fallen humanity is conditioned for division. If we can pit things against each other, we will. It is our ungodly inclination to compete, compare and control. This inclination is an incubator for hatred.
If God is love, then the enemy of God is hatred incarnate and that hatred has become the primary driver of unholy hierarchies. Whether we sense it dramatically or subliminally, it is this pull toward hierarchy that causes us to rank one another in order to justify our own value.
Let me state the obvious and say that hierarchy and hate are at the root of white supremacy and pretty much all the other hate-filled expressions of protest that surface not just in our country but around the world. Haters are obsessed with creating the kind of hierarchies that rank everyone not like them as “lesser than.” Most of us are appalled by the extremes to which the “real” haters will go. The “real” ones make the news. They have become so hardened by their own proclivities that they will shamelessly stand in the public square and spew their hate without the slightest sense of their absurdity.
The real haters are enemies of God, and what they do deserves our immediate and direct condemnation. There is never an option for a follower of Jesus to hate people. Never. What we so often see in the public square is simply not reflective of the heart of Christ. Our constant pull as Christians must always be against hate and toward genuine love.
Christians never have the option to hate other people or to act in hateful ways.
This does not mean I will always agree with you, or you with me. There are things worth our righteous anger and sharp opposition. It does mean we are required by the law of Christ to treat one another as human beings, to treat with decency even those whose values are in direct opposition to ours. This is a sticking point for those of us who follow Jesus, many of whom have confused holiness with hierarchy. We cannot allow our pursuit of holiness to devalue others. Not politically, racially, or in any other of a million different ways we compete, compare, control.
This isn’t the way of Christ.
Somehow we have to learn how to talk in the public square about the things on which we disagree — and even acknowledge our disagreements as uncompromising — without labeling everything that doesn’t look like us as hate-generating or worse, as “less than.” After all, the ground beneath the cross is level.
Brothers and sisters, somehow we have to learn how to fight fair again, to engage in public debate so that honest differences can be acknowledged in mature and loving ways without devaluing one another. Because as long as we live on this side of Genesis 3, haters are going to hate, but Christians simply can’t. It is not how we are designed, and it is not how we honor a loving God.
Reprinted with permission from www.artofholiness.com.
Dennis F. Kinlaw finished his course on April 10, 2017 at the age of ninety-four. He was an Old Testament scholar, a former President of Asbury College (now University), and an icon in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement.
Dr. Kinlaw was one of the most popular camp meeting preachers in America, and it is easy to see why. He was one of the greatest Biblical preachers I have ever heard. When he preached, you often wondered where he was going for the first fifteen minutes or so, but you needed to listen very carefully because he was laying his groundwork. Then several minutes later, as he connected the dots, lights would start flashing in your mind and heart and you would find yourself understanding, and loving, biblical truth in ways you had never appreciated before. It is hardly surprising that several of his students went on to become noted Old Testament scholars themselves.
Dr. Kinlaw had a lifelong passion to learn, to think, and to grow. Several years ago a former student and I had the privilege one afternoon to talk theology with him at his house and ask him questions (James called him Gandalf, but not to his face!). He was well into his eighties, but his enthusiasm for thinking hard and deep about the most important issues in life was as warm and infectious as ever. His provocative insights he shared that day ranged over biblical theology, systematic theology and philosophy, and I found myself admiring his octogenarian passion for learning and his ongoing curiosity and delight in discovering ideas he had not considered before. More, I was inspired to follow the example he so beautifully modeled. His grandson, Dennis F. Kinlaw III is my colleague at HBU, and he visited him several days ago. Even in Dr. Kinlaw’s weakened condition at age ninety-four, Denny reported that he was exerting his best efforts to discuss the truth he loved and gave his life to understand and articulate.
As a son of the Wesleyan movement, Dr. Kinlaw had a particular passion for the Church at large to recover the message of Christian holiness. Unfortunately, the word holiness conjures up for many people images of repressive legalism, dour dogma, and joyless judgmentalism. Much of the holiness movement seems to have forgotten that John Wesley constantly insisted that holiness and happiness are inseparable. Indeed, one Wesley’s most memorable descriptions of God was “the fountain of happiness, sufficient for all the souls he has made.”
Dennis Kinlaw reminded you of that fountain when you talked to him. He had a deep resonant voice, and when his eyes sparkled and he broke into laughter as he was sharing his insights on the Trinity or the nature of personhood, you got a picture of what holiness is all about.
I am reminded here that C. S. Lewis was first drawn to Christianity in his teenage years by reading a novel by George McDonald, though he had no idea that was happening at the time. He was attracted by something mysterious that was conveyed in that book but had no idea what it was. In his spiritual autobiography, he writes, “I did not know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anados. I do now. It was holiness.” In view of this experience, it is not surprising that years later, after he was converted, he wrote the following in a letter: “How little people know who think holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end?”
That is a great question to ponder, and it is fitting way to express gratitude for the life and ministry of Dennis Kinlaw. Many of us who knew him believe he was the “real thing.” He was a great holiness preacher and a profound biblical scholar, a respected educational leader and administrator.
And while doing all of this, he showed us that holiness is not dull.
This first appeared at www.moralapologetics.com.
Featured image courtesy Savvas Kalimeris via Unsplash.
I’m supposed to be sitting here writing something brilliant and thought-provoking. You (my audience) are well-versed in theology, social ethics, and various philosophies. You have high expectations, or you wouldn’t be here. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good theological debate and I am passionate about the current social crises, but right now, I’m just really loving the font I used for the promotion of my husband’s new sermon series (Jellyka Delicious Cake, if you want to know.)
I could start a lively discussion on religious inclusivity vs. exclusivity, but I can’t get over the fact that I just turned the big “4-0!” I am excited for the potential of this new decade! Over the next ten years, I will more than likely see my boys graduate from college, get married, have babies, and launch careers; all of which will bring a new season into my life of the empty nest and cooking for two, being called, “Grandma,” and comfort with the skin I’m in and in who God made me to be. It’s a “wow” moment. It will bring with it the sadness of inevitable change: unexpected illness, death, tragedy, relationship challenges, but I’ll deal with those as they come, and walk this lovely path called aging.
I pondered writing an article on worship. I filled in as worship leader for a few months this past year. What an eye-opener. If there is anything I want anyone to know, it is that we are all worship leaders; from the soprano on the platform, to the elderly man in the congregation with his hands lifted high. Worship is when I take a meal across the street to a couple of our shut-ins. It is a word of encouragement to a friend who is down. It is a smile, a hug, a dollar in the collection jar, an “I love you.”
So I bounce to the passion of my heart: the refugee crisis. The problem is, the internet is saturated with stories that make me weep. I finished I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, young Pakistani winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, just as news broke of 88 Pakistani being killed in a bombing of their shrine, and a video is released of a small Syrian boy who had his legs blown off by a barrel bomb. Listening to him cry, “Pick me up, Daddy,” is chilling.
I force myself away from the news, lest it swallow me. My mind instead wanders to the fact that I have a son leaving for college at the end of this summer and another son who just earned his learners’ permit. I wonder if I’ve done enough. If I’ve remembered to tell them everything that is important. If I can help them, as a young Millennial and a Gen Z, bridge the generational gap so that they can work effectively among their own, as well as alongside the Gen-Xer’s. How does their definition of respect match mine? Have I trained them to submit to authority while standing for what is right? Will they follow Christ above all?
I pick up Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, by Lysa TerKeurst. I started it half-heartedly. As one in ministry leadership, rejection in various forms is a familiar feeling, so I think I’ve adjusted. A few chapters in, I realize that maybe I haven’t. I put it down, not knowing if I have the energy today to work through the forgotten memories.
Quiet. All of a sudden, everything stops. I am cognizant that there are no sounds outside of my fingers flying across the keyboard and I pause. I inhale slowly, eyes closed. I push away the world and sit in this moment. I bask in this moment of silence, while I revel in thankfulness to…just.be.
It is in this silent space that I re-realize that God is here. His holy in my every day. I am created by and for him, so it is nothing for him to know exactly why my thoughts lead to where they do.
God walks beside me into this new decade of life, and is probably amused at my optimism for it.
God is the One who has stretched me beyond my comfort zone in this area of worship.
God knows the victories I have celebrated and the frustrations I have vented.
God’s heart weeps with mine as children are driven, bloodied and broken, from their homes.
God calms the bubbling anger in my heart and I am reminded that each is responsible for his or her own actions (or non-actions).
God loves my boys far more than I could ever desire, and I flash back to that moment when they were dedicated back to God. God gave me the tools to raise them as he would see fit, and while the way has been bumpy for everyone at times, I have done the best that I knew how. When I knew better, I did better.
God has taken the times I have been rejected and has strengthened me. Yes, I have work to do, but he is willing to do the work with me. He has, and will continue to take the pain of rejection, and I will choose to make it count by being accepting towards those who are the rejected.
These are my days. Every day. Times ten. Moving from one thing to another, thoughts swirling, ideas bouncing, opinions fighting for a way out. My guess is that these are your days as well. Your days until he stops you, reminds you to breathe, and to simply be.
His holy can be found in every day.
If you or I think of a laser, we probably have a mental image of what we might colloquially call a concentrated beam of light, whether it’s used recreationally like in laser tag or a laser light show, or practically like in an eye surgery or in cutting material. You might even picture the powerful ray from the Death Star in Star Wars or a light saber from the same series (though sadly, according to a television special I saw once, a light saber would be almost impossible to construct from the actual current scientific standpoint). One classic James Bond film includes a memorable scene in which the famous spy has a close encounter with a shining laser beam slowly inching towards him as he is tethered helplessly on a table.
In other words, while some lasers are more powerful than others, their narrow beams continue to fascinate us and new applications will probably be explored for decades or centuries to come.
Which leads us to holy love.
At the recent New Room Conference (a place you need to be next September), I picked up a slight, pocket-sized Seedbed Seedling volume by Dr. Joseph Dongell simply titled Sola Sancta Caritas (“only holy love”), available digitally for free here or in a handy little hard copy here. (The Seedling’s diminutive size makes them perfect for a church resource table or kiosk.) Dr. Dongell is a longstanding biblical and Greek scholar and professor. In Sola Sancta Caritas he offers a masterful survey of the Wesleyan holiness movement’s outcomes, the nature of Wesleyanism, robust examples of the centrality of the notion and practice of holy love in Wesley’s writings, and what holy love does and does not encompass.
Not bad for a thin pocket volume 45 pages long.
While Dongell examines the trends or waves of Wesleyan thought and scholarship, he draws his own startling conclusions from a full immersion into Wesley’s sermons, journals and letters (found on page 15).
In reading through Wesley for myself, it seemed to me that love rushed through all fourteen volumes like a tsunami. My handwritten index tracking substantive references to love in each volume had taken the appearance of a dense forest. It seemed that Wesley was standing on his head and shouting to draw attention to love.
Among other well-chosen quotes, Dongell highlights this one from Wesley’s sermon On Patience:
From the moment we are justified, till we give up our spirits to God, love is the sum of Christian sanctification; it is the one kind of holiness [there is, the degrees of which are simply differences] in the degree of love.
Love is the sum of Christian sanctification? This, Dongell concludes, stands in contrast with the revivalist upbringing he cherishes but of which he acknowledges the limitations. In the North American 20th century holiness movement, it was purity and power emphasized as the effects of sanctification.
By appreciating the full impact of Wesley’s emphasis on holy love, Dongell redirects our Wesleyan Methodist attention into sharp, concentrated focus: holy love is narrow yet far-reaching, both penetrating and illuminating, something that can be familiar and safe or deadly in its aim.
Holy love is like a laser. It is anything but saccharine or weak. It is anything but flimsy or peripheral. It is not an addendum, not an afterthought. Holy love, laser-like, may appear powerful and pure, but those are descriptors, not its essence. Holy love, Dongell clarifies, is not, “general human intuition.” Neither, he stipulates, is it good works. Holy love finds its origins not in humans, but in God. Holy love will not pop up automatically from our own nature; Dongell ensures our awareness that it is the gift of God. And, “the infusion of God’s love within us produces holiness as its natural outcome.” Again, we see that we are called to be more than we are able, we can receive what we need to be able, and that being like Christ through an infusion of God’s love will produce the side effect of holiness.
So what makes a laser a laser? Why isn’t like other light, shining gently from a lamp? The very briefest and most basic description asserts that a laser, “emits light coherently. Spatial coherence enables a laser to focus to a tight spot.” As far as this non-physicist can tell, coherence has to do with correlation between waves.
Now of all his activities, of all his travels and writing and busyness, one thing could easily describe Wesley: his focus. In fact his focus was so severe that one may quickly surmise an armchair diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Weighing your food intake at every meal aside, what Dongell hits on is Wesley’s laser-like focus. Sola Sancta Caritas – “only holy love” – is what Wesley’s methodology, his theology, his ecclesiology boil down to.
Miners don’t go to church? Take your preaching into the fields to them: holy love.
People don’t have access to rudimentary health care? Publish a common-sense pamphlet: holy love.
Christians floundering in their zeal for their faith? Band them together with likeminded Christians, like the Moravians did: holy love.
How often should Methodists take the Eucharist – that tangible reminder of the embodiment of Christ’s love? As often as possible: holy love.
Methodists on the American frontier not getting the Eucharist? Ordain your own ministers and send them: holy love.
Someone dragging down a group by willfully neglecting the guidelines for covenant together? Suspend them: holy love.
Like a laser.
Now the question remains: how well are we known for our focus? For our laser-like intensity? Should Methodists be the most undistracted people on the planet?
Whether the topic is famine relief or preaching, criminal justice reform or small group programs, funeral dinners or church landscaping choices, what must characterize it all, if it is to be distinctly Wesleyan Methodist?
Leave out holy love and you may have solid humanitarian work, efficient discipleship programs, even biblically shaped sermons, but you won’t be a Christian following Jesus in the company of the Wesleys. The fullest picture we have of holy love is the life of Jesus Christ. No wonder Wesley emphasized the Eucharist over and over again: to live like Christ is to live holy love. We need the holy love of Christ through Holy Communion, to taste it and mull over it, to hear, “the Body of Christ, broken for you.”
A laser can encompass a great deal. Part of the scientist’s protest against the idea of constructing an actual light saber was not that it couldn’t be built, but that it would be impossible to limit the laser to a specific field: imagine turning on a light saber and having the “blade” extend all the way out to the moon and beyond. Nonetheless, as noted above, a laser is inherently limited. Its internal coherence focuses it (again, speaking as a layperson, not a physicist). And so there are some things lasers will always encompass and some things lasers will never encompass.
How like sanctification.
We lose our way if we focus on result instead of source. We lose our way if we get distracted with one program or topic at the loss of our most basic reason.
Recently I spoke on just this subject with a camp meeting preacher. Would it be a healthy corrective, I suggested, if the message of holiness was always tied back to the Second Person of the Trinity? In many Wesleyan holiness contexts holiness is preached in the context of the Third Person of the Trinity. Rightly so. But the Holy Spirit does not just infill humans as a kind of sanctified cul-de-sac, detached from the revelation of Christ. The Holy Spirit always witnesses back to Christ, revealing Christ, empowering Christlikeness. The Holy Spirit tells the story of Christlikeness through us. This distinction finds its shape in systematic theology but we see Dongell illustrate the distinction well through the contrast of power and purity and holy love.
It is not the Holy Spirit’s job to make us pure and powerful. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to make us like Jesus. As it happens, Jesus is pure and powerful. But the Spirit is constantly in a dance to reveal Christ, to shape us into “little Christs.” In this sense, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity made a wonderful Methodist:
Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.
If you are a Wesleyan Methodist, are you known for your laser-like focus on holy love? On the kind of love that may cauterize and burn, may illumine and dance, may direct and heal? What would it look like if you brought every church activity under the microscope of holy love? Maybe all of the programs would stay the same, maybe not. Maybe the only thing that would change is the way in which they are carried out – and why.
Through the Holy Spirit, God, make us like Jesus: and empower our focus to be stark and laser-like, so that we are known as people with internal coherence. May our waves find their correlation in you. And let us shine like lasers.
The New Testament has an extraordinary calling for ordinary people to live a radical lifestyle, a lifestyle that reflects the character of our God in cultures that have rejected God. Scripture uses one word to sum up this radical lifestyle: holiness. Peter in just a couple of verses gives us perhaps the best concise summary of what holiness is all about.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ 1 Peter 1:13-16 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
So what does Peter tell us about holiness that we need to know?
HOLINESS IS A LIFESTYLE
“So be holy in all you do.”
Holiness is not just a status. When we become disciples we are not simply made holy in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done for us but remain unchanged as people. Neither is holiness just about how well or often we do “Christian” things like going to church, praying, etc. Peter says we are called to be holy in all we do. So holiness is expressed in our behaviour in every part of our everyday lives, holiness is about a entire lifestyle – not an occasional hobby.
A LIFESTYLE SHAPED BY GOD
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”
God is holy, when we come into a relationship with him his great plan for our lives is to enable us to become like him; and as holy is a one-word summary of God’s essence it’s also a summary of what we are called to become. Our Holy God gives us the Holy Spirit so that our lives and congregations can increasingly be holy as he is holy. God wants to enable us to increasingly reflect his character through our lives.
A LIFESTYLE FOR ALL BELIEVERS
“He who called you is holy.”
I have checked, there are no exemption or get-out clauses: everyone in a relationship with our Holy God is called to be holy. An “unholy Christian” should be as much an oxymoron to our ears as “dry water.” To resist and be uncommitted to allowing God to make us holy and to live as holy people is to defy and disobey God, not to mention grieve him deeply.
A LIFESTYLE THAT IS RADICALLY DIFFERENT
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.”
Holiness, because it’s a lifestyle shaped not by the culture we are surrounded by but by a Holy God, is a radically different lifestyle. When we are empowered and guided by the Holy Spirt to live lives that reflect God’s holiness our lives will often be in marked contrast to the way we used to live and how most people in our culture live. This radical contrast is not just about what we don’t do, but more fundamentally about what we do.
Holiness at times in church history has been preached in a way that it makes it sound like God is teasing us. The message has been God calls us to be holy but actually, this side of heaven, we can’t really be holy in any meaningful or significant way.
But what if God means what he says? What if God not only calls us to be holy but will enable us to be holy? That would mean that people like us could become ordinary radicals, ordinary people who live radically different lifestyles that are shaped by and reflect our God’s character in powerful and attractive ways.
Rev. James Petticrew blogs at abrahamsfootsteps.wordpress.com.
I just finished reading the New York Times article about Robert L. Dear, Jr, the shooter in the recent Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs. In the article, Dear is described as a serial philanderer, gambler, an abusive husband/boyfriend, and a Christian.
Well, yes, of course. Why not?
I mean, once saved always saved*, right? That’s what Dear believed, anyway: “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases.”
And herein lies my biggest problem with not only Robert Dear, but all persons who espouse some doctrine of unchecked “Once Saved, Always Saved.” How are you going to tell me that a person can claim to be a follower of the crucified messiah, claim to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and yet live a life that is in complete and utter contradiction with everything that God stands for?
How can you have, as the article contends, “a man of religious conviction who sinned openly, a man who craved solitude and near-constant female company, a man who successfully wooed women but, some of them say, also abused them. [A man who] frequented marijuana websites, then argued with other posters, often through heated religious screeds” who is also a Christian?
This kind of thing, where a man can live in complete contradiction to the character of the gospel and yet still believe himself to be a Christian, is only possible because of a doctrine that is downright false. There is absolutely no point in all of scripture where mere confession of belief warrants a free ticket to heaven no matter what one does in this life. You can ask Jesus into your heart 8 million times, but if you live the kind of life described above, you need to know that you are not a Christian.
This is what I find so problematic about the doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” It throws the entire gospel under the bus of the human need for security, however false that security may be. It offer certitude where none should be offered. It allows us to live how we want to live without demanding any conformity to the image of Christ, any growth in holiness, any perseverance.
And if you want me to be more exegetical about it, more biblical in my reference, then let me point out that this article about Robert Dear describes a man who lives entirely contrary to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. A man who “constantly criticizes everyone around him and is very hard to please” falls outside the bounds of Jesus’ call to “judge not” in Matthew 7. A man who “spends a lot of time planning revenge” hardly seems like the kind of person who could “turn the other cheek” or fulfill Jesus call to “love your enemies” in reflection of God’s love for his enemies in Matthew 6. A man who “erupts into fury in seconds” could hardly claim to follow the Jesus who warns us sternly in Matthew 6 about the relationship between anger and murder. A man who is divorced multiple times (because of his abuse of women) would also stand in violation of Matthew 6’s injunctions against divorce that is driven by a dehumanization of women. A man who cheats on multiple wives, even likely rapes a woman, can hardly be within the bounds of Jesus’ ethic of refusing lust so as to avoid adultery.
And to tie it all together, let me finally say that it was Jesus, himself, who said that there will be many who say to him, “Lord, Lord” and he will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” And the difference between those who knew him and those who did not was simply a matter, not of faith or confession or creed, but of fruit and character. Mr. Dear argues in his cannabis forums that, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that JESUS IS LORD,” but he uses this as a threat to others instead of facing the truth that such texts ought to first highlight the massive plank in his own eye.
Clearly, I have taken an extreme example to point out what I believe to be an extreme problem with a faulty Christian doctrine. “Once Saved Always Saved” is a danger to the Christian faith because it offers all the greatness of the gospel without any of the discipline, sacrifice, holiness, perseverance, or love required of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus. Mr. Dear may be an extreme example, but his arrogant assurance reveals an extreme problem.
This is why I’m Wesleyan (not that we are always consistent in our application of our theology): because Wesleyan theology teaches that the pursuit of holiness is not an add-on to the gospel, but the very gospel, itself. There can be no gospel without holiness. There can be no salvation from sin in the next life without a desire for and a work toward being saved from sin in this life. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure. When we assume we can have salvation without the fear and trembling, without the word, and without obedience to the will of God, we give ourselves false assurance that ultimately leads to our destruction, and, in the case of Robert Dear, the destruction of others around him. Robert Dear is not just a deranged individual (he is certainly that), but his is also the product of a half-gospel that demands no life-change, no genuine repentance, no social holiness, and no personal holiness.
*I want to be clear here that while I’m a Wesleyan, my issue here is not with people who believe differently than I do regarding merely whether or not it is possible to be a Christian and walk away from it. Wesleyans and (good) Calvinists disagree on this issue. But I can at least respect that the Calvinist calls for perseverance in holiness for any kind of assurance. They do not believe salvation, once received, can be forfeited like we Wesleyans do, but my point is that my argument in this post is not with those who hold to a position that says “holiness matters,” but with those who have a view of Once Saved Always Saved that says, as Robert Dear does, “I can now do whatever I want because I’m saved.”
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I have some big theological books, huge tomes. In these books when the writers want to describe God they tend to use big words, words like “omnipresent” and “omniscient.”
I wonder if you have noticed that in contrast when the Bible wants us to understand what God is really like, it doesn’t use big hard-to-pronounce words more often than not; rather than using words to describe God, it uses pictures.
Perhaps the most famous one is when we are asked to picture God as a shepherd. But we are also asked to picture God as a loving Father and as a skillful potter. These images help us understand God better. When we think of God as Shepherd we see that he is committed to caring, protecting, providing and guiding us.
I wonder if you had to come up with a picture of someone or something to help other people understand God better, what would that picture be?
For me it would be Bill.
I think God is like Bill.
Now I need to explain to you that Bill was a retired neighbor who lived across the road from us in Colinton.
Most days when I was sitting at my desk in our front room I could see Bill working away in his garage.
Bill and I had one thing in common, we both love motorbikes, but different kinds of bikes. To be honest I love shiny modern Italian super bikes; Bill had a different taste. He told me that he was looking for a new bike and then eventually he asked me to come over so he could show me his new bike.
Actually what he showed me was a rusty frame and about five boxes of oily and rusty “bits.”
You see Bill is a classic bike restorer. He doesn’t really care for my newish shiny working motorbikes.
Bills great passion is to take something that’s
and restore it to its original condition.
He wants to take something that other people look at as rubbish and restore it till it’s just as the designer intended it to be.
He has some shining examples of old British bikes he has already restored in his garage. Right now he is working on his new project with great purpose and he will keep doing that for the weeks, months and even years until he has fully restored it.
remodels day after day, knowing that despite all the difficulties of finding and creating parts, of making parts fit together again and making old seized parts work that he will eventually restore this bike to the masterpiece its designer meant it to be.
For Bill it’s not buying the best bike he can that gives him pleasure, it’s the challenge and joy of restoration.
I know Bill isn’t a Christ follower but watching him work away on his restoration project he reminds me of God. This connection between God and Bill came to me recently as I read these words from Paul right at the end of that passage we read.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago – Ephesians 2:10
The Apostle Paul would never have seen a 1950 BSA Gold Flash, but he thinks of God like Bill. Paul is saying here that God is a great restorer, not of old motorbikes but of broken human lives.
He says that “in Christ,” through what Christ has done for us in his life, death and resurrection, through his empowering Spirit and inspiring example and our relationship with Christ, God is recreating, restoring us to what he originally intended us to be. The Greek word that Paul uses literally means a “masterpiece.”
Now that’s incredible isn’t it? Just think about it for a moment
The moment we are “in Christ”, the moment we come into a real living, relationship with God through Jesus Christ, God gets to work to recreate us as a masterpiece of humanity.
I want you to remember this: God wants to get to work in your life so that when people get to know you they will say what a masterpiece of humanity, not it terms of your figure, or your shape or even your IQ but in terms of your character, your attitudes, your actions, the way you treat other people.
This whole passage in Ephesian 2 is about salvation, how we become a Christian and what it means to be a Christian.
After explaining why we need to be saved and how God has saved us through what he has done for us, not what we do for him, here right at the end of this explanation of salvation Paul says it is about so much more than just avoiding eternal punishment and going to heaven.
Salvation is about so much more than having your sins forgiven and a place in heaven.
Salvation is the short hand word the bible uses to describe God’s restoration work in humanity, restoring his Image in us. Making us more like the human beings he always intended us to be, more like Jesus.
I want us to unpack the implications of what Paul says here for how we understand our lives.
YOUR LIFE HAS POTENTIAL.
God is not like my insurance company. My insurance company decided my bike wasn’t worth the expense and bother of being restoring.
There are no write-off’s with God ….only restorations. God never writes anyone off.
Sometimes other people write us off. Sometimes we write ourselves off – but God never writes a life off. He always sees the potential in a human life handed over to him to be a masterpiece.
I have to be honest, I would never have bought that pile of parts that Bill did. When he first showed me them I couldn’t see how they could be restored into a working motorbike. The pile of parts looked beyond repair and restoration to me. But Bill, is a master restorer and he saw the potential in those rusty, oily bits of metal.
Thinking about it I am pretty sure that my life looks as unpromising a restoration project to the angels as Bill’s boxes full of old broken bits looked to me but like Bill, God relishes the work of restoration however unpromising the raw materials.
I suspect there might be some people who can’t see any potential in their own lives. When you think about your life you look at it like I looked at Bill’s box of broken bits.
You can’t see any potential. You can’t see how your life can be put back together again. Maybe you have tried yourself and failed time and time again.
If you feel like that I want to tell you one of the implications of what the Bible is telling us in this verse.
Whenever you enter into a living, vibrant relationship with Christ, when you are “in Christ” as Paul describes it, your past failures, your present faults in life don’t determine the future potential of your life.
The restoration project that is taking place across the road from me is happening not because of the state of the parts but the skill of Bill as a restorer.
It’s exactly the same with God, it doesn’t matter how broken your life is, how ruined it feels, what state parts of it are in, what’s important in this human restoration projection is the skill of God as a restorer not how promising or unpromising our lives are.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE ARE TAUGHT IN OUR CULTURE.
In our culture we have songs like “search for the hero inside yourself.” The books in the self-help sections of book shops have the same message. The message is that the solution to our problems comes from inside us, it’s saying that we have the resources to change our life. The message is try harder, think differently.
The Christian message is different, it encourages us to look outside of ourselves for the power to change. It says come into a living relationship with God and rely on him to restore you.
You see as Christians we don’t believe in self-improvement but in God-empowered transformation. I can see Bill’s masterpieces of restoration in his garage and I see God’s masterpieces of restoration around me among his people. You can see them too, just look around and you here and you’ll see them.
SOME OF YOU – look in the mirror! YOUR LIFE HAS PURPOSE.
I live in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is full of masterpieces, paintings and sculptures but they all just hang there or sit there in art galleries and museums.
The sad thing about Bill my neighbor’s restoration projects is that they sit idly in his garage. He’s too old to ride them now. They go to the occasional classic bike show to be admired but they aren’t ridden. They aren’t used. They don’t do anything useful.
Paul tell us its very different with God, he isn’t interested in restoring us to display us as museum pieces. He doesn’t start this great restoration project just to make us fit for heaven in the future either.
Here is the second implication I want to draw out of what God is saying in his Word here for us. God restores us so he can involve us. So not only does your life has potential it also has purpose.
When we come into a living relationship with Jesus our life doesn’t just have potential, salvation isn’t just about God restoring his Image in us and making us a masterpiece.God also has a purpose for us, “so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Paul says in essence here in verse 10, God’s doesn’t just want to make a difference in your life, he wants to make a difference through your life. God’s Word says there are good works which God has prepared for you to do.
What are good works? Good in the Bible is a word connected to God’s character. So “good” is anything that embodies or expresses the character of God. Good works are things we do that express God’s character to others
when we care for someone
when we meet a practical need
when we bring peace or reconciliation or justice
when we treat someone with compassion
when we help someone to experience god’s practical love.
Some of you may know that the Church of the Nazarene looks back to John Wesley as our sort of spiritual inspiration and Wesley had something great to say about this.
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
If you are “in Christ,” if you have entered into a living relationship with Jesus, your mission, should you choose to accept it is to
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
God promises right here in this verse that he is at work in the world, and he is at work orchestrating opportunities for you to do good to others. We hear a lot about living our dreams Well here God is asking us to live for something bigger than our dream, to live for, to be involved in his dream for this world.
Our transformation is one small part of what God is doing in this world and he wants us to be involved in this great project of transformation for the whole of creation.
“PREPARED GOOD WORKS FOR YOU TO DO.”
Have a close look, are there any exemptions there? Any small print saying that it doesn’t apply to you? No, God wants to use everyone of us to start a viral movement of goodness, a movement of people committed to making the use of every opportunity to make God tangible to others by doing good to them.
This week he has opportunities ready for you, in your family, in your street, in your community, work place, school, university, gym, sports team, to do good.
Gerard Kelly comments on this thought that, “the message of the New Testament is an invitation not only to forgiveness and reconciliation, but to purpose and meaning: to usefulness; to beauty. It’s an offer of restoration: an invitation to become a human being who shines like the first day out of the factory.”
That’s an offer I want to take up, how about you?
Apart from the Gospels, the Epistle to the Romans is the “pearl of great price” in Scripture. It was Martin Luther’s study of this book that fired the Reformation. Luther contended that, “the Epistle to the Romans is the masterpiece of the New Testament and the very purist gospel…it can never be too much or too well read or studied, and the more it is handled the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
One of the greatest fathers of the church, Chrysostom, had it read to him twice a week. The poet Coleridge said it was, “the most profound writing that exists.” I hope you know your Methodist history well enough to know that when, in his deep soul searching, John Wesley went to a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, the leader was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans; and Wesley testified that while the leader read, “I felt my heart strangely warmed; I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
There is no possible way to express the monumental role this Epistle has played in the history of the Christian movement. In all of Christian history, Romans has been pivotal.
In a few verses from the first chapter of the Epistle, Paul expressed his desire to go to Rome. Only recently did I note that Paul expressed his same longing as he was closing his letter. In between those expressions of deep desire in Chapter 1 and Chapter 15, Paul spells out in the most deliberate and studied way his understanding of the gospel, and the core of the gospel message, justification by grace through faith. And after using all his genius to write this brilliant argument for the Christian faith, Paul expresses again his passion to share that faith with the Romans, in verse 29 of Chapter 15: “know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.”
I can’t imagine that my longing and passion for sharing the Gospel comes anywhere near that of Paul, but my passion is great, and my age and years of ministry have not diminished that passion. In fact, the passion is greater because I don’t know how much longer I have, and I don’t know how many occasions I will have to share it. Paul’s confession is mine: Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel.
I want to do it now by simply outlining what the full measure of the blessing of Christ is.
First of all, Christ comes to free us. Let that sink in. Let it permeate every fiber of our awareness. Christ comes to free us.
Among Christians in one section of Africa, the New Testament word for redemption means “God took our heads out.” It’s a rather strange phrase, but when you trace it back to the 19th century when slave trading was practiced, the meaning becomes powerful. White men invaded African villages and carried men, women and children off into slavery. Each slave had an iron collar buckled around his neck. To that iron collar was attached a chain which was attached to the iron collar around the neck of another, and on and on, until a long chain of people where marched off to the sea shore where a ship waited to take them to England and America to be sold into slavery.
From time to time, as the chain of slaves would make their way to the coast, a relative, loved one, or friend would recognize someone who had been taken captive and would pay a ransom to the captor for the collar to be removed and the person to be freed. Thus the word for redemption: God took our heads out.
However we state it, whatever image we use out of our own culture, redemption means that God’s action in Jesus Christ sets us free from the bondage of sin, guilt and death. Christ comes to free us.
So, where are you? Do you feel pain in your heart, a heaviness of spirit because there is a broken relationship? Parents, do you have children you are separated from? Is your marriage in trouble? You and your spouse have drifted apart…or the relationship is severed because of infidelity? Christ comes to free us.
Do you feel helpless because you or a family member is bound in the tenacious grip of alcohol, drugs, gambling or some other destructive habit? Christ comes to free us.
Is you energy drained because you have been living too close to moral compromise? Christ comes to free us.
Are you preoccupied with sexual lust? Christ comes to free us.
Are you addicted to pornography? Christ comes to free us.
Could the blessing be greater? Christ comes to free us.
The blessing may not be be greater, but it is fuller. Not only does Christ come to free us, he comes to fit us; Christ come to fit us, to transform us for Kingdom living.
Go to another section of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Have you ever noticed the dramatic difference between Chapter 7 and the first verse of Chapter 8? In the last part of Chapter 7, he describes the anguishing war that is going on inside him. He feels that he is being brought under the captivity of sin. He moans,”For the good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.” Then he groans, “O wretched man that I am…who will deliver me from this body doomed to death?”
That‘s the way Chapter 7 closes. Then the very first verse of chapter 8 is this glorious word: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”
Do you see the tremendous difference between Paul’s condition, which he expresses so dramatically in chapter 7 — “O wretched man that I am” — and the beginning of chapter 8 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”?
What a huge divide! How do we leap over it?
People may tell you that you simply need to give your sins Jesus; and they say it so glibly: just give your sins to Jesus. That’s impossible. We can’t give our sins to Jesus; if we could, we’d all be saints.
We can’t give our sins to Jesus. We give ourselves to Jesus and He takes our sin. He transforms us and fits us for Kingdom living.
There’s a story about a man who was tired and weak all the time, drained of energy. Finally he decided to visit his doctor. “Doctor,” he said, “I feel drained and exhausted. I don’t seem to have any energy. I have a chronic headache. I feel worn out all the time. What’s the best thing I could do?” The doctor knew something about the man’s wild and fast-paced lifestyle. “What’s the best thing you can do? You can go home after work, eat a nutritious meal, get a good night’s rest, and stop running around and carousing all night — that’s the best thing you can do.” The man pondered for a moment, then asked, “What’s the next best thing I can do?”
Too often we decide for the next best thing because we are not willing to be who God called us to be. We are not willing for God to transform and fit us for Kingdom living.
Listen! Holiness is not an option for God’s people. God says, “Be holy as I am holy.” We can’t leave that word back in the Old Testament, as though it had no relevance to us. Over and over again in the New Testament, we’re called to be “new creatures in Christ Jesus.” Holiness is not an option for us as Christians.
We are where we are as a nation today because we have become a people and a place where “everything goes” –
Where as many Christians as non-Christians are divorced yearly,
Where our city is full of children without fathers,
Where some government leader is caught lying and cheating almost every week,
Where the Supreme Court has made a decision that completely disregards God design and Christ’s understanding of marriage –
We are where we are because we have ignored God’s call, “be holy as I am holy.”
There ought to be about us Christians something that distinguishes us, that sets us apart in our ethical understanding, in our moral life, in the way we walk, in the way we talk, in how we live together in our family, in how we raise our children, in how we treat our wives, in how we treat our husbands, in the way we think about issues like abortion, same sex marriage, sexual brokenness, gambling, extravagant consumption, in how we treat the environment, in how we treat prisoners and the attention we pay to the poor, in how we order both our private and our public life.
In Ezekiel God says to Israel, “The nations shall know that I am the Lord, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” Listen friends, the world is not paying attention to the church today, and will not pay attention to the Church in the future until those of us who call ourselves Christian vindicate God’s holiness before their eyes.
Again, holiness is not an option for God’s people. God calls us to be holy as he is holy. Now listen — only Christ can make us holy. He fits us for Kingdom living.
And that leads to this final word. Christ comes to free us; he comes to fit us for Kingdom living, and he comes to fill us, to fill us with his Holy Spirit. And that’s our need, friends, the power of the Holy Spirit.
How we need the Holy Spirit. I believe the reason most of us are impotent in our discipleship, the reason being a Christian is a debilitating struggle for too many of us is that we do not claim Jesus’ promise, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.”
We don’t spend enough time on our knees. We trust Jesus with some things some of the time when we need to trust him with all things all the time.
We have all been troubled by what happened in Charleston, South Carolina a few weeks ago. Nine persons in church, in a Bible Study, were shot down by a man possessed with the demon of hatred. What moved me most, and challenged me to the depth of my soul, was the response of some family members of those who had been killed. They attended the session when the judge was setting the bond for the young killer. The judge allowed some persons to speak to the man who had killed their family member. I couldn’t believe it. Person after person not only expressed their grief, but they told the young man they forgave him.
Could you have done that? I can’t imagine I could. Where did that kind of power come from? Those folks would be quick to tell you. It comes from Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. I want the kind of power those folks had.
So I have come to you in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. Christ who comes to free us, to fit us for kingdom living, and to fill us with his presence and power. That’s the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel. I don’t want to miss any of that, and I don’t want you to miss it.
For as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated St. Patricks’ Day like many other Irish-American families: corn beef and cabbage, homemade Irish soda bread, green dye in everyone’s beverages all served on Mom’s best Irish linen tablecloth. Typically, the sound of The Chieftains or Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers can be heard on my parent’s stereo. Over the years, I’ve tried including The Pogues, The Waterboys and of course, U2. But tradition in my family runs strong – St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the complete without a rousing rendition of “My Wild Irish Rose”and “O Danny Boy,” designed to bring a tear to your eye.
Early in my career as a school teacher, I was introduced to another saint commemorated in March: St. David. Like St. Patrick’s Day, there are associated traditions for St. David, and as a young school teacher with a new teaching assignment, I found myself carrying on another cultural tradition of sorts when I was conscripted by a friend and co-worker to make St. David Day cookies for our faculty colleagues. In preparation for St. David’s Day, we’d spend the last weekend of February making dozens and dozens and dozens of a little Welch biscuit so faculty members could literally fill their pockets with these addictive little morsels. It was in discovering more about St. David and this new tradition I participated in that I also discovered more about St. Patrick and the rich tradition of Celtic Christianity.
Who St. Patrick is to the Irish, St. David is the Welsh. Both men were early Christian bishops who helped spread Christianity and converted Druids and other pagans throughout Ireland and Wales. Both are two of only a handful of Celtic saints, who are also recognized and canonized by Rome for their influence on the Christian faith. Celtic saints were the men and women of Ireland, Scotland and Wales who, whether they were of noble or peasant birth, lived a life dedicated to God, and sought with heart, body, mind and soul to share and express God’s love to others. Many Celtic saints are known only in their localized area – their holiness revered and cherished among the people who witnessed that the successive generations continue to benefit from the life of the saint who once lived there. Whereas the status of Catholic saints of the Roman church is conferred by a far-away pope after a lengthy documentation process that verified the saintly credentials of a person, Celtic sainthood is conferred by popular veneration.
Often times, particular Celtic saints may have legendary stories attributed to them. The famous Lorica of St. Patrick is attributed to an incident following Holy Saturday in 433 when Patrick kindled the paschal (Easter) fire on a hill across from Tara, the center of the country and seat of the Druid High King. Patrick’s fire undermined the high king’s authority and power, who, by virtue of their office, ritually lit bonfires, thereby symbolically claiming they were the givers of light and warmth. When summoned by the Druid king to what would likely be his execution, Patrick and his companions robed themselves in white and found miraculous protection in chanting the Irish hymn invoking God and heavenly protection from the “powers of corrupt and distorted powers of the world.” The tale does not describe the king’s reaction, but the resultant successful spread of Christianity throughout Ireland suggests he did not have much of a fight left in him after being thwarted by God’s miraculous protection.
A similar story is told of St. David, but instead, the subdued chieftain is credited to say, “the kindler of that fire shall excel in all powers and renown in every part that the smoke of his sacrifice has covered, even to the end of the world.”
But for all the miraculous stories and the supposed powers that rivals today’s superheroes, Celtic saints became saints because the community in which they lived recognized their life of holiness and relationship to God. Perhaps one reason there are so many Celtic saints is because they saw no separation between what was secular and religious – all of life was sacred, and therefore consecrated to God. It was intertwines, much like the famous knot work still popular today.
In the centuries before furnace units and central heating, Celtic women who kindled the day’s fire in their hearth didn’t just clear the night’s ashes, they prayed and asked God’s blessing upon the fire that would give their families heat and light throughout the day. The prayer underscores the understanding they shared with St. Patrick and St. David, that light and life was a gift from God.
This morning, as I kindle the fire upon my hearth, I pray the flame of God’s love may burn in my heart, and the heart of all I meet today.
I pray that no envy or malice, no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.
I pray that indifference and apathy, contempt and pride, may not pour like cold water on the fire.
Instead, may the spark of God’s love light the love of my heart, that it may burn brightly throughout the day.
And may I warm those who are lonely, whose hearts are cold and lifeless, so that all may know the comfort of God’s love.
In our contemporary lives, when the light and heat of our homes can be programmed and controlled by remote from miles away by computer prompts, it takes a little imagination – or a power outage – for us to understand how present day humanity is still dependent upon the provisions of the earth – God’s creation – for our sustenance.
But understanding that God’s presence is infused into all of daily life like the Celtic saints of old did does not require we heat our homes with peat dug from a bog. Spiritual sight to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in all things comes with practice as we avail ourselves of divine grace. Like the Psalmist who was content “to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord” (Ps. 84:10), may we also embody holy lives and open the doors of heaven, pointing the way to God for others.