Tag Archives: Salvation

Following Jesus in Mission

An epiphany is a moment of realization often experienced as a sudden, and perhaps surprising, insight. Earlier this month, Christians celebrated Epiphany, when the church reflects on God’s revelation through the coming of Jesus; I believe it presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how Jesus is speaking to us today.

As 2023 launches, one of the things I continue to reflect on is how we are called by Jesus to be on mission in our world. I am involved in a ministry called the Inspire Movement, which seeks to help Christians abide deeply with God and live missionally in the world. The goal is that people will become the kind of disciples who live as everyday ordinary missionaries. When we share this vision with people, they are often hesitant to embrace the idea that they are called to be a “missionary” or “evangelist.”

I think part of the hesitancy comes from two similar misperceptions about living lives on mission for Jesus. First, there is the misperception that we are not gifted in evangelism, and therefore cannot or even should not be engaged in sharing the gospel with others. While the gift of evangelism may not show up in our spiritual gifts inventory, Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew make clear that disciples are called to be engaged in the world: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–17, ESV)

While being salt and light may not look like preaching on a street corner or traveling to exotic locations around the world to spread the gospel, the potential impact is still significant. We can still share the story of our relationship with Jesus with our neighbor. We can share how Jesus has changed us and invite that person to see how Jesus might work in their life.

Another misperception that prevents us from living a life on mission is the idea that the work of evangelism has to be done on our own. We may think that the work of evangelism and everyday mission is the stuff of superheroes, not ordinary Christians. But for Wesleyan-minded Christians, John Wesley’s teaching on prevenient grace makes clear that it is God who is on mission; we are invited to join God in his work. For Wesley, prevenient grace describes God’s initial work in our salvation, when the Lord is drawing us to himself and toward awakening and repentance. According to Wesley in his sermon, On Working Out Our Own Salvation, prevenient grace includes, “the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.” Wesley is clear that this is the work of God, and not by our own efforts or the efforts of others. We can be confident that God was at work in a person’s life long before we came on the scene.

However, this doesn’t mean we have no role to play. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, we may have different roles as we join God on his mission, but it is God who does the work: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” We are still called to share the gospel with others, but rather than having to be the “Lone Ranger” to invite someone to follow Jesus, we can trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in that person’s life drawing them and awakening them to the reality of the God who loves them.

How is Jesus calling you to join him on mission this year? As you reflect on your life with Jesus during this season of goals, I invite you to consider how Jesus may be calling you into mission in your community, school, or workplace. Take confidence in the fact that the Holy Spirit goes before you and will be with you as you seek to follow Jesus in mission.

Featured image courtesy Erica Nilsson via Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Testimony, Conversion, and the Search for Genuine Faith

There are quite a few opinions about a recent celebrity in the spotlight for a high-profile conversion to Christianity. Or an alleged conversion to Christianity, depending on your point of view. Which celebrity it is doesn’t matter as much, because any time a celebrity joins anything, the people who belong to the faith or organization are thrilled. It’s like getting an endorsement or like a draft or trade in professional sports: “we got so-and-so! Maybe this year we’ll finally make it to the playoffs!”

Many devout believers – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Mormon, or other beliefs – are used to being somewhat out of step with popular or dominant culture. So sometimes language of piety can dress up what may be a simple gut response: “we finally got a cool one!” Like a trading card game, the secular materialist kid slides his celebrity card to the Christian kid, and the Christian kid is relieved, because she’s recently lost several trading cards to the messy-mystical universalist kid.

Yet other believers are genuinely excited at the news of any testimony of conversion, and that’s a good thing. They don’t care about the “trading card” feel of it, because they’re genuinely just as thrilled when they hear testimony of conversion from the clerk at Dollar General. Take Fran: an elderly woman I encountered while working in a nursing home. She had a contagious, off-kilter laugh and a contagious, off-kilter love for Jesus, and she wanted everyone who came into her room to know that Jesus loved them. It is a zany follower of Christ who sees the call for assistance with bathroom needs as an opportune moment to talk to people about Jesus. And people like Fran don’t care if it’s an aide in a nursing home or a rapper married to a reality show star, they just want you to know that Jesus loves you and that they love you. People like Fran don’t see faith as a giant Pokemon challenge to, “catch ’em all,” collecting conversion trading cards for a stronger deck.

High-profile converts to any religion tend to attract extra scrutiny, and usually questions are raised about whether it’s genuine. People of a certain age will remember the controversy about fiery Watergate figure Charles Colson’s jailtime conversion. But whether testimony of following Jesus Christ is genuine isn’t a new question generated by the entertainment industry highlighting celebrity lifestyles. The early church dealt with this question, and leaders often counseled prudence, care, pastoral sensitivity, and community accountability. They weren’t dealing with a global celebrity conversion, a testimony of a religious experience given by someone with a history of giving and rescinding high-profile support to other high-profile figures; they weren’t dealing with a testimony by someone with a history of making sweeping, grandiose claims sometimes consistent with certain features of some mental illnesses.

Or maybe, in a way, they were. Maybe the early church did encounter these kinds of dynamics. Converts within the early church may not have had millions of fans spread through every time zone, but they certainly had parallel influence in their own world. During Jesus’ own time, one of his followers was Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward – broadly speaking, comparable to the Chief of Staff’s spouse. There were plenty of other powerful people who were public – or even private – followers of Jesus. (When Nicodemus went to talk surreptitiously with Jesus at night, you won’t read Jesus saying, “now, Nicodemus, you believe in secret, but when are you going to go public?” It’s worth some mulling.)

Later, when blinded Saul-turned-Paul gasped to others of his vision of Jesus, he wasn’t believed by some because he was so renowned for his violent persecution of early Christ followers; they were afraid of him and thought they were being trapped. They didn’t easily trust his testimony of conversion. There was deep skepticism and some understandable fear of what might come next.

Things got quite bad for Christians, whether their background was Jewish or Gentile – Nero’s treatment of Christians is infamous. And so one of the challenges in the early church was quite painful: what to do with people who denied their faith during persecution – physical torture with threat of death – and then came back later, apologizing, saying they really did believe? During a time marked tragically by martyrs, imagine losing friends and loved ones, surviving, then gathering for worship on Sunday and seeing someone who was alive because they had denied Jesus. What do you do with that? What approach does the church take as it hears their story? Early church leaders didn’t wholesale reject people who, in the face of horrible suffering, had denied Christ. And yet – what does it mean to testify to genuine faith? Could they believe these remorseful people rejoining their gathering – or, like the fear about blinded Saul, were they being trapped?

That very same terrorist-turned-missionary Paul gave pragmatic advice sometimes in his letters, a reminder that sometimes we need to appeal to the earthy wisdom of common sense even while practicing spiritual discernment.

So how should Christians respond when anyone testifies to converting, when anyone declares that they now follow Jesus? And how should Christians respond when someone does that who might, in your own congregation, elicit a sense of suspicion or hesitancy?

*Watch and wait. Be as “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves,” a phrase that reminds the hearer to be both kind and shrewd. This attitude might take at face value the first time; then exercise caution the second time, watching for growth; then employ healthy skepticism the third time. Just as not everyone who calls a church for emergency assistance at the holidays is scamming, and not everyone who calls for emergency assistance actually needs help, so it is with testimony of personal religious experience. In the case of benevolent funds and people asking for assistance, good policies usually reflect the reality that some are genuine while others are not, and the dynamic is similar to people who testify to conversion. Sometimes they’ve genuinely encountered God; sometimes their peers became people of faith so they went along with it; sometimes there seemed something to gain by professing Christianity – dating a particular person, or gaining trust in the business community, or gaining trust from a suspicious spouse to maintain cover for the real thing they want to continue unhindered. So with kindness, and with shrewdness, watch and wait.

*You can celebrate genuinely, without flippantly assuming that someone who claims profound life change is now completely mature or spiritually, emotionally, and mentally healthy. It might look something like this – “That’s great. I’m happy they’ve had a significant experience of some kind. I don’t know the details, but I’m sure that like everyone else they’ll have some tough patches and will need a lot of support and community along the way.” And you smile, and thank God, and pray for the person, believing in God’s power to transform – and knowing that transformation is a process that extends beyond a moment.

Postures something like this give an uncomplicated benefit of the doubt, without making it sound like the community of faith will immediately benefit from this conversion, which is what an attitude of transaction or gain implies – the “We got so-and-so in the draft!” kind of responses. The Church as an organism doesn’t need any high-profile convert to legitimize itself. Rather, a posture like this acknowledges that the spiritual life is challenging; not everyone who initially responds will continue on the path. It’s like the parable of the seed scattered on the soil. Some sprang up quickly but wilted in the heat, other seed got choked out by weeds, but a little – a fraction of what was scattered – took root and grew strong. So celebrate seedlings: not as tally marks for what you can grow, but as fragile new plants needing care and support.

*A person’s value doesn’t come from whether or not they’re on your “team.” People aren’t a draft pick that will help vault your faith into the end zone. People aren’t just an asset gained because they can bring their existing platform to your congregation. A celebrity and a Dollar General cashier are both humans made in the image of God whether or not they ever darken the doorstep of your church. Their value doesn’t change when they decide to follow Jesus. Their value won’t change if they stop believing in God. Their value doesn’t change whether they lose their fortune or win the lottery. Do we treat people like individuals with a particular story – or are we prone to reducing the complexity of personal lives into a transaction?

People can tell when you’re trying to recruit them. When you want to add them to your deck as a handy asset. And if they can’t now, they will later, when their profession of faith is scored into a total for a post-holiday social media post about impact made – for the Kingdom… Don’t exploit peoples’ spiritual lives like this. You don’t know if they’re vulnerable and easing into a faith community after a horrific experience in a church – or if they know an eager believer makes a handy character witness for their upcoming legal needs! Celebrities, star athletes, business gurus, single parents on disability, the guy working the gas station register, the shopping cart collector at Target: each one is loved by God, and the value of each person isn’t determined by whether or not they’re on your team. Love people more than you love what they can do for you.

*Continue to remember our belief that people can turn to God, find faith in Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, be transformed. Christians believe change is possible.Through Christ, the jerk can become the nicest person in town. Through Christ, the embittered can become thankful and gracious. Through Christ, the addict can find sobriety – one day at a time. Through Christ, the egotistical can become humble and helpful. Dramatic conversion stories sometimes appeal to people so deeply because people are so desperate to hope and believe that real change is possible. Even in the lives of the most obnoxious people you know, even when the most obnoxious person you know is in the mirror. God makes all things new and there is nothing out of God’s reach. God’s not intimidated by your stench and God’s not waiting for you to clean up your act. While we were still smashing the window or lying or feeding our ego, Christ died for all of us who were so unlike God (to paraphrase Scripture).

In Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome, we read, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. ” (Romans 12:9-13)

What else are we to do in a broken, hurting world, but to, “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”? When we see people desperate and hungry for God, we pray for them: we joyfully hope, we’re patient when it doesn’t go well despite our hope, and we remain faithful in praying. It’s part of loving others. It’s part of what it means to believe – not in a person’s own ability to change, but in God’s desire and ability to bring transformation anywhere and everywhere. When we hope with joy, when we’re patient, when we stick to praying with perseverance, then we can freely practice generous hospitality. Not so that we can hashtag it for social media fodder, not so that we can collect a rare celebrity trading card for our faith deck, but because we love people; we love them more than we love what they can do for us.

Brian Yeich ~ What Providence Looks Like

At times it seems that people who come from Wesleyan Methodist backgrounds have an “arm’s length” relationship with the idea of providence. At its most basic level, providence is the activity of God working out God’s redemptive plans for his creation. It’s God working out a rescue plan for creation, and the idea that God is working behind the scenes without our involvement or cooperation is a bit unnerving to Wesleyan sensibilities. For after all, aren’t we the people who believe in cooperating grace (that is, that there is a degree of cooperation we engage in when it comes to God’s saving work)? We are the movement that emphasizes human free will and our ability to choose or reject the gift of grace that God offers. “Providence” just sounds too much like those Reformed or Calvinist folks, we think. But if we take a closer look, we see that the founder of our movement, John Wesley, had a very robust understanding of divine providence. So, what are we to think about providence as Wesleyans?

Let’s describe what providence is not. Providence does not mean that we have no free will. God’s providence does not rule out human freedom. Providence is not opposed to cooperation with God. Providence does not mean we are “off the hook” or that we have no sense of responsibility when it comes to spiritual growth. Rather, we cooperate with God as we grow in our faith by practicing spiritual disciplines, or the “means of grace.”

So, what is providence?

Providence is at the heart of Christian theology. Christians throughout the ages, although there have been exceptions, have affirmed that God is not simply a clockmaker who put the universe into motion and has since left it unattended to its own ends. Rather, providence affirms that God is working behind the scenes, sometimes imperceptibly, but working nevertheless. Drawing on centuries of Christian understanding, the late theologian Thomas Oden defined providence as, “the expression of the divine will, power, and goodness through which the Creator preserves creatures, cooperates with what is coming to pass through their actions, and guides creatures in their long-range purposes.”[1] Providence is both evidence of God’s love for his creation as well as his sovereignty.

John Wesley had strong convictions regarding God’s providence. With his both/and approach, Wesley shared great insights into the nature of God and into the life of the Christian disciple through the lens of providence. In his sermon, On Providence, Wesley urged, “There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation, which is of deeper importance than this. And, at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood.”[2]

While Christian thinkers for centuries affirmed God’s omniscience and omnipresence, Wesley acknowledged that our limited human understanding has trouble grasping the concept of God’s providential nature. Wesley emphasized that we should be humbled by the fact that God, infinite in wisdom and power, is yet concerned with his creation’s wellbeing. Wesley pointed out that while with God all things are possible, “He that can do all things else cannot deny himself.”[3] While it is within God’s power to destroy all sin and evil in the world, for instance, this would contradict God’s nature. Particularly, this would contradict the fact that humanity was created in God’s own image. However, Wesley clarified, this is where the providence of God enters into the equation. While God allows human beings to choose between good and evil, God’s providence is a work, “to assist man [sic] in attaining the end of his being, in working out his own salvation, so far as it can be done without compulsion, without over-ruling his liberty.”  Wesley envisions God’s providence operating in a “three-fold circle” within creation.[4]

First, Wesley observed, the whole universe is governed by God, including the movements of the sun, moon and stars as well as animal life. Beyond this governance, Wesley describes three circles of God’s providence. The first of the three circles encompasses all of humanity. Within this circle, God’s providence works in the world… The second circle includes “all that profess to believe in Christ.”[5] Within this circle, God is at work… The final and innermost circle, encompasses, “real Christians, those that worship God, not in form only, but in spirit and in truth. Herein are comprised all that love God, or, at least, truly fear God and work righteousness; all in whom is the mind which was in Christ, and who walk as Christ also walked.”[6] (Interestingly, Wesley argued that it is within this circle that Luke 12:7 is realized: “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”[7] He commented, “Nothing relative to these is too great, nothing too little, for his attention.”[8] While God is concerned for all of his creation, Wesley believed that the Lord gives special attention to those who are fully devoted followers of Jesus.)

Throughout his writings including his journal and letters, Wesley noted on many occasions the “train of providences” that God worked in particular situations. He often ascribes additional descriptive words like, “uncommon,” “various,” “wonderful,” and “whole” to further describe these instances in which Wesley observed the hand of God at work in the lives of Christians. He emphasized that while God has established general laws that govern the universe, God is free to, “make exceptions to them, whensoever he pleases.” [9] For Wesley, God’s care for creation and especially for human beings is not hindered by the laws of the universe.

In the conclusion of his sermon, Wesley encourages Christians to put their full trust in the Lord and to not fear. God’s providence means that we can trust him even when it seems that our world or the whole world is falling apart. He does not deny that we will face challenges and sorrows, but that we should walk humbly before God and trust that “God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[10] The Christian’s hope is in the Lord who not only governs the universe but also cares particularly for those who follow God. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. No detail escapes his attention. God’s providence gives us hope for both our present and our future. It’s not a matter of just saying that “everything happens for a reason,” for God is not the source of evil or chaos. However, we can trust that behind it all, God is at work. It does not mean that everything will go well for us, but it does mean that God is with us every step of the way. Perhaps that was the motivation of John Wesley on his deathbed when he uttered the words, “The best of all, God is with us.”[11]

[1] Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] John Wesley, “On Divine Providence” (1786), in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols.,(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 6:315; hereafter cited as Works (Jackson).

[3] Ibid. p. 317.

[4] This idea is from Thomas Crane, A Prospect of Divine Providence which Wesley included in his Christian Library.

[5] Ibid., p. 319

[6] Ibid., p. 319

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).

[8] Ibid., p. 320

[9] Ibid., p. 322.

[10] Romans 8:28. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).

[11] Ken Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey, (Nashville, TN: Abindgon Press, 2003), p, 268.

Michael Smith ~ Of Pirates and Preserving Grace: Jonah’s Reluctance

Do you have a favorite pirate story or pirate movie? Often, I picture the sailors in the story of Jonah like they’re out of pirate lore.

He [Jonah] said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. So they called on the Lord, saying, “Please, Lord, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the Lord: whatever you want, you can do.” Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. The men worshipped the Lord with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made solemn promises. – Jonah 1:12-16

The story of Jonah isn’t just about him and a giant sea creature.  The story of Jonah is about a merciful, compassionate God who wants a prophet to deliver a message to the city of Ninevah.  Ninevah was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and pretty much a terrible place to be. 

Jonah hears God and does not want to be the messenger, so he runs and finds himself on a ship headed in the opposite direction.  He is hanging out with a bunch of pagan sailors, then he takes a nap during an incredible storm. 

And then Jonah wakes up. He does it literally and metaphorically. The storm is raging, and Jonah wakes up from his deep sleep, thanks to the help of a friendly pagan sailing officer. Now Jonah realizes what he must do. He tells the sailors to toss him overboard, because he believes that his God is acting like all the other gods, punishing him and them in the process. (That is so “Ancient Near East” of Jonah.) However, God is going to reveal who he really is to Jonah – just not in this part of the story.

After Jonah says, “hurl me into the sea,” something strange happens. The sailors start rowing to dry land. Though it’s easy to skip ahead and assume that they picked him up and tossed him right in – they didn’t. These outsider sailors are acting in a gracious way — a foreshadowing of a gracious God who will relent and not destroy an entire corrupt city.

They decide to try to take him to shore rather than toss him in. They want to do the generous thing here. Their attitude evokes what Jesus said in Matthew 5:40-42:

When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat, too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

They are going the extra mile.

In the end, they can’t get past the storm; rowing to shore isn’t an option. So they pray, but this time they pray to the Lord God. They are not looking to their gods anymore. In a strange sort of way, Jonah has pointed them to his. They pray and say, “Please, Lord, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the Lord: whatever you want, you can do.”

They toss him in, and the seas are stilled. This brings about the following behavior:

  • The sailors worship the Lord with profound reverence.
  • They offer a sacrifice to the Lord.
  • They make solemn promises.

Who knew that this would be a transforming part of the story for these sailors? In what seemed like a moment of defeat for Jonah, there’s actually a small victory. He just wanted to be done with following God. But even as he is asking for the sailors to toss him to his death, they are converted, and Jonah’s life is preserved.

What should we make of this?

It is never too late to turn to God. If these pirates can do it, you can too.

How might God take your unwilling attitude or even your defeat and use it to make a difference in someone’s life?

So don’t discount the superstitious sailors and the pirates in your life – they just might be an example of how to respond to God.

Carolyn Moore ~ The Mystery and Glory of Communion with God

My sister, after years away from the faith, came home to Christ in the Lutheran church. The transition back into the church world, while it was welcomed, still had its moments. She’d dealt with a lot in her life and carried a lot of shame. As a Lutheran she took communion every Sunday but she noticed that communion just made her feel more guilty. She often thought as she’d go to the altar, “I’m not worthy.” But Lutherans take communion every week, so every week she had to deal with what it means to be invited to the table as a person with a past.

Then one Sunday, something shifted. She was at the railing to receive the elements, but the person with the wine was moving slowly so she’d gotten the wafer but had to hold it in her mouth while she waited for the wine. Kneeling there with that wafer melting in her mouth, a memory floated forward. It was a moment she’d had with our father when he was in his last days on earth. He was home with hospice care and she’d been with him for days but was about to go back home to another state. This was the last time she would see him alive and they both knew it. They told each other good-bye and she left crying but before she could get out of the driveway, someone waved her back into the house. Daddy had asked for her again. He wanted her to bring him two pieces of ice. My father hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days so this was sort of an odd request. My sister went and got the ice and took it to him and he took one piece and told her to keep the other one. And he said, “Now, you go on home but when you leave I want you to put your piece of ice in your mouth and I’ll put my piece in my mouth.”

That was it. He didn’t say any more than that but as my sister left the house with that ice in her mouth, she said, “I knew exactly what he meant. He meant that even if we were separated, if we were doing the same thing at the same time then we were still connected.” So it seemed to my sister that her daddy was saying, “Here’s something tangible to hold on to, and when you do this I will meet you in this act.”

That whole memory came to my sister while she knelt there at the communion rail with the body of Christ melting into the roof of her mouth. “That’s when I got it,” she told me. “Because if I’m holding this in my mouth right now, then Jesus must be saying to me that he’s here and I’m here in the very same space. The real Jesus. I’m in his presence and he is in mine. He’s saying, ‘I’m not leaving you. It might look like I’m leaving, but I’m not leaving. This is not the end.’”

Ever since, my sister tells me, she revels in the opportunity to take communion. Because she so wants to see Jesus.


Read more from Rev. Carolyn Moore at www.artofholiness.com.

David Watson ~ Grace

Christians in the Wesleyan tradition love to talk about grace, and with good reason. God’s grace is another way of talking about God’s love, love that can overcome anything, including the many ways in which we humans rebel against our creator. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” And then to underscore the point that this is God’s doing, and not our own, he interjects, “By grace you have been saved!” (2:4-5). In case it wasn’t clear enough the first time, he repeats it again just a few verses later: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8-9).

When we speak of God’s grace, we mean an undeserved gift. In a world where we so often hear that people “get what they deserve,” our faith tells us that God gives us exactly what we do not deserve.” In fact, God offers us something much better than we deserve. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is like a place where we receive not on the basis of our efforts, but on the basis of God’s generosity, and our God is indeed generous.

We cannot earn God’s love. Rather, God simply loves us. As we read in Psalm 103:8-10,

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.

The clearest sign of God’s love and grace is the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. Christ humbled himself and became human (Phil 2:5-11), a person with flesh, blood, and emotions, like any of us. He went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He truly suffered and truly died so that broken people like us could have new life. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this “costly grace.” Costly indeed: the Holy One of God, the beloved Son of the Father, who was without sin, gave himself up to suffering and death for our salvation. In Romans Paul observes, “Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8).

The theme of God’s grace shows up regularly in Wesley’s sermons. Grace, for Wesley, was a way of talking about all the work God does in our lives to lead us more deeply into salvation. Wesley sometimes spoke of preventing (or prevenient) grace. The term “preventing” here meant something different in Wesley’s day than it does in ours. In Wesley’s sermons, it means that God’s grace comes to us before we ever have the slightest inkling that we need God. The Holy Spirit creates in us “the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight, transient conviction of having sinned against him” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” II.i).  In other words, preventing grace creates in us the first awareness that something is not right in our lives, and that only God can truly make things right.

We can, of course, entirely reject these inclinations. We can push them aside, chalk them up to sentimentality or heartburn, and go on our way. Wesley was well aware that many people do just that. Alternatively, however, if we allow these feelings to grow in our hearts, if we begin to take seriously the desire for repentance that God creates within us, we will begin to feel a deep conviction of sin. Wesley calls this convincing grace, or, simply, repentance, “which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” II.i.). Why do we think of repentance as a form of grace? Remember that, without God’s help, we could never repent to start with, and without repentance, we cannot be saved from sin and death.

With repentance, however, comes a deep desire to be freed from both the guilt and the power of sin. This is where justifying and sanctifying grace come in. Every one of us has acted many times in ways that are out of sync with God’s will. That’s simply part of the human condition. Or, to put it another way, our sins create a chasm between God and us. Jesus, on the cross, has bridged that chasm. He has atoned for our sins. Think of atonement as at-one-ment. In his death on the cross, Jesus has made it possible for us to return to a right relationship with God. Jesus didn’t have to do this. He did it out of love for us. It is a gift. It is grace. It is, in fact, justifying grace – the gift of God’s forgiveness of our sins.

God doesn’t just free us from the guilt of sin, however. God frees us from the power of sin as well. From that first moment when we begin to feel God drawing us into a closer relationship with him, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts. God begins to change us from the inside out. Our desires begin to change. The way we see the world changes. We begin to hope for different things. We begin to react to adversity differently than we would have before. We begin to regard other people in a new way–even the ones who are hard to like. This is God’s gift to us. It is the gift of sanctifying grace. “Sanctification” is just another way of saying that God is making us holier people, and that is just another way of saying that God is making us into the people we were always meant to be.

The grace of God in our lives changes us, and in turn we extend grace to others. When someone is unkind to us, we can extend him or her grace. We can forgive those who have hurt us. We can give without thought of what we might receive in return. We can even love our enemies. Whether or not the recipients of our grace deserve it or not is beside the point. God gave to us simply out of love, and God requires and empowers us to do the same to others. God’s grace is so abundant that it flows out of our lives and into the lives of other people. As Wesley put it, “God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” III.3).

There is real beauty in the work of God – glorious, simple, earth-shaking beauty. That beauty is expressed more perfectly in poetry than prose, as Charles Wesley so aptly demonstrates in his hymn, “Father of Everlasting Grace”:

Send us the Spirit of Thy Son,
To make the depths of Godhead known,
To make us share the life divine;
Send Him the sprinkled blood to apply,
Send Him our souls to sanctify,
And show and seal us ever Thine.

Freely we have received, and so freely let us give. May God make it so in our lives.


Reprinted with permission.

Featured image is “Grace Lake,” painted by Canadian artist Franklin Carmichael in 1934.

Steve Beard ~ Soul Man: The Sweet Sound of Al Green

When British musician Elvis Costello was asked if he had ever had a religious experience, he responded, “No, but I have heard Al Green.” Not a bad compliment coming from Costello, a musical legend in his own right.

The legendary Rev. Al Green turns 70 today.

Green rose to international fame with timeless hits such as “Let’s Stay Together,” “Call Me,” “Take Me to the River,” “I’m Still in Love with You,” “Tired of Being Alone,” and “Love and Happiness.” In the early 1970s, he sold more than 20 million albums. He was the Prince of Love, the man with the trademark smile that made women swoon in near-riotous concerts as he tossed long stem red roses to adoring fans. A few years ago, Rolling Stone declared that Green is “the greatest popular singer of all time,” describing his songs as “unsurpassed in their subtlety, grace, intimacy, and invention.”

His silky smooth voice was coupled with stage charisma and undeniable charm. He was the consummate ladies’ man. His voice was a liquid calling card, wooing the listener into a sensuous and lush boudoir of his own creation.

In the summer of 1973, he had an experience that would forever change his life. He had flown from San Francisco to Anaheim, California, for his next show. Shortly after four in the morning, he was awakened by the sounds of shouting. “I sat bolt upright in bed, frightened that some crazy fan had broken into the room,” he writes in his autobiography, Take Me To The River. Green then realized that the commotion he was hearing was coming from his own mouth. “And while the words I shouted were of no earthly tongue, I immediately recognized what they meant. I was praising God…and lifting my voice to heaven with the language of angels to proclaim his majesty on high.”

He laughed. He cried. He knocked on doors of the hotel, telling complete strangers what had happened to him. One woman slammed the door in his face. Someone eventually called security.

Saint Paul was converted on the road to Damascus; Al Green was made righteous off Interstate 5 near Disneyland.

Green had been singing about love and happiness, but there was a war going on inside—a battle for the substance of his soul. He eventually abandoned his mainstream singing career in 1976 and began pastoring Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, Tennessee.

For eight years, he sang only Gospel until he sensed God give him the green light to sing his old songs. Today, the soul man still puts on the pizzazz in mainstream venues. Resplendent in his white suit and Ray Ban sunglasses, and loaded with long stem roses like a florist, he still has the magic to commandeer the human heart, making it pulse in romance or worship—our very own funky St. Valentine.

“Now I am comfortable mixing everything up, and my audience has responded favorably,” he told the Los Angeles Times several years ago. “When I finished a short prayer at this gig…, people stood up and cheered. That told me that I could give audiences a little bit of the Reverend and they’d likely rejoice.” He sings “Amazing Grace” in casino showrooms in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, knowing that many of his admirers hunger for redemption just as he once had.

Full Gospel Tabernacle’s unassuming geodesic sanctuary is tucked in on the side of a quiet residential road, a few miles south of Graceland, off Elvis Presley Boulevard. For 40 years, it has played host to a myriad of music fans who make it a part of their Memphis pilgrimage. They stick out like sore thumbs, showing up promptly at 11 a.m. for a service that will not start for another half-hour. One Sunday while I was visiting, they appeared from Ireland, Arkansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Carolina, and England.

The visitors are greeted warmly. After all these years, the congregation has become very familiar with the novelty factor involved with having a musical icon behind the pulpit. Nevertheless, they are here to get down with God, not impress the guests (for example, there are none of Green’s Greatest Hits collections sold in the church lobby). The choir marches in and the B-3 Hammond organ starts to crank up the funk, while the electric guitar starts to wail.

Reverend Al walks around the sanctuary fiddling with his lapel microphone, gently patting visitors on the shoulder as he glides to the back of the sanctuary to adjust his own sound at the mixing board.

Back at the pulpit, Reverend Al is feeling the “unction of the Holy Ghost,” as he calls it. He starts to bob and weave like a boxer as he delivers his sermon on faith. “Hold on, God is coming!” he shouts. “Help is on the way,” he purrs. When he calls for the assembly to give a wave offering by lifting our arms, you can see the nervousness rise in the visitors. Awkwardly, we wave our arms in the air. Who is going to refuse Reverend Al? “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Stop looking at Al Green,” he says. “Al Green himself came to worship God. He’s been soooo good to me,” he starts to sing as the musicians crank up the volume.

When he starts singing “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus,” you know you have been to church. “You are not here by accident,” he says. “I am the same person you heard sing all those songs, but I am not the same person,” he testifies. “I couldn’t preach for 25 years if something didn’t happen to me.” Speaking to the visitors with a winsome grin, he says, “Come and see Al, but Al doesn’t hold the key to your salvation. I can sing ‘Love and Happiness’ four times and I still will not hold your salvation.”

The Reverend closes out the 11 o’clock service at 1:25 p.m. with a soul-felt version of “Gonna Sit Down on the Banks of the River” by blues legend Reverend Gary Davis. He leaves us at the banks, and the decision is ours. Shall we jump in or walk away? You can tell what Green has done. You can see it in his eyes, in his smile, in the intonations of his honey-like voice.

Otis Redding died in a plane crash at 26, Sam Cooke was shot at 33, Jackie Wilson’s career was over at 41, and Marvin Gaye was killed by his father at 44. Al Green is alive—and he is grateful. Somebody shout, Amen!

It is one thing to sing about love and happiness; it is an entirely different enterprise to experience it. As he grabs hold of the pulpit, festooned in his preaching robe, you can see it on his face. He arrived at the river’s edge and took a dive into faith. He looks up at us with a grin and seems to say, “Hop in. The water’s fine.”

This article is adapted from Spiritual Journeys: How Faith Has Influenced Twelve Music Icons (Relevant).

Jerry Walls ~ Divine Predestination and Human Freedom

Like divine sovereignty as we previously discussed here, predestination is not a Calvinist doctrine, it is a biblical doctrine.

And indeed, as a theologian steeped in Scripture, Wesley not only affirmed the doctrine, he affirmed a very strong version of it.  He chose for his sermon “On Predestination” a classic text dealing with this great biblical truth, Romans 8:29-30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

There Paul summarizes God’s action in saving us in terms of his foreknowing us, predestining us, calling us, justifying us, and glorifying us.  As Wesley notes, some have understood this text as a “chain of causes and effects,” but he argues that it simply states “the order in which the several branches of salvation constantly flow from each other.”

But again, it is important to stress that Wesley insists on a very strong doctrine of predestination.  Here are some lines from his sermon that capture the heart of his view:

God decrees from everlasting to everlasting that all who believe in the Son of his love shall be conformed to his image, shall be saved from all inward and outward sin into all inward and outward holiness….and this in virtue of the unchangeable, irreversible, irresistible decree of God: ‘He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.’

Notice, God has decreed from all eternity who will be saved: those who believe in Jesus, the Son of his love.  His eternal decree, moreover, is irreversible and irresistible.  God sets the terms of salvation and those terms are unalterable. There is no other way to be saved.  Furthermore, God has decreed that those who believe in Jesus are predestined to be conformed to his image, to become holy, through and through, just like Jesus is.

Think of it this way.  Predestination is like a train that has a pre-determined destination.  All who board the train and remain on it will inevitably arrive at that predetermined destination.  Moreover, there is no other way to reach that destination.  If we want to make it there, we have to get on that train, and remain on it through each of the stops along the way.  The train is firmly on the track, and the engineer is capable and determined to bring all passengers who are aboard to the pre-determined destination.

The predetermined destination is heaven.  It is holiness, it is being like Jesus.   And the only way we can get there is to believe in Jesus.  In fact, we might even say that Jesus is the train.  The call of God invites us to board the train.  If we exercise faith in Christ, we are “in Christ” as Paul puts it.  And all who are “in Christ” are on the way to the predestined end so long as they stay on the train.  Those who are called to believe, to “come aboard,” may choose not to do so, and if they decide they do not want to be made holy like Jesus, they may exit the train at one of its stops along the way.

Here we see a parting of the ways between the Wesleyan view of predestination and the Calvinist view.  We can put the question like this: who can get on the train?  The Wesleyan answer is that everyone is not only invited and called to get on, but that God gives everyone the grace that enables them to do so.  If they do not get on, or if they choose to get off before the train reaches its final destination, it is because of their own free choice to reject God’s love and grace.

By contrast, the Calvinist says only certain persons are chosen to be saved, and while all are called or invited onto the train, only the elect are given the grace to come.  Indeed, those who are elect are called in such a way that they cannot refuse the invitation.  Here is a description of the special call in the Westminster Confession, a classic Calvinist statement of faith.

All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace (X.1, emphasis added).

Now, compare this statement from Wesley describing how God extends his grace to fallen sinners.

To reclaim these, God uses all manner of ways; he tries every avenue of their souls.  He applies sometimes to their understanding, showing them the folly of their sins; sometimes to their affections, tenderly expostulating with them for their ingratitude, and even condescending to ask, ‘What could I have done for’ you (consistent with my eternal purpose, not to force you) ‘which I have not done?’

Notice that both passages describe how God influences us by way of our minds, our emotions and our wills.  But here is the crucial difference: as the Calvinist sees it, God determines those he has chosen for salvation to come.  He acts upon them in such a way that he changes their thoughts, gives them a new heart, and renews their will.  As a result, they are determined to come to Christ, and yet they come “most freely”!

Now this might seem like blatant nonsense, but in fact it is not.  The claim here is that freedom and determinism are fully compatible if you define freedom the right way.  In essence, for the Calvinist freedom means that God causes you to have the thoughts, feelings, and desires you have. As a result, you act exactly as God has caused you to act, but you still do what you “want” to do, so you are free.  You cannot will to do otherwise, but you still do what you want to do because God has not determined you to act against your will.  Rather, he determines you to act in accord with the desires he has caused you to have.

Wesley insisted otherwise.  True freedom is not compatible with determinism.  On his view, God calls us, reasons with us, shows us the truth, and so on.  But he will not determine our choices, for what he wants from us is true love, worship and obedience.  And in Wesley’s view, this requires that God cannot determine our choices.

So in short, God predestines the means and the end of salvation.  And he truly wants all persons to get on board, and he has provided grace for all to do so.  But we have the freedom to reject his grace and refuse the ride of our lives.   But if so, it is not because God did not do everything he could, short of overriding our freedom, to get and keep us on the train.

Ellsworth Kalas ~ Singing As If It Were Easter


I think it can fairly be said that Charles Wesley has given the world its best and most popular songs for both Christmas and Easter. The Christmas competition is substantial, because we all love so much of the music of the season. I dare to make the case for “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” not only because it is so exuberant and so easy to sing, but also because it is so packed full of basic Christian doctrine. There’s enough there to summarize the whole plan of salvation and to set your soul to rejoicing while you do so.

But Wesley’s Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” stands alone in the music of Easter. There’s a vigorous “Alleluia!” at the end of each line, as if Brother Charles knew that he’d better write it into the poem because each lead-in line insisted on it – if Charles didn’t provide an “Alleluia,” the singers would interrupt the hymn to shout it. Besides, as the late Robert McCutchan noted, it was an early Christian custom for Christians to salute one another on Easter morning with “Hallelujah!”

Wesley wrote this hymn in 1739, which makes it one of his earliest hymns. As originally written, it had eleven stanzas. This means that there were forty-four declarations to which the people sang their “Alleluia.” There’s no question but that the first line ought to be the first line – “Christ the Lord is risen today” – because all else follows from that premise. If you accept that fact (and God have mercy on you if you don’t), it’s easy to “raise your joys and triumphs high,” and to know as you do so that the “heavens and earth reply.”

And if you know that He is risen, of course “Love’s redeeming work is done,” and the battle has been fought, and won, and you know that “Christ has opened paradise.” And you have reason to affirm Paul’s statement in melody: “Where, O death, is now thy sting? Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?” And you’re very sure that we can now, by grace, expect to “soar … where Christ has led, Following our exalted Head,” because “Made like him, like him we rise.”

It’s all very easy to sing if we believe the first line, that Christ is risen. And you’re glad that you can sing “Alleluia!” at the conclusion of each line because without that exclamation something inside you might burst. It’s a song that makes one sing like it’s Easter, because it is. And that’s the whole, holy fact of the matter.


Visiting the Sick: How We Participate in Our Own Salvation

Around the time the Methodist revival in England completed its first decade, John Wesley penned an essay called A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists. His aim is to explain the Methodist movement to the larger world, which he does by describing the various internal components of the revival that had developed during Methodism’s first ten years.

One of the components Wesley focuses upon is the prominent place of lay leadership within Methodism. He makes it clear that the revival is not a clergy-driven enterprise. As Wesley tells it, Methodism has many roles for laity that allow them to serve in active ministry. He describes the roles of Lay Preachers and Stewards. He documents the contributions of Class Leaders and Visitors of the Sick. Each of these “offices” has a set of responsibilities attached to it. Each of them is also empowered to do ministry—shepherding the members of the local Methodist societies in ways designed to care for them, nurture their discipleship, and push them forward in mission.

The role of the group that Wesley calls “Visitors of the Sick” is particularly remarkable. As he describes their work, Wesley makes it clear that Methodists understand pastoral care to be something that all people should do. In other words, pastoral care is not just a responsibility of the ordained pastors!

The kinds of caring activities that Visitors of the Sick take on are aimed toward assisting sick people in both spiritual and practical ways. Wesley reports that when Visitors call on the sick, they “inquire into the state of their souls” as well as “inquire into their disorders.” They also give advice in both spiritual and physical areas, and they are responsible for obtaining any practical support or goods that the sick may need.

Wesley believes that the fruits of this part of Methodist practice will be obvious to any who care to take a look. He first describes the benefit that the ministry of visitation has had for the sick themselves: “Many lives have been saved, many sicknesses healed, much pain and want prevented or removed. Many heavy hearts have been made glad, many mourners comforted.” Then he adds a little coda: “And the visitors have found from him whom they serve a present reward for all their labour.”

It’s an intriguing comment, and one so brief you might skim over it. Wesley seems to be saying that something happens beyond an act of charity when a visitor spends time in conversation and prayer with someone who is ill. The benefits to the sick person are obvious enough. He receives support—emotional or practical—and is reminded of the love that both God and his neighbor bear toward him. But Wesley is suggesting that something else happens as well. The visitor herself receives a “present reward” from God through the work of visitation.

Visiting the Sick as a Means of Grace

Though he doesn’t elaborate on what he means by the “present reward” in the Plain Account, Wesley does go into more detail elsewhere. His sermon, “On Visiting the Sick,” is written to encourage Christians to embrace the calling to care for the broken and ill amongst them. As the sermon begins, Wesley notes that there are certain activities that all people agree are means of grace—the Lord’s Supper, prayer, hearing and reading the Scripture, and fasting. We all know that these practices of worship and devotion “convey the grace of God to the souls of men,” Wesley says. Then he stops us in our tracks with a question: “But are they the only means of grace?” Indeed, Wesley asks, are there not certain works of mercy that can serve as true means of grace as well?

At this point, Wesley presses the theology of the means of grace in a truly creative direction. Sure, we may not have detailed instruction from Jesus Christ about the works of mercy the way we do about those “instituted” means of grace like prayer and the Lord’s Supper. But we do have the general command from Jesus to care for the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the imprisoned, and the sick—in short, the teaching that is found in Matthew 25:31-41. By the exercise of our prudence (i.e., practical wisdom gained by experience), Wesley claims, we can find that such activities are also real means of grace.

As one of these “prudential” means of grace, visiting the sick increases our thankfulness to God. Being present with the suffering reminds us of the suffering of Jesus Christ for us; thusly, we are reminded of the promise of salvation both for the afflicted person and for ourselves. At the same time, our care of the sick increases our sense of sympathy and benevolence as well as “all social affections,” Wesley says.

Participating in Our Own Salvation

John Wesley’s counsel on visitation of the sick provides insight into a number of core Wesleyan convictions about both ministry and theology. We can draw out a number of them here. The first has to do with pastoral care. If all Christians are called to care for the sick and wounded, then pastoral care is a communal ministry. It isn’t just about the pastor individually going around and tending to the needy in one-on-one fashion.

Instead, the care of the community must be undertaken by all baptized Christians for one another. And this is more than a duty; it is a way to empower laymen and women for ministry. (While we have focused on the example of Visitors of the Sick here, we could make similar arguments for the other forms of lay ministry that Wesley cites, such as Class Leaders, Stewards, etc.)

Secondly, Wesley is expanding the concept of what a means of grace can be. The conventional understanding of the means of grace in Wesley’s context included what Wesley himself typically called the “works of piety.” These consisted of activities like prayer, hearing the Scriptures preached, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and public worship. Such things have always been understood (by people then and now) to draw us closer to God. By including the works of mercy as means of grace—as Wesley does with visiting the sick—he is saying that these, too, will draw us closer to God. So caring for the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden is not just about dispensing charity. It is a vital means for receiving God’s grace in our own lives. Loving our neighbor, in other words, increases our love of God.

Thirdly, Wesley is very subtly suggesting to us a point about what it means to participate in our own salvation. This connection may seem surprising at first, but it can be illuminated by comparing the Wesleyan view of salvation with the way Wesleyans have always understood the Calvinist alternative. The Calvinist tradition would have us believe that, in the final analysis, we have no meaningful part to play in salvation. We are counted among the elect or the reprobate according to God’s eternal decrees. If we have been predestined for salvation, there is nothing we can do to lose God’s blessing. If we have been chosen for damnation, on the other hand, there is nothing we can do to escape God’s wrath. Grace is irresistible according to this view, and therefore salvation is ultimately a passive experience.

The Wesleyan view of grace and salvation is decidedly different. To understand it, we must consider first the way God created human beings in the beginning. We were created in God’s image, with minds capable of understanding and hearts capable of self-giving love. As God is a being of ultimate freedom, God’s intention for us as his image-bearers has always been to enjoy freedom as well. But because we have been debilitated by sin, we’ve lost all these good gifts: our understanding is clouded, our hearts are broken, and our freedom is lost.

Grace is given to us both to forgive our guilt and to heal our brokenness. Grace, in other words, restores the image of God within us. As we receive grace through Jesus Christ, we find ourselves born again—a transformation that gives us new life. Now, here’s the rub: God’s desire is that our capacity for understanding and love be fully restored. But because real understanding and love are not constrained but rather free, we must freely receive them in order to receive them at all. In other words, we participate in our own salvation.

The word “salvation” means health. To be saved means to be made healthy in body, mind, and spirit. The first outpouring of grace into our lives comes to us unawares, and it begins to restore us just to the point that we can respond to God in faith. When we start making that faith response, we continue to receive grace upon grace. And so through an intimate relationship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit, we come to know what it means to be made whole.

Fine, you might say, but what does this process look like in an actual human life?

Here’s what it looks like: A forgiven sinner who knows how much Christ has done for her responds in faith by going to care for the sick and downtrodden. She prays for them, speaks with them, cares for them—in short, she visits them. And by doing these very active things her faith is increased all the more and she comes to have a greater share in God’s grace. By visiting the sick, she participates in her own salvation.

Wesleyan teaching affirms that all aspects of salvation come by the gift of God’s grace. Because grace conveys power to us, though, it gives us the ability—the freedom—to join in the very work God is doing for us. Ecclesiastes 11:1 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” It’s a verse often interpreted to mean that the good we do will be returned to us, even if it is at some unknown point in the future.

The Wesleyan conviction about loving our neighbor is similar, but the time frame is different. For if loving our neighbor is a real means of grace, we will have the reward for it in that moment. As we bear God’s love to another, we receive that love back again. And by this process, God shows to us the mystery of salvation.