Tag Archives: Sin

Andrew C. Thompson – The Power of Forgiveness


For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

That’s Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. It explains how birds fly and fish swim. Jump on a trampoline and you’ll experience the third law firsthand: You force the bounce mat down, and it springs back to throw you up into the air.

Newton’s law applies to actions and reactions in the physical world. But we can also see a similar law in human relationships. When you act emotionally towards someone else, he or she will always react back toward you.

Offer love to another, and you expect to receive that love back again. But lash out in anger, and the response will be different. Just as with Newton’s law, the character of the emotional reaction is determined by the initial act itself.

This isn’t so much the law of motion as it is the law of the heart. We’re made with it stitched into our souls. Human relationships work on an action-reaction dynamic. So wouldn’t it be great if we always acted out of love? And wouldn’t life be simpler if our loving acts were always interpreted as we meant them to be?

Unfortunately, the analogy between the law of motion and the law of the heart does have a limit. A bird’s wings beating against the air or a body’s weight on a trampoline are impersonal forces. There is no moral quality to motion.

Human relationships are very different. With us, the impersonal becomes very personal! Every one of our relationships has a moral character to it. We don’t, in fact, always act as we should. Even when we do, our actions and attitudes are not always interpreted as we mean them to be. The sinful and broken reality of life intrudes on every relationship we have.

Instead of love, we act in anger. Rather than gratitude, we experience greed. Given the opportunity to show compassion, we show cruelty instead. The clarity we wish existed in person-to-person interactions is missing; in its place we find the fuzziness of mistaken intentions and plain misunderstandings.

The law of the heart—as it turns out—is more like the law of the broken heart. The presence of sin within us ends up affecting our interactions at every level—a vicious cycle of hurt and revenge. Husbands and wives experience it in marriage. It thrives both in the workplace and the marketplace. Politics is rife with it. It’s the reason wars are fought in every age.

We don’t have to be convinced that love should be met with love, and anger with anger. We just don’t seem to know how to choose love consistently. Sometimes we don’t even know how to interpret love when it comes our way. We act out of anger and hate and resentment, and we react in those ways when others provoke us. Thus do we feed a monster whose appetite is endless.

From Revenge to Forgiveness

Our dilemma is that we ought to act and react in love, and instead we find ourselves doing the contrary. The Christian faith has a solution to the cycle of hurt and revenge, though, and it lies at the heart of the gospel. That solution is found in forgiveness.

We first must realize that there’s nothing natural about forgiveness. To practice it, we have to react to others in ways that are not equal and opposite to the actions upon us. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love,” the Prayer of Saint Francis puts it, and this is exactly the counterintuitive commitment that forgiveness requires. It’s so difficult that we cannot do it on our own.

The need for forgiveness to be at the center of human relationships is proven by the fact that forgiveness was at the very center of Jesus Christ’s ministry. He came into the world claiming the power to forgive sins. It was this very act that caused the religious authorities to oppose him saying, “It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).

We see in the crucifixion how the Son of Man who came to forgive sins finally becomes the agent of forgiveness through his own body. His sacrifice upon the cross mediates God’s forgiveness to the whole world. As the Apostle Paul puts it to the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are all called to receive Christ’s forgiveness, which we come to know through a sure trust and confidence in him and the power of his atonement for our sin.

Learning to forgive is the only path to truly loving relationships with others. And Jesus shows us that to acquire the forgiving heart that can allow us to forgive each and everyday, we must first come to know what it means to be forgiven.

Forgiveness and Sanctification

We are reconciled to God when we receive forgiveness in Christ. That is a monumental spiritual experience! But we haven’t fully overcome our problem just by being forgiven. We need both pardon for sin and the power to overcome its corrupting effects as we move forward in our lives. Without the power added to the pardon, I could hear the message of the cross with joy aplenty as it pertains to God’s forgiveness of me, while going right ahead and dealing out vengeance on all those I think have wronged me.

So where can any of us find that power?

John Wesley’s account of how the power of forgiveness is conveyed into the lives of believers is helpful on this point. Indeed, Wesley’s view on the power of forgiveness is full of deep spiritual insight—especially as it is related to the way that forgiveness can transform us inwardly. Take for example the oft-repeated story of Wesley’s experience on Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. Sometimes we can sentimentalize Wesley’s “heart strangely warmed” and confine its importance it to a moment of his personal spiritual journey. But Wesley’s narration of the Aldersgate story in his Journal makes a statement about the profound importance of forgiveness within the experience of salvation for all of us. Here’s how he describes what happened to him that evening:

“I felt I did trust in 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.”

Wesley is sharing one of the primary convictions of evangelical Christianity in this testimony: God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ is meant to be received personally by every child of God. This is what it means to know God as Father, and it is the way we are adopted into God’s family. The reconciliation we find in forgiveness is such a dramatic experience that it gives us new birth.

In Wesley’s view, though, the power of forgiveness extends event beyond the great moment of our reconciliation to God. Forgiveness is a part of our ongoing spiritual growth as well. To be redeemed—fully redeemed—means to be transformed by the love of God. So when the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians that Christ Jesus is the one “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:14), Wesley writes in his New Testament commentary, “Forgiveness is the beginning of redemption, as the resurrection is the completion of it.” He links the pardon of the cross with the power of the resurrection, not wanting us to diminish any part of the fullness of redemption.

On the other hand, Wesley also understands that forgiveness continues to work in us as a special kind of power, forming the very Christian virtues that will nurture a forgiving heart. Later in Colossians, Paul says we should embrace compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience—and finally love. And in the midst of that counsel, Paul emphasizes the need for Christians to forgive one another. “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you forgive” (Col 3:13), he writes. Wesley adds in his NT commentary that those who have been renewed by Christ’s forgiveness are none other than the elect of God, writing, “Holiness is the consequence of their election, and God’s superior love, of their holiness.” So forgiveness begins a renewal—a healing—in the soul. And the character of that renewal is a soul filled with God’s love. This is what it means to be made complete, as Wesley points out using the New Testament’s language of perfection: “The love of God contains the whole of Christian perfection, and connects all the parts of it together.”

The power of forgiveness is rooted in the fact that it is an act of God’s love. So forgiveness cancels our sin and then begins to heal us of that sin entirely, all the while enabling us to begin forgiving others.

Forgiveness, in this sense, is the very rhythm of redemption. Our redemption and the redemption of all our relationships.

“We love him because he first loved us,” Wesley tells us in the sermon, “On Family Religion.” That love is, fundamentally, the “love of a pardoning God.” It’s a love that “may admit of a thousand degrees” (for not all of us are at the same place in our journey). But it always makes us thankful for Christ’s gift to us and compassionate toward all those others for whom Christ died. “Gratitude to our Creator will surely produce benevolence to our fellow-creatures,” Wesley tells us. “If we love him, we cannot but love one another, as Christ loved us.” Then he goes on: “And toward all the children of God we put on ‘bowels of kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forgiving one another’…‘even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us’.” We learn to forgive in love, because the loving forgiveness we have received makes us into new creatures.

Whereas life in the world makes us react to others with a hard and self-centered temper, the forgiveness we receive through Christ teaches us a better way. Knowing mercy, we are made merciful. Having been forgiven, we learn to forgive. And then we are welcomed into the company of Jesus’ true friends, where we commence “steadily walking in all his ways, [and] doing his will from the heart.” This is the power of forgiveness—the power that will save us and the power that will ultimately transform this world.

Kevin Watson ~ Having Nothing To Do with Sin

“You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Ever heard that before? I’d be shocked if you haven’t. I know I heard it from family, teachers, coaches, and friends throughout my childhood. This phrase has been a well-intended encouragement to American youth for the last few decades.

As I have worked with undergraduate students over the past three years, I have not been all that surprised when I encounter a young adult who not only believes they can do anything (sometimes despite all evidence to the contrary), but almost seems to feel that the world is obligated to ensure that they succeed. What has surprised me, given the persistence of the “you can do anything you put your mind to” myth, is how resistant people are to the possibility of real holiness in this life.

People seem to believe that we are capable, simply by deciding with our minds that we want to do something, of being able to do it. And people repeatedly affirm this, despite a lack of equally passionate insistence that “putting your mind to” means more than a sincere desire to do something, but determined and persistent effort.

But you know what I hear even more frequently than, “You can do anything you put your mind to?”

“Nobody’s perfect.”

I have heard this repeatedly in virtually every context you can think of: private conversation, analysis from reporters/pundits on television, preachers in sermons, and from my students. You know, the ones who have been told their entire lives that they can do anything that they put their minds to.

Indeed, the impossibility of perfection is so deeply embedded in us, that even when I read Wesley on Christian perfection, or entire sanctification, with students they almost always conclude that Wesley’s definition did not mean freedom from sin, or a perfect ability to avoid sin entirely.

Instead, they redefine Wesley’s understanding of Christian perfection as a kind of love that has very strong intent and sincerity, but where abstaining from concrete sins is somehow irrelevant or not completely connected. And this despite the fact that Wesley’s understanding of Christian perfection absolutely includes sinless perfection. Indeed, Wesley’s most succinct definition of Christian perfection is “love excluding sin.” And yet, time and time again people read these words and conclude that he must have meant something else. Because, well, you know, nobody’s perfect.

What’s going on here? How can Wesley be so certain that people can be completely freed not only from the guilt of sin (forgiveness), but also from the power of sin (holiness)? Or, how can we be so sure today both that you can do anything that you put your mind to and that nobody is perfect?

One of the reasons I think so many people are instinctively resistant to the possibility of complete freedom from sin is that they were offered a superficial and unrealistic vision for so long: “you can do anything you put your mind to.” That isn’t true, and discovering that can be very painful, particularly when the people who love you the most keep telling you it is. “Nobody’s perfect” can become a very comfortable alternative, a soothing relief from unrealistic expectations. But there is a more significant problem.

“You can do anything you put your mind to” does not take seriously the problem of sin and our inability to save ourselves. A key conviction of historical Christian orthodoxy is that we are not enough. We cannot ever be the source of our own salvation. Putting your mind to being a better person, from the Christian perspective will fail every time. It is pure works righteousness.

At some level, I think we all get this, which is why “nobody’s perfect” has such compelling explanatory power in our collective conversation. In fact, by ourselves we can’t even be truly good, much less perfect.

But Christianity is not about what we are able to accomplish. It is about what Jesus has already done and what that makes possible for us. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus not only offers us forgiveness and reconciliation with God the Father, we are also offered healing and wholeness. The atonement is most often connected with justification or pardon, but it is also related to sanctification or our ability to be made holy.

1 Peter 2:24 provides one such example from Scripture: “He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. By his wounds you were healed.”

Because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, we can “live in righteousness” and have “nothing to do with sin.” Through the work of Christ, healing is offered to us. Or, as Charles Wesley so elegantly put it in “O for a Thousand Tongues,” “He breaks the power of canceled sin.”

So, you can’t do anything that you put your mind to. But, by God’s grace through faith, we can be freed from sin, entirely. The good news, the gospel, is that our past sins are canceled and that the power that those sins have over us is broken. We can hope for this because it isn’t a work that we do by putting our minds to it. It is something that God does in us as we have faith in the promises of God and cooperate with the work that God wants to do in our lives.

May the Lord increase our faith in what Jesus wants to do in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, even to the point of loving God so completely, so perfectly, that sin itself is excluded from our lives.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Public Confession and Repentance

March 22 was a day of huge importance for my city of Memphis. Like many significant events, I’m afraid it went unnoticed by most. Two churches, Second and Independent Presbyterian, held a public service of confession and repentance.

Few of us would not recognize our need for individual repentance. None of us are without the mark of Adam; what we would do, we do not, and what we would not do, we do. We need repentance and forgiveness.

But this was public, corporate repentance.

Fifty years earlier to the day two young men – Joe Purdy and Jim Bullock – had visited Second Presbyterian together as part of a church visit campaign, called kneel-ins. Before the young men could reach the entrance, a church representative asked Joe, “Are you African?” When he said, “No, I’m American,” he and his white friend were refused entrance. They returned the following Sunday (and the six Sundays after that) with a growing number of friends of both races who stood outside the church in silent protest of the church’s refusal to welcome them. Though few knew it at the time, the men responsible for repelling the visitors were enforcing an explicit policy of segregation adopted by the church’s session in 1957.

In The Last Segregated Hour, Stephen Haynes, a Religious Studies professor at Rhodes College, does a great job of telling the story, including how it is remembered and the ongoing implications.

Independent Presbyterian Church was founded because Second Presbyterian reversed its position denying the Kneel-in Protesters’ presence in the church, and allowed them entrance. Numerous people opposed that decision, left, and founded a separate church (Independent Presbyterian), which had in its constitution the commitment to preserve racial segregation in the church.

Fifty years later, the pastors and leaders of both congregations felt a need to make a corporate response.

Thank God for pastors and lay leaders who recognized that history is important, and when unrecognized and unconfessed, sin poisons the body. We don’t keep secrets, our secrets keep us.

Jim Bullock, one of the students turned away from Second Presbyterian Church fifty years ago, and one of the speakers at the 50th anniversary commemoration service, has written about the event on March 22 for the Presbyterian News Service:

March 22, 2014 is a day I shall not soon forget. When I woke up my stomach was already churning. The rainy weather seemed to bode ill. I made my customary stop at Starbuck’s where I had my customary grande chai latte. But I could not get my stomach to settle down. Hope and fear were churning away in my gut and the words of a colleague – “you know, this thing could go really badly” – echoed in my ears. I arrived half-an-hour early at the location where the day’s events were to take place (typically, I’m at least five minutes late everywhere I go). I walked inside the church and looked around until I found the room where I was to meet several other men for a time of prayer. The prayer time had been my idea, and I was glad I had suggested it. Inside the room were representatives of three local churches – Idlewild, Second and Independent – which have little in common beyond the name “Presbyterian.” In fact, the churches represent different denominations that define themselves largely in opposition to one another. But there we were, praying for reconciliation – among us, and among the people who would come to Second Presbyterian Church that morning to commemorate the traumatic events that had split the church fifty years earlier.

As the prayer time went on, I found myself crying tears of joy. A day we had hoped for, imagined, and dreamed of was finally here. The Spirit seemed to be honoring our vision of a service of truth-telling and reconciliation at the site of one of the South’s most notorious acts of racial exclusion.

Interestingly, the public confession of particular, individual sins has ballooned in the past three or four decades in the plethora of “confessional” self-help groups that have emerged (for alcoholics, over-eaters, drug abusers, sex addicts). Yet, our ability to acknowledge the existence of large-scale, all-permeating corporate sin has dramatically decreased. We have our time of corporate confession in our worship services, but that has become so perfunctory that its purpose and power is blurred. Maybe corporate confession is dulled in meaning because in our preaching and teaching we have dramatized glaring private sins readily recognized and named, while the “hidden” sins of attitude and omission get no attention.

Scripture is full of God’s call for corporate confession and repentance…the recognition of the sins of the nation, the sins of “the whole people of God.” So what happened in that service on March 22 was not only good and redemptive for the soul of those two congregations, it was good for the whole church…perhaps a model for all.

I may be making too much of it, but I think it is also significant that this public service of confession and repentance for racism took place two weeks before our remodeled and expanded Civil Rights Museum is to be reopened in Memphis (April 4). We are dull indeed if we can visit the museum without feeling we are a “people of unclean lips and we live among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) We need to repent, not only privately, but corporately.

Ellsworth Kalas ~ Wesleyan Songs for Lent

In my 38 years as a Methodist pastor I tried to make Lent a growing time for my people. I hoped that something about the season, the Lenten preaching, and the special midweek events would inspire some perfunctory church members to find new life in Christ, or a deeper daily walk with their Lord.

I wish I had done better! I wish I had drawn in the net with more vigor! And I wish I had made better use of Charles Wesley’s hymns.

I don’t know what hymns Wesley might have written for Lent; a better scholar could tell you that. I only know that if you’re looking for the Wesleyan accent for Lent, you can find it in scores of Charles’s hymns. Because for the first generation of Methodists the best of the Lenten spirit was not a seasonal thing, it was an everyday way of life.

Few hymns say it better than one Charles wrote in 1749, “I Want a Principle Within.” See how he sets the standard for a life of growth in Christ:

I want a principle within, of watchful, godly fear;
a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

A contemporary sociologist or psychologist might find Wesley’s language quaint, and probably inappropriate to our times. “Principle” is one of those words we come upon less and less in our writing and speaking. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre reminds us that “when a word falls into disuse, the experience goes with it.” We should worry when a word like “principle” begins to be obsolete.

And of course “watchful, godly fear” is downright offensive to many. They want no fear in their religion; they want a God who affirms them constantly; after all, what are we paying him for?

For many in our culture, “a sensibility of sin” is the last straw. It’s strange that it should be so, because the ancient landmarks are going down so rapidly that hardly anything is now seen as sin. Matters which shocked us a few years ago are now greeted by a shrug of the shoulders. It’s hard to have a sensibility of sin in a culture where almost anything goes. It makes you feel as if you’re wearing high-button shoes, and walking with a man adorned with a top hat.

But then Charles Wesley leads us to the heart of Lent and to the heart of every day of seeking the fullness of life in Christ: such a longing to please our Lord that we want the Holy Spirit to check us at the first sense of pride, wrong desire, or the wandering will — anything, that is, that might “quench the kindling fire.”

I wonder how it is that I have so often sung those words without being moved to repentance? It’s good that in this Lenten season we’ve given up some comfort of body, or that we’ve engaged more fully in the Scriptures or prayer or service. But beyond that there is the tough, deep-down cry for God to take over the privacy of our thought-lives.

That is, a Lenten invasion that would leave Christ on the throne.

Ellsworth Kalas ~ Songs for Sinners

Charles Wesley wrote songs for sinners. For those who were lost in sin, his hymns promised salvation, and for those who had come to Christ they were hymns that celebrated the day when it happened.

Wesley’s hymns threw out a net that was wide and sure.

Sinners of men, to you I call:
Harlots and publicans and thieves;
He spreads his arms to embrace you all;
Sinners alone his grace receive.

This was not an appeal to the delicate and the spiritually genteel. It was for people who knew they were sinners and who knew they needed a Savior. They recognized that without a Savior they were lost, both in this world and in the world to come.

Such hymns may seem out of place for the twenty-first century world, where outside of a Catholic confessional sins are confessed only in the psychiatrist’s office, and then under synonyms that are rather gratifying intellectually.

These hymns are as true as ever, however, and it is only our spiritual and doctrinal naivete that keeps us from seeing it. John and Charles Wesley were admirably upright persons, yet when they came to the experience of salvation it was with the sense that they were sinners in need of salvation.

That is, they understood that not only did they need salvation from the sins they had committed, but also from the sins of which they were capable and which often they had escaped only because of what Charles Wesley called “sacred cowardice.” It’s a phrase many of us can claim as our own. “Sacred cowardice” has held us back from conduct that our imagination and thought life may have embraced.

I was saved when I was ten years old. I wept much that night at the altar of conversion. My sin life was pretty typical of a ten-year-old who was growing up in a very earnest Christian home. I believe I wept that night not only for the few boyish sins I had thus far committed, but for the capacity of sin that dwelt within me. Only as I grew older did I learn that I was capable of almost any sin, and tempted by a full share of them.

So I’m grateful for hymns that cover not only the sins I have committed but also the sins of which I am capable and which would quite likely be destroying me even now if it were not for the cleansing blood of Christ. I’m glad to sing with Charles Wesley, “Plenteous grace with Thee is found, / Grace to cover all my sin; / Let the healing streams abound; / Make and keep me pure within.”

This is a Gospel worth proclaiming and worth singing. It’s a message we need quite desperately in our confused time and culture.

Andrew C. Thompson ~ Salvation: The Church’s First Mission

H. Richard Niebuhr summed up the mainline Protestant view on the coming kingdom of God with the statement: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Sharp words. Niebuhr was writing in the 1930s. But it might as well have been yesterday. Many Christians in our culture still get queasy about the stark biblical picture of salvation, preferring to focus on things like human betterment and societal progress.

Methodists in America have long bought into the “progress” approach that Niebuhr lamented, not only ignoring the fact that such progress is a myth but also watching their churches decay as a result.

My own denomination is the United Methodist Church, but it is only one of many Wesleyan or Methodist churches in our society. Alongside the UMC are the Nazarenes, the Free Methodists, the Wesleyan Church, the AME, the CME, and the AMEZ Churches, along with many others. For any of them that want to have a real and vibrant future, I would say this: Take heed of Niebuhr’s criticism and take a long look in the mirror.

I’m suggesting that the path to renewal is theological and doctrinal. And I think it will require a lot of repentance on the part of ourselves and our churches. This won’t be easy. But here’s the good news: We already have the resources in our tradition to do it.

Once upon a time, the mission of Methodism was about salvation. When John Wesley was giving advice to his junior preachers, he told them, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.”

It’s a wonderful statement. But for it to mean anything, you have to first believe that people have souls that need saving.

Wesley also believed that the reason the Methodist movement had been raised up by God in the first place was “to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.” Spreading scriptural holiness is what salvation looks like when it is embodied in local congregations. Through lives transformed by the power of God’s grace, whole communities can begin to look and act differently.

Again, a wonderful idea. But for it to mean anything, you have to believe that the church is full of broken people who need to be healed.

We now live in a society marked by two great forces: our economic system of consumer capitalism and our political system of liberal democracy. The former focuses on meeting the “felt needs” of individual consumers; the latter centers on the rights and liberties of individual citizens.

Put together, the result is a culture that lionizes the individual. And the influence of that on the life of the church cannot be overstated.

In a society where the individual reigns supreme, the one thing to avoid at all costs is calling an individual’s choices, values and “needs” into question. That means personal sin is out, because sin manifests itself first in the lives and actions of individuals. So the idea of a necessary transformation of the person through grace is taboo.

What does missional outreach look like in such a culture?

Not what it used to. Take the individual out of the picture and you’re left with trying to mimic the best of what is going on in the larger society.

In my own denomination, that mimicry is found in the slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” It says to anyone who will listen that our church will never threaten you. You can come and worship with us without fear that you’re risking anything in the process. We’ve made tolerance into the supreme virtue, so don’t worry about anyone pressuring you to deny yourself and take up your cross.

It’s a brilliant marketing ploy in a society defined by consumer individualism. There’s nothing scriptural about it, of course. But in a secular society where everyone’s worth hinges on being accepted as is, the church that defines itself by its “openness” sounds like it’s on the cutting edge.

Social activism then becomes the flip side of the church’s refusal to engage in calling individual sinners to repentance. We know we should be doing something for Jesus, so we look to what enlightened people in society at large are doing and focus our attention there. That usually results in a list consisting of ending poverty, stopping genocide, fighting AIDS and reversing global warming. So we join in, usually from the comfort of our living room by writing a check and joining a Facebook group.

Nowadays everybody wants to “make Methodism a movement again.” Nice thought, but it isn’t going anywhere until we come to grips with what we’ve lost. Circuit riders once held convictions about sin and salvation so dearly that they braved any risk to preach the gospel to isolated communities that others couldn’t reach. They often died as young men from their labors.

And yet, what they knew firsthand has been largely forgotten by us.

Relearning it means reclaiming the first task of the church as proclaiming salvation—a salvation that is about an inward change of the heart and that results in an outwardly changed life.

To receive that salvation, we must by God’s grace recognize our utter sinfulness and repent. The humility that comes through such contrition opens our hearts to receive God’s saving grace. And through the reality of the new birth we can start on the path of sanctification.

Thereafter, our participation in the means of grace God has provided us will so transform us that we will naturally show our faith through our works. Holiness will increase throughout our lives, as we move toward perfection in Christ.

Wesley called this journey the “Scripture way of salvation.” Though experienced by individuals, it is not individualistic. It’s always social and always occurs in the community we call church.

Moreover, the kind of social action that Methodists get excited about will also follow. But it will be something other than a psychological salve, because it will be personally engaged by a sanctified people and will be rooted in their own local communities. That’s the only real way scriptural holiness ever spreads.

God doesn’t need another lumbering denomination with an identity crisis. But what God could use is a people who understand that their first calling remains their sole reason for existence: to proclaim the evangelical gospel of God’s saving grace to needy sinners, so that they might be transformed in holiness and led to share the good news with a broken and hurting world.



(This essay originally appeared in a different form in the United Methodist Reporter. Used by permission.)