We often mistake Christian salvation to mean there is simply a change in status. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I once was going to hell but now I’m going to heaven. God used to look at me and just see a terrible sinner, but now God sees me through Jesus-colored-glasses and sees the righteousness of Christ instead. Many people mistake Christianity to be a ticket-to-heaven religion, where believing in the right idea (Jesus is Lord) is nothing more that fire-insurance to keep you out of hell. Whether we would reduce it to that with our words, the truth is, many of us live that way with our lives.
For John & Charles Wesley, many Christians live in the form of godliness, but deny it’s power. This means we have all the right ideas about Jesus, we go through the motions, but have not internalized that any of it is really true, let alone true for me. We are, in effect, almost Christians… so close, and yet so far away until we actually trust that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, but also, that Christ loved me, and gave himself for me. This is Wesley’s definition of faith by which we are saved.
God has always been pursuing you. Grace is every tiny spark of goodness and enjoyment you’ve ever felt. Grace is every single inclination in you to live for something more than yourself. There is no one alive that doesn’t have a spark of God’s love within, drawing them to know and trust that they are someone for whom Jesus Christ died. Even when we have done everything to suppress that spark in ourselves, yet we cannot snuff it out as long as we are alive. God’s love is too strong to be extinguished by all the evil of the world, let alone all the worst things you could muster up.
Justification is meant to be a turning point, not just a status-change. To truly trust in Christ should stir up repentance, which is a rerouting of your life’s trajectory. Repentance means you’ve changed your mind about doing things your way, and daily commit to let your actions flow out of your newfound trust in the compassionate humility of the crucified Christ. Trust in a compassionate and merciful God leads to a life of compassion and mercy. This is called sanctification, or being made more and more into the mind and heart of Christ. Since God is limitless and eternal, there will always be room for growth as a Christian…and growth brings us to newer depths of grace and love.
For Wesley, Christian perfection is an imperfect way of talking about experiencing the fullness of God’s grace, a whole love for God and for neighbor that will only continually grow deeper and deeper, because there is always more of God to know and love. I love the way Timothy Tennet describes it: “Sanctification is a new orientation that no longer looks back longingly on the old life, but is always looking forward to the New Creation. It is a life that has been engulfed by new realities—eternal realities—not the realities of that which is passing away.”
I’ve always loved John Wesley’s Sermon 43, The Scripture Way of Salvation, because he talks about the simplicity of the gospel without losing the nuance of how rich and complex are the depths of God’s love for us in Christ. It also ends with a call to action: don’t wait until you’ve made yourself right with God, for that is seeking your salvation by your own works. “If you seek it by faith, you may expect it as you are: and if as you are, then expect it now!”
Methodists traditionally use a house to describe the way of salvation, but I preferred the imagery of the buddy-comedy-road-trip-movie. I love that moment in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle when they’re ready to give up on their epic journey to devour tiny hamburgers, and Kumar delivers this speech:
So, you think this is just about the burgers, huh? Let me tell you, it’s about far more than that. Our parents came to this country, escaping persecution, poverty and hunger. Hunger, Harold. They were very, very hungry. They wanted to live in a land that treated them as equals, a land filled with hamburger stands. And not just one type of hamburger, okay? Hundreds of types with different sizes, toppings, and condiments. That land was America! America, Harold! America! Now this is about achieving what our parents set out for. This is about the pursuit of happiness. This night … is about the American Dream! Dude, we can stay here, get arrested, and end our hopes of ever going to White Castle. Or, we can take that hang glider and make our leap towards freedom. I leave the decision up to you.
We are on a journey for something far more than what will satisfy our stomachs. And the amazing thing about God is that it’s not just about the destination…but the journey shared in friendship with the Eternally Compassionate One.