A New Vision, A New Voice ~ The North Texas Conference
Message from Vic Casad: September 29, 2017
Notes from the Heartland
I have been reflecting lately on Methodism and grace. This is my question: What does it mean to grow in grace?
In the Methodist lexicon, we hold to three dimensions of grace. The prevenient dimension of grace I’ll call the grace of God’s universal goodness. This aspect of grace is experienced by every person at whatever age on the planet whether they are able to acknowledge it or not. It is the nature of God’s grace that is part of the air we breathe. Then there is justifying grace which is experienced when someone acknowledges for themselves the love of God in their life. It is the realization, awareness and acceptance of being divinely loved and blessed. And then sanctifying grace is the lifelong desire to live intentionally into and out of that love in the world.
John Wesley also wrote of another aspect of God’s grace that we don’t talk about much and that is what he called entire sanctification or being made perfect in love. Wesley had a lot to say about this but when asked, “Whom do you mean by “one that is perfect?” He answered, “We mean one in whom is “the mind that was in Christ,” and who “walks as Christ walked.” We mean a man or woman “who has clean hands and a pure heart,” or who is cleansed “from every defilement of body and of spirit,” one in whom there is “no stumbling” and who, consequently, “does not sin.”… We understand by this, one whom God has “sanctified entirely in body, soul, and spirit,” one who “walks in the light as God is in the light, in whom there is no darkness at all, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, having cleansed him from all sin.”
Wesley spent a good part of his ministry defending this doctrine which he discerned from reading the early church teachers and the ancient doctrine of theosis or the state of being at one with God. This doctrine comes from attempts to understand several Biblical passages, i.e. Psalm 82:6 – “I say, ‘You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you.” And 2 Peter 1:4 – “Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.”
When pressed to name persons he believed to be in a state of entire sanctification, Wesley refused. He believed that by naming anyone whom he felt lived in this state of perfect love would be unduly ridiculed and tested to expose their flaws. Yet, he did believe there were those in his life experience that were pretty close.
So, are we to intentionally pursue perfection in our daily Christian life? Every United Methodist candidate for ordination in the Church is asked,” Are you going on to perfection; do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life; and are you earnestly striving after perfection in love?” And the expected and correct answer is “Yes.” The only way anyone can genuinely answer that question in the affirmative is through the belief that it’s not going to be by personal achievement, but by the sanctifying grace of God working in us. But do I have a role to play in this? Yes. It is to be ever open to the working of God in our lives. And how do we do that? Wesley said that good Methodists practice their faith daily through acts of piety and acts of mercy. To use more conventional language I would say a Methodist life is a life of devotion and service. We live out our devotion to God through the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer, meditation, Bible study, regular worship and Holy Communion and our call to love our neighbors in daily service of compassion. One of my favorite quotes is from the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamed that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
All this is to say that we let God do God’s work of grace in us as we simply live out our lives in daily devotion and selfless service in the name of Jesus Christ. And let God do the impossible.
In His Service and Yours,