given on Sunday, September 25, 2016
Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.
Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.
The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.
United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.
Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.
Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.
Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.
Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.
Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.
The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.
The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.
Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.
Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.
Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.
Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:
Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.
Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.
As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.
Dear Heavenly Father,
How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.
We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.
We fail to practice what we believe,
so we fail to fulfill your commandment.
Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.
Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.
Help us to find ways to share what we believe
so others may discover your saving grace.
Thank you for loving us despite our failures.
Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.
Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit
so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.
In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.