A WESLEYAN VISION OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
At the heart of the universe there is a heart of grace. This grace is offered to all, even before we become aware of God or our need for his mercy. None is deserving of this grace, but none are excluded from God’s generous offer of life in Christ. This is what we call prevenient grace—God’s wooing of us before we even know him.
This prevenient grace takes expression in the goodness of God’s creation, which provides for our needs and which creates within us a sense of wonder and joy. This grace also shows itself in the order and majesty of the universe, which points us to a Creator. And this grace is also demonstrated in our own human nature, formed in the image of God, with a conscience that tells us that we are moral beings, fearfully and wonderfully made. At the same time, it makes us aware that we are unable to live by what we know to be right – that we require forgiveness and mercy. God’s grace penetrates our denial and self-justification to awaken us to the reality that we are inherently self-centered and prone to hurt others and violate our conscience in order to get what we want.
This gracious heart of God has provided for our salvation with the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. Seeing us in our need and in our sinful rebellion, God’s love for us was not diminished or deterred. Instead, he provided the precious gift of his divine Son, who became human, lived a sinless life, and who offered his life on the cross as a ransom for all. It is this kind and powerful act that provides for the forgiveness of our sins, an abundant life in this world—including the presence and the witness of the Holy Spirit within us assuring us that we are children of God, adopted into his family—and eternal life in the world to come. This gift of new life with all its benefits is received by faith and secured solely by the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. This is what we call justifying grace—God providing a way for us to come into right relationship with him.
Though salvation is a gift, it is expected that all who receive this gift will respond with a heart of gratitude expressed in service to God and others and in a commitment to being transformed in heart and life into the image of Christ. Christ’s bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven demonstrate God’s ability to break the power of sin and death that hold sway over our lives, opening the way for us to become a new person. The transformation of fallen human beings into the likeness of God’s Son is also a work of God’s grace in our lives. We must “work out our own salvation” by cooperating with the work of God’s Spirit within us – but even the desire for transformation is God-given, as is the ability to serve God and others. Our Wesleyan faith holds that we may grow in grace, until finally we are fully sanctified in heart and in life. This is what we call sanctifying grace—God working in us to make us holy.
At the heart of the universe there is a heart of righteousness. It is a heart that not only desires but also requires that the children of God become holy, for “without holiness no one shall see the Lord.” Personal righteousness or holiness is a daily living out of the new life we have in Jesus Christ, living as he did. The way of righteousness is the way of grace, but it is the way of a disciplined grace. The means of grace are offered, so that the good work begun in us might be brought to completion. Worship, the reading of Scripture, prayer, fasting, holy communion, service to others and accountability to others in the body of Christ are offered to us as ways of sowing to the Spirit, that we might reap a harvest of righteousness.
God’s heart of righteousness also expects that his children will labor to make this present world more like the Kingdom of God. Social holiness is not separate from or contrary to personal holiness. In fact, the transformation of a fallen culture into a world that is just and merciful is incumbent upon all who know the One who is both righteous and gracious. Those who know Christ will care for the poor and the dispossessed and will confront the powers and the human structures that create oppression and injustice, just as he did.
The work of personal and social holiness is best done in community. One of the earliest lessons we learn about human beings in Scripture is that it is not good for any of us to be alone. We are relational beings and we grow emotionally and spiritually as we are connected with others in open and authentic relationships. Bearing one another’s burdens, learning to serve others above ourselves, giving and asking for forgiveness when necessary, loving when we would rather turn away, and allowing others to confront us with our sins and failures – these are the ways that we are truly human together, and these are ways that we are transformed into the image of the One who was God among us. It is also together that we learn to confront and receive the wisdom and courage to face the principalities and powers that make our world oppressive and destructive to those who are marginalized and powerless.
At the heart of the universe there is the heart of God – a God who desires to relate to us in a personal way, transforming our lives into the image of his Son Jesus, and who desires for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s heart is a heart of grace and righteousness. And to be faithful to his calling on our lives, we must also possess hearts of grace and righteousness, together being his instruments of transformation in a lost and broken world.
A WESLEYAN THEOLOGICAL VISION OF LIFE
As Wesleyans, we believe our primary purpose in life is summarized by Christ in the two greatest commandments: love God with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves. God is glorified and joy is experienced when we walk in love.
Now, we must ask the critical question, “What is love?” Many definitions have been given, but biblically and theologically, love is composed of two inseparable parts: the desire for union or fellowship with another and the decisions or actions to bring about union. We see love supremely demonstrated in the Triune life of God between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, where each Person desires union with the other Persons and wills that fellowship. To say that “God is love” is to recognize that God is a divine community of mutually reciprocating relationships of love.
As Wesleyans, we believe humanity’s creation in the image of God enables us to reflect the very life of God through our relationships of love with God and each other. In the Garden of Eden, humanity fulfilled perfectly the two greatest commandments. Humanity desired above all else fellowship with God, then with neighbor, and humanity had the knowledge and ability to walk accordingly.
However, because of original sin and its corruption of the divine image, our love became distorted, our focus changed and knowledge of what perfect love entails was lost. We did not cease being creatures of love, but the object of our desire changed. In our fallen state, we are driven by self-love and love for the “world.” We seek fame, fortune, acceptance, success, approval, and pleasure and daily align our steps in attempts to realize these desires, all of which detract from our first love. Fellowship with God and healthy relationships with others no longer define who we are. Even if we did desire God, we are incapable of living in true union with God and humanity because we do not know what this fellowship really requires, and even if we did know, we lack the will to act on it.
Humanity therefore faces a monumental challenge if our chief end is going to be realized, one that can only be met by the action of God. First, God must give revelation to humanity, revealing the extent of human depravity and dispelling clouded judgment about what is required in the love of God and neighbor. Second, God must make forgiveness possible in our relationship with Him and each other as foundational to reconciliation. Finally, God must work on a more internal level if love of God and neighbor are to become possibilities for us once again. God must restore the divine image in us, empowering us to align our desire for perfect love with our will. Only through the divine work of revelation, reconciliation and restoration can we realize our true end.
As Wesleyans, we believe through knowledge of Holy Scriptures, the Son of God’s incarnate life, death, resurrection and exaltation, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God makes possible our primary purpose. As we come to know the revelation of God in the Bible, this usually happens in two steps: God changes our desire, so that we begin to want true union with God and neighbor, then the Holy Spirit empowers us to walk in true love as illuminated to us in Scripture. The first is repentance, where the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sinful ways, brings remorse over our idolatrous desires, and inflames a passion for God and His ways above all else. The second is sanctification, enabling us to live a life in outward conformity to our inward love of God and neighbor, aligning ourselves in action with true biblical love of God and humanity.
Concretely, true love of God leads to a life of obedience to the revealed will of God. True love of neighbor creates genuine desire for fellowship with our neighbor and reconciliation with our enemy and the empowerment to work unto these ends. We long to be in right fellowship with others and are empowered to work as directed by Scriptures to address issues that divide us.
In conclusion, as Wesleyans, we believe the chief end of humanity is the realization of the two greatest commandments. Through God’s grace we can have our desires rooted in the love of God and neighbor and be empowered to walk in that love, walking in obedience to God’s revealed will and overcoming all obstacles to our fellowship with each other.