For the past eight years I served as a youth pastor in two United Methodist Churches. In that time I was introduced to John Wesley, the Methodist Movement and the particularly Wesleyan understanding of sanctification. I am not a Wesleyan theologian by any stretch, so please correct with kindness and grace.
As I studied the origins of Methodism, I discovered that the moniker was actually given as a ridicule, and not so much as a superlative. The members of the first Methodist group, a small band of college students, gathered together for accountability and bible study. What made this small band stand out was how methodical they were in their approach to living the Christian faith. It was this “methodism” that gave rise to the derision of their peers.
This short history lesson is important because it shows how, from the beginning, the people called Methodist chose to “work out [their] salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). The reality of the Christian life is found in the transformation that takes place in the heart and mind of the believer. We all are being changed. We all are growing (or at least should be growing) into greater Christ-likeness. This is what sanctification is. It is the process the Holy Spirit takes us through to become as much like Christ as we can be!
It can be tempting to think of sanctification as something we have to do on our own. As if it is something we can accomplish in our own power. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not supposed to become like Jesus through our own efforts. I do not believe this was Paul’s intent in admonishing believers to “work out their salvation.”
One of my favorite foods is pizza. The reason I bring this up is that pizza dough has to be kneaded for two reasons. First, as it is needed the glutton in the flour is stretched making the pizza dough and delicious. (I am not a baker, but this is what I’ve heard!) The second reason, for kneading the dough is to make sure that all of the seasoning that has been added to flavor the dough is spread throughout the entire dough. If you do not do this you will have pockets that have been filled with flavor and others that are bland and tasteless.
When we are working out our salvation, we are engaging in the process of sanctification. We have to ask ourselves if we are striving to surrender more and more areas of our life to the work of the Spirit, so he can “knead Jesus” into us. Are there areas of your life where Jesus is present and prominent? What about those areas where He is not? What is keeping you from opening up that area of your life to the Spirit’s influence?