I pulled George G. Hunter’s book The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement off my shelf the other day. As I was flipping through the pages, the following paragraphs stood out.
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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?
The third movement of God’s grace in our lives is called Sanctifying Grace. God has been at work in our lives with Prevenient Grace. When we heard the Gospel and believed we were born again as God applied Justifying Grace. Now the question becomes what will God do next? God has an amazing plan and desire for our lives.
Peter answers a question that many of us have asked: What is God’s will for my life? Now, the response that we make to the answer Peter gives should not be, “Is that all?” That would not be correct. The fact that God, in his wisdom and purpose, has decided to tell us what He will do should create in us joy and peace; patience and passion. So what is God’s will? Listen to what Peter says is 1 Peter 4:3:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification (ESV)
The New International Version says it this way: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” Do you see that. The implication here is not that this is an option we can opt into or out of. God’s will, what he has determined will happen is that you become like Jesus. That is what it means to be sanctified. To look so much like Jesus that the world sees Jesus and not us.
Could that be why we don’t want to be sanctified? We don’t want to have our identity replaced with Christ’s? I cannot think of anything I want more than to have my weaknesses replaced by his strengths; my sorrows by his joy; my pain by his healing; my sin by his grace. That is what God has offered. That is what Jesus has purchased through his death and resurrection. That is what the Holy Spirit has applied to our lives. Be sanctified. God desires that for you.
The second “movement” of Grace as John Wesley understood it is Justifying Grace. Once Prevenient Grace has worked in and on our lives we come to that moment of decision. We are called by the Gospel and the work of Jesus to trust in Him for salvation and a restored relationship with God. At the moment that this conviction fills our hearts, God is applying grace to our souls. What makes this movement special and unique is this, at the moment that we exercise faith we are justified before God. We have not been made totally righteous, not yet. That comes next as we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, ESV).
What we experience at the moment of salvation is the declaration by God that what has begun at salvation is as-good-as-done in the eyes of God! Can you believe that? We are not as we ought to be, but God has declared the work finished! That is what Justification means, we are no longer held guilty of our sins AND we are now set on the path of eternal life.
There are two places in scripture that help us here. Philippians 1:6 reveals God’s promise to finish what HE has started. Meditate on that and rejoice. The second passage reveals something that is just as wonderful. Peter tells us where our salvation is kept for safe keeping in 1 Peter 1:3-5. This is important for us because it provides our confidence in the Father’s love for us, Christ’s work in us and the Spirit’s power through us to accomplish God’s will in the world. Peter tells us that “we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (NLT). The key here is the word “for.” The burden of my salvation is on God, in Christ. That is the majesty and wonder of God’s love and grace. He protects, sustains, maintains and finishes His work of justification. Thank God for justifying grace!