The Means of Grace

If you happened to catch Pastor Joseph’s blog article last week, you’ll recall it focused on the Methodist doctrine of entire sanctification (or, “Christian Perfection”). Among the doctrinal distinctives of our church, this is perhaps the most beloved. As Methodists we are optimistic about God’s grace. Though in our own power and by our own merit, we can achieve nothing of salvation, we believe God’s grace is powerful enough to deliver us from both the guilt and the power of sin in this life.

 

John testifies: “Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9, NRSV). John is not claiming we’ll have a sinless perfection but a freedom from ongoing, high-handed sin. In place of sinful rebellion, the believer is filled with the holy love of God. Again, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world” (1 Jon 4:17, NRSV). The essence of holiness is perfect love. This love of God and neighbor so fills our hearts that we are oriented entirely away from the rebellious habit of sin and enabled to live a godly life. This is the renewal of the image of God within us.

 

If this is the goal of our salvation, and if Methodists truly believe its possibility in this life, then how do we receive this gift? How are we remade in the image of holy love? John Wesley saw a pathway in the means of grace. He described the means of grace as “outward signs, words, or actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end—to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men [prevenient], justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Sermon 16: The Means of Grace).

 

Grace is essential for growth in the spiritual life. We cannot grow ourselves. We cannot make ourselves holy. We need the spiritual nourishment of grace, and it is always a gift from God. Therefore, we must wait upon God in the places he has promised to meet us with that grace and allow it to do its transformational work within us.

 

These channels of grace include our practices of prayer, Bible reading and study, attending worship, the Lord’s Supper, Christian fellowship, serving the poor, visiting the sick, and many others. These are the places where God does his deepest, most interior work of changing our hearts from a heart of sin to a heart of holy love. Perfect love. It is a process, perhaps better described as a “perfecting perfection.” But as Methodists, we believe that God both desires and is able to do such a profound work of grace within us that we can be utterly renewed in the divine image of holy love. It comes by grace. And it’s found in the means of grace.

 

Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly seeking this grace in the means that God has provided? Can we be a church that is so utterly renewed in the image of holy love that it radically transforms the community around us for the glory of God?

 

“O what people of God we ought to be; and grace can make us so!” (Francis Asbury)

 

-Pastor Phil


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