"...Are you going on to perfection? …Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?”
These are a couple of the questions each clergy answers in the United Methodist Church before becoming ordained. The questions hold some pretty significant weight, not just for people seeking to become ordained clergy, but also for all Christians pursuing their journeys of faith.
The weight of these questions connects abstract theology to how we each live out sanctification, our journeys of salvation, with God and neighbor. The third part of Wesley’s understanding of “The Way of Salvation” is pursuing the perfect love of God through dwelling within and responding to sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace of continuing to live out our journey of salvation with God and neighbor.
In the missional sense, sanctifying grace is the crux of our existence as followers of Christ. We seek to love and desire that which God loves. We do this by living into the great commandment we read in Matthew 25, to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” We are a missional people who receive and respond to a growing, perfecting love that God imbeds within each person.
We by ourselves without God are far from perfect. Even as we live into sanctifying grace, through loving God and our neighbors, we are going to mess things up on occasion.
Becoming perfected is not being fearful of making mistakes as much as it is making room for God’s love to work on us. In us. And through us. We have responsibility and are accountable for our actions as we grow in God’s perfect love. We grow in this perfect love every time we acknowledge and care for the image of God that each person has within them. Our salvation is not individual – our journeys of faith are a communal affair that occurs in relationship with God and neighbor.
Maybe the question we should be asking is, “do we expect that God’s love can transform us?”
Do we believe that being led by God through loving people around us is going to transform us into a more loving group of people? If so, our actions and service will mirror the Divine love and, as a result, grow to resemble God’s perfecting love. And we will experience a sincere and ongoing transformation as we learn deeper the meaning of God’s love. We will encounter a hermeneutic of love.
The hermeneutic of love is grounded in the belief that Jesus really does live in the people around us, that Jesus thirsts in our actual neighbors. Jesus is bound with eternal love to every person we encounter. This is the starting point. When we see people that way, everything changes. How we evangelize changes. Our understanding of church changes. Now we see people already being called by the Holy Spirit, already being loved and known by Jesus before we ever meet them. Now we understand that prayer and friendship are the foundation for our relationships with others, in the name of Jesus. With a hermeneutic of love we give ourselves in prayer and friendship to the people around us, not so that we can get something from them, not even a commitment to join our church, but so that we can minister to Jesus in them, Jesus who thirsts.*
As a result of following this hermeneutic of love, we will indeed find ourselves becoming perfected by God's love and experience a transformation of mutual holiness with one another.
Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:
Do you believe that we can experience a perfecting transformation of love in this life?
Reflect back on some experiences from your past that have offered you a deeper understanding of God’s love.
Who are people that have shaped your faith journey significantly? How did they shape your journey?
Who are the people whose faith journeys you have influenced? How did you help shape their journeys?
* Adapted from Elaine Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, (Elaine Heath, 2008).