Just perfect

Isaiah 54:9-10
Good Methodists love to eat, right? Well, so do good Baptists, Presbyterians and anyone else I’ve ever met.

Good Methodists like to talk about grace. It is a hallmark of the Wesleyan understanding of God. You should hear a Methodist preacher mention different aspects of grace. Usually taken together, we highlight prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. To be sure, these are not separate ideas. Each one merely helps us understand how God moves in the heart of each Christian.

Next to grace, good Methodists like to talk about perfection. Christian perfection, that is. Is it possible to be perfect in this lifetime? Our answer is yes.

Whenever I talk about this with others, the same question comes up: Yea, but nobody’s perfect, right?

This was a point of contention in the early days of Methodism. People criticized Methodists for this idea. In some cases, a misunderstanding of what Wesley meant spurred ridicule and contempt. Others outright rejected the notion. The displays of religious fervor of many Methodists rubbed many others the wrong way. Many of them thought much of the Methodist “enthusiasm” found roots in their idea of perfection.

I like to remind my congregations, Methodists were the rowdy ones. It’s ironic to hear Methodist Christians now criticize “the church down the street.” The one that uses music or supposed emotion in their worship. That was what people said about us. People mocked and threatened Methodists because of this. The pursuit of perfection, many thought, led to such silly displays.

It’s worth talking about the question: What changed? What happened to that marked spiritual fervor? What stifled it? Is it hiding behind something else? Have we lost it?

For clarity’s sake, let’s make sure we understand what is not meant by Christian perfection. Wesley said it this way: They are not perfect in knowledge. They are not free from ignorance; no, nor from mistake. We are no more to expect any to be infallible, than to be omniscient. They are not free from infirmities, such as weakness or slowness of understanding, irregular quickness or heaviness of imagination. Such, in another kind, are, impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation; one might add a thousand nameless defects, conversation or behavior. From such infirmities as these none are perfectly freed till their spirits return to God (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection).

Christian perfection, then, does not mean not sinning. It means being perfectly in love with God. Loving the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul. My impression is many of us think that happens by merely saying it or affirming when Jesus said it. Isn’t there something we must let God do to our heart for it to take root?

Such a love comes by the grace of God. Only because of God’s grace can we experience such a devoted sense of faith and trust.

So, how do you get to this point? Well, we Methodists keep talking about grace. And there’s a reason. It’s how we understand God. It’s how we come to better sense God’s presence in our lives and in the world. And it’s how we can know more how deep God’s love is for us and the world.

Keep learning the love of God and things get perfect.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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