I am someone who tries their best not to get drawn into the hot fire of the cultural moment. One of my great fears for this moment is that we are all reactionary, we are driven more by our emotions than by our reason or if we are religious, an overarching theological perspective. We react to culture, we react to others, we react to ourselves. We don’t take time to stop, think, pray, and discern. Dr. Knickerbocker in seminary said “always watch what word we use. Do we say I feel? Or I think? Or I believe?” Not that feelings are not valid, and reason is just as fallen as emotion. But I try my best to stay non-reactive.
For me, what animates me the most (beyond Jesus) is my understanding of Wesleyan Theology. One of the greatest theological works ever, in my opinion, is John Wesley’s sermon “The Scripture Way of Salvation.” In this sermon, he lays out the concept you may be familiar with, his understanding of grace – prevenient, the grace that goes before; justifying, the grace of conversion; and sanctifying, the grace of Christian growth.
There are so many takeaways from this theological understanding, but primary, to me, is the understanding that God is the first and primary actor in our salvation. We do not save ourselves by anything that we can do. God is the first actor. He calls us (prevenient), He saves us (justifying), and He grows us (sanctifying). Our very salvation is the work of God. In fact as we’ve talked in our recent sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed, our very salvation is a Trinitarian act. We are brought to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. We are saved only through God’s work.
But here is where I am going with this. Why must God be the first actor? Why does salvation rest on God’s action, not on ours? The reason is because of original sin, or the doctrine of depravity. When Adam and Eve fell, they took all of humanity with them (Romans 5: 12, 1 Corinthians 15: 20-21). This doctrine says that when they fell, we as humans fell with them. We are depraved, sinful, corrupt, whatever term or adjective you’d like to use.
We are sinful. You. Me. All of us. It is part of the human condition.
Now, here is the question. What does that mean? We know all humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1: 26-27) But sin has entered in. What does that do to the image of God? One theological perspective is that the image of God is completely destroyed. Nothing good is within us. We are completely dead in our sins. Sin destroyed that goodness of God. Yes, we are made in His image. But we most certainly are not good.
That is a dominant theme within modern evangelicalism. As I’ve heard it said, a dead man can’t crawl out of a burning house. The only thing we deserve is hellfire.
That way of thinking, though is not how Wesley looked at things. Wesley understood the reality of human sin, yes, but he believed that the fall corrupted, not destroyed the image of God. Ted Runyan has a wonderful book (The New Creation) that really goes in depth into this subject. His entire point is that the fall corrupted that image of God, it is deformed and in need of redemption, but is not completely gone. Persons remain of great worth, and there is the hope for salvation for all (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2: 3-4).
The reason why I am drawn so to Wesleyan theology is because of that. Without a doubt, we need salvation. And we are sinful. We can’t save ourselves. But that image of God, while corrupted, has not been completely destroyed. Prevenient grace extends to us an awakening of that image that allows us to walk toward God’s offer of grace.
This cultural moment teaches us to see people as our enemy. To see people only deserving of judgement and hell, especially those who are not Christian. Or those who we may disagree with. Or those who may vote different, live different, act different. We take on this view of sin as one that casts them out and removes their worth. We harden our sides and they are over the line, and they are on the other side.
Now, I want to be VERY clear. I believe in sin, judgement, and hell. No one comes to the Father but through the Son (John 14:6). Sin is destructive, as it destroys God’s prize creation, humanity (John 10:10). This is in no way an apology for sin. It is, however, a call to love all persons in the say that God does. I think our societal moment has taken from us the desire to truly see the worth in others. The worth in those who are wrong. The worth in those who we would see as even our enemies. For the path of Christ calls us to love even the enemy (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 5:10).
I want to speak against racism, but never discount the potential conversion and sanctification of the racist. And if I am their pastor, I want to be able to pastor them and hopefully, through God’s grace, help them grow.
I want to speak against immorality, but never discount the potential conversion and sanctification of the immoral. And if I am their pastor, I want to be able to pastor them and hopefully, through God’s grace, help them growth.
As a fallen individual, my guilt is the same as the racist or the immoral. I want to hold out hope for their redemption and their worth, in the same way that I hold it out for myself.
I never want to discount the worth of people. No matter who they are, what they do, and even what they believe. Because even they may be fallen and sinful, they are truly loved by a God who wants to redeem them.
I filter so many things that I do and that I believe through evangelism. I want as many people to as possible to know Jesus. Some would say that because of their sin, those who do not know Him are hostile to Him and do not desire to know Him at all. Maybe. But when I read Scripture, I see a lot of people who did not know Him, who want to know Him. Today, I see a lot of people who do not know Him very hostile to the church. But there is still a fascination with Jesus and the church. There is a yearning spiritually. The bible says that God has written eternity on the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
I read a tweet that has caused me to ponder a lot recently. By I how I love others to I make hell a more appealing place for folks to want to be than church? I want those who do not know Him to be attracted to Him to follow Him. That is my one true desire for ministry. I want folks of all kinds, to know their worth to Jesus. And if I all do is extend metaphorical middle fingers or kick sand in their face, how will know they know Jesus? That’s what I want, more than anything else. For as many as possible to know Jesus.
I don’t get involved in hardening my heart at others because I want all people, all people, to know Jesus. This world is calling me, and you, to harden heart to others. To write them off. To deem them as enemies. Many, maybe people in the church are calling us to do that. Many, maybe even preachers are calling us to do that. But I don’t believe that is right. I recently saw an article that said that for the first time in history, non church goers make up the majority of the population. This is the world we live in now. We can choose to bemoan where we are. We can harden our sides and opinions. Or can see the world as our enemy, and give up any hope for it’s redemption. Maybe we can harden our opinions, shout the loudest and condemn the most. Maybe.
Maybe I’m foolish, but I don’t think that’s the way. Maybe I’m a heretic and a false teacher (I’ve been called that before, by the way). But I don’t think so. I want as many as possible to know Jesus.
And that has to start with us knowing our worth in Jesus. And seeing their worth in Jesus. Even the folks we can’t stand. They have that same worth.