Are you going on to perfection?

The two great commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I don’t know about you. I am not there yet.

Some Christians would tell me that it is wrong to expect to ever get there. They believe that we cannot actually obey the command of Christ on this side of heaven. We are fallen and imperfect creatures who cannot love as God loves and should not delude ourselves into expecting that God’s grace can fix this flaw in us.

It is a comforting doctrine. It makes me comfortable about my own soul. It eases doubts I have about whether I am who God wants me to be. It eases my conscience over all the ways that I fail to love God and neighbor every day. What more, after all, can I expect? I am only human.

As rational and comforting as these words are, they simply are not Wesleyan.

Most or all of you know that John Wesley repeated the two great commandments frequently. For him — as for many, many other Christians — these are the marks of a true Christian. Wesley went further than many, however, in that he believed that since Jesus had commanded us to do these things, he also provided a means by which we could do them. In Wesley’s words, every command of Christ is both law and gospel. It is law in that it tell us what to do. It is gospel in that it promises the power to do it.

The very definition of “going on to perfection” is becoming the person, by the grace of God, who fulfills the two great commandments. Methodism believes and affirms that you and I can be the people who really do love God with all we are and love our neighbors as purely as we love ourselves.

I am not there yet. But God in his word tells me that I should expect to reach that place by grace. Jesus does not deny us the power to do what he commands.

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10 thoughts on “Are you going on to perfection?

  1. John, thanks for the encouragement. I too am relying on the grace of God to reach that to which he has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Please keep reminding us of ournWesleyan roots.

  2. Have you ever read the homilies of Macarius? I learned about Wesley’s connection to them in Maddox’s Responsible Grace, so I dug them up. They are awesome. I really think they were a huge influence on Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection as well as the very similar theosis doctrine that developed in the East. Christian perfection works a lot better within the Eastern therapeutic logic of atonement than the Western juridical logic. Macarius has a much stronger sense of the demonic than we do. He sees humanity as enslaved until we accept Christ’s redemption and then in perpetual battle after that. He uses the analogy of salt to say that without the salt of Christ, our souls are worm-infested rotting meat. When the end comes, we will be seen for what we really are. For Macarius, there really isn’t justification per se. It’s redemption from slavery and then sanctification, which is where most of his attention is. He has a very high view of divine sovereignty; sanctification is basically mourning sin and begging the Spirit to change us.

    When the problem addressed by salvation is our corruption, sanctification is not just an add-on but an integral part of it. When the problem is God’s anger, then justification is the only necessary component of salvation and sanctification becomes the bonus. I think Wesley’s challenge was that he was caught on a Calvinist polemical battlefield and thus would have had a dozen Topladies pounce all over him if he tried to use Macarius’ theological system too openly. So as such Christian perfection is this quaint independent doctrine that doesn’t really fit with the mostly Western juridical framework.

    • I have not read Marcarius directly, although I did read a paper written by an Orthodox theologian who said Wesley got him all wrong because Wesley was using Western categories.

      I don’t think Wesley was hiding his true colors to avoid getting jumped by Calvinists. He got jumped by them plenty. I think he was firmly attached to Western notions of Original Sin and a model of justification as pardon. He did not accept “imputation” of righteousness, but said rather that God made us actually righteous.

      To my reading, at least, there is not a big disconnect between Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification and the rest of his soteriology.

      • That EO priest was probably right. Take a look at Macarius directly. I think Wesley started down a path that we need to continue to go down. Have you read any of what I’ve been writing about original sin?

        “He did not accept ‘imputation’ of righteousness, but said rather that God made us actually righteous.” That’s a half-Eastern statement. The East would say the problem is that we can’t see or commune with God until he makes us righteous.

  3. John I’ m not even a good pagan (as Wesley defines one).
    I accept Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and know His Grace has led me to the church, I trust in his mercy, but posts like this one of yours lead me to despair.
    Have you been a Christian for so long can you understand how big a step to go from denial and rebellion against God to walk into a church and profess Jesus is Lord?
    And this is not enough?
    God have Mercy on us!

    • Steve, I have been a Christian since 2001, so I do not know whether that is long enough to forget.

      When you professed Jesus as Lord, did you find the comfort and assurance of his love in you? Perfection is growing more and more into that love. It is a joyful and wonderful thing that you have turned away from death and toward life. Great indeed! And praise God for it. God wants to restore the full image of God in you. He offers grace to us if we will cooperate with his grace. It is a gift to grow into the person God created us to be.

      If I described it as a burden or painful trial, put that down to my poor choice of words and not God’s desires for us.

      • When we do accept Jesus for what he really was, a man of flesh and blood, who could be tempted (God cannot be tempted) and managed to stay clean, pure of hearth, faithful to the Laws of God, who said about this man that he was His beloved son, than Jesus his offering (a real death / God cannot die, but Jesus did) can become the fullest offer for us, whitewashing us from our many sins. Also when we do accept Jesus as our Saviour he shall be able to act as mediator between his Father, the Only One God and the many people who would like to come to God. (Notice also that in case Jesus would be God he could not mediate between himself and man.)
        “for god [is] one, and [there is] one mediator of god and of men, [the] man christ jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 MKJV)

    • Dear Steve, you do seem to believe that Christ himself is also God. God can not die, but Jesus really did; Jesus did not fake his death nor did he presented a circus or schizophrenic actions when he prayed to his Father.
      Jesus was really tempted (God can not be tempted), but proofed to stay faithful to his Father, always willing to do God His Will and not Jesus his will.
      The denial of the humanity of Christ is part a denial of the work Jesus has done and ridiculing it to a sort of fake show of the Most High, who let the people such a long time and still has them waiting before they are really saved form their misery (because it is still not yet finished.)

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