What we believe, how we live

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16, NIV)

From Romans to Jude, the epistles are jammed full of instruction on what it means to live as the people of Jesus Christ. The apostles teach that how we live is an expression of what we believe about God. Our claims that Jesus Christ is Lord and judge and that the Holy Spirit is the source of life are not just lovely notions. They call forth particular responses.

As James reminds us, we cannot have faith that does not show forth in works.

Methodists of all stripes — at least until we gave up listening to John Wesley — have believed that orthodoxy is not nearly as important as holy living. Devils, the saying goes, are orthodox on every point, and yet are devils still.

Of course, Methodists and Wesleyans are as orthodox as they come. We recite the Nicene Creed with nary a crossed finger or wink of the eye. But this is not the heart of the matter for us. Orthodoxy that does not lead us to holy lives is not worth the name. It is, rather, a false front used to hide the dry bones inside.

As Peter writes: “Be holy in all you do.”


10 thoughts on “What we believe, how we live

  1. The avanguardistas for overthrow of everything traditional may deride a focus on holy living, but holy living fills the lungs of the church with fresh oxygen, and when the brain has a good oxygen supply, better thinking results. Part of the stalemate now (if there is one) is due to muddled thinking. With so much nickering in the blog space, who can think straight?

    1. Amen. There is a wisdom of this world and wisdom from above, which cannot be received or known apart from obedient living to Gods commands. The things of God are foolishness to natural man, of which we have far too much of in our pulpits.

  2. I am beginning to theorize the UMC has taken “Do no harm” way out of context

    In Wesley’s time….
    Three-quarters of all children died before age five. While irreversible disease accounted
    for a large percentage of the fatalities, the most callous neglect, not to say willful cruelty,
    accounted for the rest. Among the poorest people, and amidst the human impoverishment
    which accompanies material deprivation, the child mortality rate was almost one hundred
    Mr. Hanway, a governor of the Foundling Hospital (established in 1739, one
    year after Wesley’s conversion) commented on this aspect of English social life. “The
    pagan Chinese may legally drown female children; but an English Churchwarden, or
    ‘Father of the Poor’ . . . may suffer children to be starved to death or poisoned with
    noxious air.”
    ….Scores of thousands of children were entrusted to nurses who pocketed the
    paltry sum given them for “caring”, permitting starvation to overtake the child who was
    too expensive to feed. And since remains were too expensive to inter, infant corpses were
    routinely thrown onto manure piles. At birth the very poorest children were commonly
    abandoned in the street to perish. Frequently destitute parents blinded, maimed or
    deformed their child in hope of teasing out a few more pennies when the child was sent
    forth to beg.

    “The General Rules of 1743 ruled out buying or drinking ‘spirituous liquors’ except in cases of extreme necessity, meaning medicinal use,” Campbell said. “It was not total abstinence, but abstinence from the hard stuff, whiskey and gin in particular.”
    Ted Campbell of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.

    In Wesley’s world “harm” seems to revolve around a particular vice.
    What did Wesley mean by “Do no harm” considering the above?

  3.  John Wesley states.”
    ” We do not place the whole of religion (as too many do, God knoweth) either in doing no harm, or in doing good, or in using the ordinances of God..:
    (“ordinances” here refers to opinions, judgments, and decrees not God’s law.)

    In other words we do not set or institutionalized our system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices solely on “doing no harm”. Suggesting changing church law or position on one single sole statement made by Wesley cannot be correct. Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist” was written to correct the incorrect.

    4. Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, “Yes, he is; for he thinks ‘we are saved by faith alone:’” I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone. Can even a nominal Christian deny it? Is this placing a part of religion for the whole? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.” We do not place the whole of religion (as too many do, God knoweth) either in doing no harm, or in doing good, or in using the ordinances of God. No, not in all of them together; wherein we know by experience a man may labour many years, and at the end have no religion at all, no more than he had at the beginning. Much less in any one of these; or, it may be, in a scrap of one of them: Like her who fancies herself a virtuous woman, only because she is not a prostitute; or him who dreams he is an honest man, merely because he does not rob or steal. May the Lord God of my fathers preserve me from such a poor, starved religion as this! ….


  4. In 1738, two centuries after the Reformation, Bishop Berkeley declared that religion and morality in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never before known in any Christian country.”

     Thomas Carlyle described the country’s condition as a”Stomach well alive, soul extinct.” 

    Donald Drew points out that about one fifth of all clergy where expelled from the Church of England and replaced by “cavalier place seekers” who decimated the church, ended biblical thinking and incorporated corrupt clergy.

    In steps Wesley.


  5. Excellent post, John. Holiness of heart and life is the true fruit of faith.

    I would quibble with your assertion that most Methodists could recite the Nicene Creed without crossed fingers. I am familiar with quite a few clergy who either deny or redefiine parts of the creed.

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