Through Lent, my Bible study group is focused on forgiveness. Last night, one of our discussions centered around how (if?) it is possible to forgive like Jesus did. We talked about how Jesus knew he was to be betrayed and yet he loved those who betrayed him, who put him on trial, who executed him. Could we love that much – could we love the people close to us, in our families and work – knowing they would betray us?
We discussed how John Wesley believed that disciples would be made perfect in love in their lifetime, and how we need God’s grace to love that completely. We discussed how much we need each other to learn about forgiveness, grace and love – and how we need to continue learning how much we are loved, learning how to forgive, and learning how to love throughout our lives. We need each other to grow in our understanding of God’s sanctifying grace.
(Monday’s post described Wesley’s three types of grace: prevenient – which comes before we know we need God’s grace; justifying – which is the grace of Jesus Christ that makes us right with God; and sanctifying – which is the grace that works on us throughout our lives)
Dr. Randy Maddox write about Wesley’s understanding of God’s grace in his book Responsible Grace: “When one understands sanctification on Wesley’s terms, as a life-long process of healing our sin-distorted affections, there is an obvious need for continually renewing the empowerment for this healing. The other essential requirement is a persistent deepening of our awareness of the deceptive motivations and prejudices remaining in our life, because co-operant healing entails some discernment of that which still needs to be healed.”
Dr. Maddox asserts that sanctifying grace as Wesley understood it is a life-long work. Once we are made right with God, our work begins. In relationship with other disciples, through worship, communion, prayer and study, we are empowered to perceive the Holy Spirit working in our lives, and can see where we are still in sin. It’s not comfortable.
My Bible study group helps me to see where I am holding on to old hurts and allowing bitterness to be a motivation (that’s the “deepening awareness of the deceptive motivations”). My group also holds me accountable when I say I’m going to forgive. They help me to examine my heart and see where I have lived out my privilege and prejudices, and to change those attitudes. It’s not comfortable, but it is necessary. My Bible study group helps me discern that which still needs to be healed in my heart.
“Going on to perfection” is a Methodist way of saying, I’m listening for the leading of the Holy Spirit, my friends along this path help me to face my fears and faults, and God calls me on to loving my neighbors more like Jesus did. Any good work that I hope to do in mission requires that I pay attention to God’s sanctifying grace, that I am part of an accountable discipleship group, that I worship and pray and learn how to go on to perfection.
Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology by Randy L. Maddox, quote from page 202