Not Quite Alike
Thousands of people in the world share both a birthday and birth parents. We refer to these people as twins, children born at basically the same time to the same parents. Most all of us know a set of twins from our family, from school, or at the very least, from popular culture. While most twins are fraternal and look nothing alike, a small percentage of twins are identical, exact duplicates of one another down to their DNA. But not exactly. I have known several twins over the course of my life, including the ones in my family. One thing I have noticed among identical twins is despite the DNA, there are not exactly alike.
For instance, I went to school with Michael and Mark Hand. The brothers lived a few miles down the road from our neighborhood and I had classes with one brother or the other mostly from the time I started school at Beulah Elementary until we graduated from Lithia Springs High School. To many people, Michael and Mark were impossible to tell apart – their height, build, choice of clothes, mannerisms – seemed the same. I say seemed because once you spent a little time with them, they weren’t quite so identical. Mark had a small scar under his right eye and his face was a little longer than his brother’s. Michael held a pencil between his ring finger and his pinkie finger when he wrote. Their mannerisms, while similar were not the same. Michael was a little quieter than his brother and less prone to smile, at least as I remember it. Mark also tended to be a little more excitable at times. If my memory were a little better, I could probably think of a few more things but suffice it to say, even the most identical twins are not identical.
Being United Methodist
As United Methodists, we share certain things with other denominations, allowing us all to call ourselves Christians or Followers of Jesus. These things make us part of the greater Church, part of a greater family known as Christendom. But like the twins I just mentioned, we as United Methodists have some things that make us unique and give our understanding of Methodism a certain flavor that is different from other denominations and, at times, even other Methodist followers. As we walk through these ideas, we will find they tend to lead from one into another.
The word prevenient is a funny sounding little word that simple means, “coming before.” When we talk about prevenient grace, we are talking about grace that is offered to us by God even before we known we need it or even understand what it is (when we say grace, it is literally “a gift”; Greek, charis, cariV). It is God working in our lives, sometimes in little nudges and pushes, sometimes in great dramatic shifts to get our attention.
Prevenient grace is a call from God that begins with our first breath and draws us toward God throughout our lives. It is the longing put in our hearts for us to be reconciled to God, the need we have to seek God. In truth, this longing, this prevenient grace, is the first step in the process of salvation or our restoration to God. It awakens us to our need for God so that God can begin opening our eyes to our spiritual understanding. It leads us to the next distinctive justification and assurance.
Justification and Assurance
There is a point when the prevenient grace of God begins to sink in, and we begin to realize a real need for God. When we reach this point and respond by turning to God and answering this calling by seeking forgiveness and restoration, we call that justification or new birth. It is the moment when what we were gives way to the transforming process of what God intended for us to be and we begin becoming what Paul called, “new creations.” It is a righting of the relationship between us and God under the prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit. For some people this happens in dramatic moments, for others, it is a gradual journey. In either case, it is a new beginning, a starting place for the transformation of the person. When this happens, we believe that there is assurance of our change as the Spirit of God “bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God.”
Sanctification and Perfection
When it comes to the idea of salvation, it doesn’t end with the moment of justification or new birth. That was simply the beginning of the part we are most aware of. Through the Holy Spirit, we can grow in grace and love of and for God and neighbor. This process of growth is called sanctification. Sanctifying grace is that grace which helps us grow up in our faith and move toward the place where our hearts are completely filled with love of God and neighbor and having the mind of Christ, walking as He walked. When we reach this place, Wesley called this the state of Christian perfection, which is true Christlikeness. Moving through sanctification to the place of Christian perfection is the goal of the Christian, though honestly, there are few who reach it on this side of existence.
Faith and Good Works
As we grow and experience prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace, we begin to learn more about how to love God and love neighbor. John Wesley talked about living a life that shows the change and transformation that God is working in us through the Holy Spirit. This shows itself by what we call faith and good works. When we trust in God within ourselves, and truly have a trust that is born of a changed life, we will show it by works of piety (holy living towards God before men) and mercy (holy living towards men before God).
Mission and Service
Personal salvation then becomes public service and mission to the community and the world. We call this mission and service, which is the United Methodist way of bringing our personal faith and evangelical witness together with social action to demonstrate love of God and love of neighbor. In other words, the things we think and believe need to become things we act on for the good of the congregation we are a part, the community we live in, and the world around us.
Nurture and Mission of the Church
I have heard it said many times that there are no Lone Ranger Christians, though I have seen more than a few people give it a try. Our trust in God is best understood and practiced in community with others following the Way of Jesus. The Wesleyan saying goes, “There is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” This means that our lives are lived in personal growth for the purpose of mission in the church. We live out the nurture and care of the church and its people, for the sake of the mission of the Church in the world.
The Big Three
Finally, I want to remind you that the life we live inside should be the life we live outside or our way of trusting within should be the mission we live out. Wesley summed it in these three rules:
- Do no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind.
- Do good of every possible sort to all you encounter
- Attend to the ordinances of God
- The public worship of God.
- The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
- The Supper of the Lord.
- Family and private prayer.
- Searching the Scriptures.
- Fasting or abstinence.
Basically, those are the things that make a United Methodist different from those of other denominations though other Wesleyan groups may share similar ideas on faith. I encourage you to read these from the Discipline or feel free to ask me and I will get you a copy.
Brown, F., Driver, S., & Briggs, C. A. (2001). The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Campbell, T. A. (2011). Methodist Doctrine. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Hamilton, A. (2016). Creed: What Christians Believe and Why. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
The United Methodist Church. (2016). The Book of Disciple of the United Methodist Church. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House.
Willimon, W. H. (2007). United Methodist Beliefs. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
 (The United Methodist Church, 2016, p. 54)