Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Little Left of Living Right

Trent Tomlinson, a country music singer has song out called One Wing in the Fire. In the song he talks about his dad who he claims is a “back row Baptist with his share of front row-sin." He goes on to say that “he lives a little left of livin' right,” but he hopes that God will look past that so he can go to heaven.

I am sure if we all thought about the people we know we could think of a few who fit the description of being an “angle with no hallow, and one wing in the fire.” I find this to be a bit perplexing because we do not have spiritual categories for people who go to church, but their lives are not what we would call Christians. We generally think that someone who is a Christian should live a morally upstanding life and someone who is an atheist should live an amoral life. We are confused when a Christian lives an amoral life and an atheist lives a moral life.

Theology over the years has tried to help us deal with issues like this. On the one hand it has been said that in order to be a Christian a person had to live a moral life, obeying the things that are spelled out in the Bible. (Although people often disagree about which things are spelled out in the Bible). In other words, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) Reformed theology has tended to go to the other extreme, holding that salvation has nothing to do with your works; it is a matter of believing in Jesus or having faith. In other words, “It is by grace that we are saved through faith alone.” (Eph. 2:7)

This is where I believe Wesleyan theology helps me better understanding our dilemma. It says that faith and works are not incompatible. On the one hand salvation is by God’s grace alone when we accept it by faith alone. We cannot earn our faith by good works. However, God’s grace does more in our lives than just give us forgiveness from sin. God’s grace continues to work in our lives so that we will eventually do good works. It causes us to have a living faith. Wesleyans call the first act justification, because we are restored in our relationship with God and forgiven for our sins. We call the second act sanctification, which is the process of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to restore in us the Image of God in which we were originally created.

This means that the people sitting around us in the pew on Sundays may not be saints, but we hope that they are cooperating with God so that they will eventually become one. This also means that we may have to understand that the people sitting around us in the pews may not live what we would call moral lives, but we should encourage them to grow in their faith so that they will slowly be transformed into moral people. We cannot judge someone for what they do, but we can help them become who God wants them to be. Salvation is a process, a journey in which we embark. We take this journey not on our own, but as a community of faith.

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