As a participant in the “holiness movement,” I have been re-reading many of our most significant theologians in recent months, taking time to search the scriptures where they are cited, following cross references in the scriptures, and reading extended passages of scripture in search of the meaning behind the words.
It has not been lost on me that much of this reading is being done with the backdrop of angry political rhetoric that is bouncing around in the news and on social media, and the sometimes vitriolic posts made by religious people to and about one another.
As I have read the words of the theologians, and as I have searched the scriptures, I find it distressing that so much that is being said by and about people who claim to follow Christ is very far from what Christ claimed for himself, and what he asks of his followers.
While I am not interested in sparking more of the rhetoric, I am becoming even more convinced that, if we are only looking for a “Savior” in Jesus Christ, we have missed the most important part of Christ’s objective. He desires to do far more than help us “punch our ticket so that we can go to heaven when we die.” Christ died and rose again in order to form us who are created after the image of God into the very likeness of Christ for which we were created. We are to be “the evidence” that, with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Kingdom of God has begun, right here on planet earth!
While most Christians would agree that “being good” should characterize the life of all who claim to belong to Jesus, this journey is about much more than being good. What God desires is that we be molded into the very character of Christ, that our minds and hearts be molded by the power of the Holy Spirit shaping us, forming us, recreating us into a reflection of the mind of Christ (Philippians 1:5).
This is not something we can do at our own initiative, or in our own strength. But it is something that requires our active, Spirit enabled response and participation. We, by the grace of God (the active work of the Holy Spirit in our lives), may respond, participate, and cultivate the graces and fruit of Christlikeness. For John Wesley, the evidentiary graces, or fruit, of the Spirit were love, joy, and peace. The primary expression is that love that is poured into our lives when we are “born of the Spirit,” a love that must be cultivated, developed, and nurtured by prayer, attention to Scripture, faithful participation in the means of Grace, and engagement with others in Christian community. While there are stages and steps along the way, this is a life-long journey.
Only as we intentionally cultivate these graces can we develop the virtues that become “second nature” to us in our living and our speaking. The objective is to reflect the character of Christ in every relationship, in every conversation, in every “post,” in every “tweet,” in every transaction in our lives. In contrast, a person without character is a danger to everyone in every situation in which they operate.
The contrast between the followers of Jesus who are being shaped and re-created by the Spirit will bear witness to a greater truth, a grander vision, and a more compelling reality than all the vitriol currently being thrown around in the political arenas and the “twittersphere.” Then we can move into human need, racial injustice, domestic violence, gender oppression, and every other expression of brokenness and sin, with grace, courage, and passion.
Let’s get this right!
Jesse C Middendorf
July 21, 2018