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Why United Methodist, part 2

In the second of a three-part series, Rev. Dwayne Bagley explains his choice of spiritual home.


Superintendent, Kalamazoo District

Last week I began offering my reasons why I am United Methodist. I did not inherit this faith tradition. I did not grow up in the church. So, for me, being United Methodist was and is a choice.

There were and still are some specific reasons I embraced the United Methodist way of being Christian. In last week’s District News I shared the first of those reasons as I unpacked my understanding that religion should be a matter of the head and the heart. This week the list continues as I describe the Methodist view of salvation. I’d be glad to engage anybody in further conversation around these key ideas. Feel free to contact me and we’ll find some time to sit and reason together.

2. Salvation is a process – not an event. Many denominations within the Christian tradition emphasize being born again. Some focus on the moment when a person accepts Christ as their personal Savior to such an extent that if an individual is not able to name the day when they made their decision and describe the circumstances in which it happened whether they’re saved or not is called into question. That’s never been the Methodist way. Even though we have believed that salvation requires a personal response, we have never held that it requires an affirmation that is a once and for all response. Instead, Methodists have always believed that salvation is an unfolding process. Methodist theologians describe this process as the workings of three kinds of grace: prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace.

Prevenient grace is that grace which is at work in our lives even before we’ve ever considered turning toward God. It’s also called “convincing grace” because it serves to convince us of our need to accept God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ. This convincing is accomplished in different ways in the life of each individual and takes the form of everything from gentle promptings of God’s Spirit to dramatic experiences of the, “I once was lost, but now am found” variety. Once a person is convinced of their need for God’s presence in their life and turns toward God, they are made right with God. This is the work of justifying grace.

Justifying grace is the grace which assures an individual that they are forgiven, offered an opportunity to begin again with God and raised in Christ to a new life. This justifying grace has been described as: “the Spirit of God witnessing to our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:17). John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist way of being Christian, likened this graceful transition to a movement from the front porch of God’s House across the threshold and into the house itself. Once inside, a person was no longer treated as a stranger but welcomed as a member of the family.

” … finding our way home to God (prevenient grace), coming home to God (justifying grace) and learning to make ourselves at home with God in the world (sanctifying grace) is just the beginning of what is a life-long process … “

Wesley further supposed that once a person had been welcomed into God’s household they would want to make themselves at home there and explore every room. The process of making oneself completely at home in God’s presence and exploring the fullness of life with God is thought to be the work of sanctifying (or perfecting grace). This is a gradual refining process. We are shaped through trials and triumphs, successes and failures to become more and more like Christ. Although this is God’s work it requires our focus and attentiveness. Our goal as followers of Christ is, in Wesley’s words, “to seek to be made perfect in love in this life.” Such perfection empowers a follower of Christ to experience the fullness of life with God. Whether attaining this state of perfection is actually possible this side of eternity is a matter of some debate. And for those for whom worrying about perfectionism is a stumbling block, I would suggest thinking about this state more in terms of being made complete in God’s love rather than being perfectly without fault or failing in your belief or practice. The bumper sticker missive, “God is not finished with me yet,” certainly applies here. Trusting that the working of God’s saving grace is a gradual, unfolding process in our lives has been a true mercy to me. There are moments when I fall far short of modeling the marks of the Christian life. But because I realize that God is determined to offer mercy anew to me every morning, I find I can begin again with God instead of giving up when I miss the mark. This belief has saved me time and time again.

The unfolding pattern of grace in our lives: finding our way home to God (prevenient grace), coming home to God (sanctifying grace) and learning to make ourselves at home with God in the world is just the beginning of what is a life-long process as we seek to work out our salvation from day to day.

Next time I’ll talk about what it looks like when people called Methodist work out their salvation as they engage the worlds’ needs. Until then, may you know firsthand that God’s grace is sufficient as the process of salvation unfolds in your life.