This summer has almost gotten away, and it's been awhile since my last blog. But I've been reading some this summer, even on vacation. Included in my reading list are some of John Wesley's sermons. I came across one of Wesley's distinctive emphases that I've known about for some time and thought I'd share it with you: Christian Perfection. And to be honest, I struggle with what that really means for me, a lay person, in this complicated life. Here's some background:
Jesus once told his followers to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). He was talking about loving enemies, which went against conventional thinking. Jesus later summarized the Law and prophetic teaching in two Great Commandments: "love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, and mind" and "love you neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:36-40).
Perfection -- loving God and others, even enemies, as purely and fully as Christ. That's a primary theme in John Wesley's Methodist teaching. Wesley believed that it was possible for people to actually be perfect in love -- so filled with Christ, with God at the center of life (rather than self), as to be truly full of life and love as God intended. Perfection didn't mean we could be free from ignorance, mistakes, infirmities, or temptation. And we may never reach full perfection in our earthly lives. But Wesley wrote that Christians should always seek to grow deeper in love, following Christ so closely as to have "the mind that was in Christ."
I wonder -- is that possible? Really? Especially today with all the distractions and "stuff" in our lives and our world? I'm a lay person who deals with a lot of earthly issues, not a deep-thinking theologian, so I need truth that's practical. Is Christian perfection just a nice theory with little practical reality? Well, Wesley acknowledged that Jesus called us to a pretty tough way, but His way of love was truly life. OK. So whether it's practical or not, the pursuit of perfection does make us better, more loving of God and neighbor, more like Christ, than we otherwise would be. And something called "sanctifying grace" means that God is helping us in that pursuit.
Are we going on to perfection as United Methdist Christians today? As leaders in our congregations? Let's acknowledge, as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-15, that we haven't yet reached the goal but press on to become mature, even perfect, in love for God and all of God's people.
What does Christian Perfection mean for you?