When we pray the Great Thanksgiving during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we often say these words together: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This is the ground of our hope as Christians in this age and in the age to come.
John Wesley echoes this affirmation in his “Letter on Preaching Christ.” In it, he notes that wherever one finds Methodists who are “alive, strong, and vigorous of soul, believing, loving, praising God their Saviour” it was because they “had been continuously fed with” the “wholesome food” of the gospel, promising not only forgiveness of sins but a new life in Christ. “From the beginning they had been taught both the law and the gospel. ‘God loves you; therefore love and obey him. Christ died for you; therefore die to sin. Christ is risen; therefore rise in the image of God. Christ liveth evermore; therefore live to God, till you live with him in glory.’”
This what he and his preachers had proclaimed, and what the Methodists believed. This is, he says, “the scriptural way, the Methodist way, the true way. God grant we may never turn therefore, to the right hand or to the left.”
There is, I think, a strong connection between the four points of this Methodist message.
“God loves you; therefore love and obey him” is close to Wesley’s favorite verse of scripture, I John 4:19: “We love him because he first loved us.” In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, Wesley calls this “the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity.”
How much and to what extent does Christ love us? “Christ died for you; therefore die to sin.” As Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Charles Wesley states it even more powerfully: “O Love Divine, what hast thou done? The immortal God hath died for me.” (UM Hymnal 287) But note the result: if Christ has died for us, we are to die to sin. This doesn’t only mean our sin is forgiven. It means that Christ has died to break sin’s power over in our lives, to ultimately put it to death.
The triumph of the resurrection is the victory over sin and death: “Christ is risen; therefore rise in the image of God.” We are given a new life, through Jesus Christ. It is a life in which, through what Christ has done for us and what the Holy Spirit does in us, we are increasingly enabled to love as God loves. Our dispositions, motivations and desires are remade until love fills our hearts and governs our lives. It is then that we are once again in the image of the God who created us.
This is a life that, because Christ is risen, death cannot take from us. “Christ liveth evermore; therefore live to God, till you live with him in glory.” We love and serve God now and through all eternity. Thus we can sing with Charles Wesley,
Love’s redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won,
Death in vain forbids him rise,
Christ has opened paradise.
Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head,
Made like him, like him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
(Christ the Lord is Risen Today, UM Hymnal 302)
By: Dr. Hal Knight, Professor of Wesleyan