EPHESIANS 2:8-10 ESV
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We’ve been through a lot with John Wesley, and honestly we hope that many of you feel a lot more “Methodist” than you did before. But, you are at a Methodist Church and we wouldn’t exist if we didn’t believe that this is a most excellent way of pursing Jesus Christ.
But for all our talk of pursing Christ, we base our faith on the truth that God is the one in pursuit of us. One of John Wesley’s greatest contributions to theology was his articulation of the nature of God’s grace. Wesley preached that God’s grace pursues us, justifies us, and transforms us.
Wesley referred to grace’s pursuit of God’s beloved as “prevenient grace,” meaning that God’s unearned love for us exists before we know it or accept it, wooing us to Christ. Then, once we receive God’s grace and understand its affects we are justified in heart and mind, coming to believe for ourselves that Jesus is the Son of God, the One who ransoms us from sin and death and saves us to God. Finally, with this change of heart and mind, we then journey with grace on a path of transformation, whereby we are made holy through our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We call that sanctification or holiness.
And all of that is Wesleyan-Methodist holiness in a nutshell. But to illustrate, I want to show you a clip from a popular movie, Les Miserables. Many of you may have seen the musical, whether on stage or on screen. But the original novel, written by Victor Hugo, is absolutely fascinating, being an in-depth look at redemption during 19th century France. The book is packed with Hugo’s issue with the social and religious issues of his day. For 1,500 pages, he pens the need for social reform and the need for religious depth. Hugo cared about the poor and this work is his contribution to that passion.
What you are about to see is a man named Jean Valjean, a convict who can’t shake his criminal past. He is offered a place to stay and food to eat by a local bishop. Early in the morning, we find Valjean doing this…
Jean Valjean finds that he cannot earn grace. Grace is given. He has tried to fix his life over and over again and it doesn’t work. It is only by the grace of God that the Bishop offers that he is forgiven and set on a new path. Jean will then use his gratitude toward God’s grace as his life’s currency from this point forward. Listen to the words of the actual novel by Victor Hugo:
The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”
Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
We need more people who will offer God’s grace to the world. Like the Bishop, we need to purchase people’s attention through God’s work in us, then let the Blood of Jesus Christ be applied to their lives through faith.
John Wesley thought he was offering grace to the world. But he was only reaching a small amount through the lofty pulpits of the Church of England of his day. When he met George Whitefield, a man he groomed and discipled at Oxford, things changed. Whitefield had taken his preaching to the streets, literally. Thousands of farmers, miners, and laborers were listening to the gospel, making decisions for faith, and Wesley wanted in. After experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in such a way, Wesley would write in his journal over the next several days:
I left London and… in the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church… [the next day] At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking…to about three thousand people.”
Wesley’s word “vile” is in reference to his stepping outside the walls of the church and reaching a crowd that was traditionally looked down upon. In other words, his ministry would be to the Jean Valjean’s of the world. Wesley would now spend the rest of his ministry among all people, especially the poor. He would focus on bringing salvation to anyone, at any cost.
That same attitude is reflected in a prayer that was adapted by Wesley for use in a service of re-commitment. Wesley was asking for all Christians to be employed by God for the transformation of the world. And so this is what makes us Methodist, a lay led movement of Jesus-centered, Biblically holy, preaching, singing people who tell of the glory of God through their lives.
In your bulletin this morning, there’s a card with the covenant prayer on it. I want us to say it together. Follow my cadence and let’s affirm this loudly and with confidence:
WESLEYAN COVENANT PRAYER
I am no longer my own,
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly
yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.