Putting on the character of Christ
| posted 2/02/2010
The great preacher and founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley (1703-1791), was once approached by a man who came to him in the grip of unbelief. "All is dark; my thoughts are lost," the man said to Wesley, "but I hear that you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for?" Wesley gave this answer to those questions:
You ask, what would I do with them? I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven, to God the judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love. The law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves, to make them like God, lovers of all, contented in their lives, and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, "O grave where is thy victory! Thanks be to God, who giveth me victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ."
His answer is a beautiful and succinct description of the good and beautiful life.
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But those answers are not what you might hear today. We seldom talk about virtue these days, but Wesley knew virtue was central to developing a vibrant, joyful life. How do people become virtuous? Wesley understood that the Christian gospel is the fundamental building block of the life we long for. We yearn to know and be known by God. But not just any understanding of God will do. Wesley describes God as the judge—God is holy—and yet he also calls God "the lover of all." We were designed to be in fellowship with a loving and holy God. Yet we cannot merit this on our own, so Wesley says he would lead his hearers to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant, a covenant of forgiveness and regeneration through which we become people in whom Christ dwells and delights.
And what is the religion Wesley prescribes? Not a religion of laws or ceremonies or mystical knowledge, but of love and kindness. Our world is badly in need of people who love, and it is hungering for people who demonstrate genuine kindness. We are so deprived of it that we are astonished when we encounter it. And what is the point of this religion? To get us to heaven? No, to get heaven into us. To help us discover a relationship with God wherein we enjoy God and are easy in ourselves. If we can discover such a life, Wesley believed, we can even face our death with calm assurance and the certainty of a joyful eternity.
How does Jesus think?
We live at the mercy of our ideas and our narratives. What we think determines how we live. If we think God is an angry accountant frowning on us and would love us if only we are good enough, that narrative will be seen in how we live. Or if we think that being an angry person or hating our enemies are good things, then that too will be expressed in our day-to-day living. A lot of false narratives about God and human life are perpetuated in our world, sometimes even in our churches. The solution is to examine what Jesus thought, even before we look at what he did.