After worship recently, one of my members challenged me about something I said in the sermon. I had said that “our salvation is completely dependent upon what Christ has done for us and there is nothing we can do about it.” This concerned her because the bible has quite a bit to say about what we do as Christians, and it came off sounding like it is as easy as standing around with our hands in our pockets (my words, not hers). She told me that she is a disciplined person and that she believes we are called to lived disciplined lives. And that’s when I began to really think more deeply about this.
While I still proclaim emphatically that our salvation itself is not about anything that we do, she had a very good point. As a Methodist, I am very well steeped in what we know as The Discipline. That is what we call our law book for our denomination.
Discipline, however, is more than the legal prescriptions and parameters of our denomination … discipline is the way of life for those called Methodist. It is about acting in ways that help us experience our faith more fully, and it is about living into the life to which we are called as Christians. Ultimately, discipline for me functions as a way of putting myself directly in the pathway of grace … what we often call the “means of grace.”
Grace, you see, is essential to the people called Methodist. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, taught about three distinct types of grace: prevenient, justifying and sanctifying. Prevenient grace is where God is already in our lives before we even know it. It is God acting on our behalf even before we have experienced God personally. Justifying grace is that which I am proclaiming when I say that our salvation comes as a gift. It is when we are made right with God only by what God has done through Jesus and without regard for anything we have done.
Then there is sanctifying grace. That is the grace that transforms our lives to be reflections of Jesus, who himself, we believe, is a pure reflection of God. With sanctifying grace, it is simply not possible just to be our old selves without beginning to live more like this one whom we worship. To be sanctified is to be made holy, and as sanctified children of God, we are capable of reflecting Christ to our world in powerful ways.
But it is simply not possible to have such a profound experience of grace without putting ourselves in the way of grace. It is like saying that we want to experience cleanliness without ever putting ourselves in the water … it just isn’t going to happen.
And to put ourselves in the way of grace is to live a disciplined life … a life that includes things like holy communion, corporate and private worship, prayer, fasting, hospitality, mission, fellowship and a host of other activities that put us in touch with God.
I have served as spiritual director for the Walk to Emmaus on numerous occasions. (It is a 72-hour spiritual retreat that I am glad to share with anyone who is interested in knowing more about.) As the head spiritual director, I give a talk called The Means of Grace. In that talk, I explore with the pilgrims on the walk what it means to practice these means of grace. We talk about our sacraments (baptism and holy communion) and those things which are “sacramental” (holy actions) that enable us to experience the fullness of God’s grace. When I talk about the means of grace, I am talking about ways that we can intentionally put ourselves in the way of grace … in the water … in such a way that the grace of God is fully realized within us.
When I was a youth director many years ago, I would share a story that I think describes the effects of the means of grace very well. There was a small village in a distant land, and it was along the banks of a mighty river. Across the river was a mountain onto which time and nature had etched the outline of a face. A certain village elder began early in his life telling stories about the “Great Stone Face.” He would talk about the kindness and love this face represented. He would talk about how this face represented the best of humanity and how it shaped community. There were people who would travel miles to see this stone face, and the elder would sit with them on the cliff overlooking the river to the “stone face” mountain.
One day, a visitor to the village sat with the elder looking across the river when suddenly she spoke up to the rest of the people in the circle: “Do you see it? Look at the mountain and then look at the elder!” When the people looked, they saw it. The elder had the exact same visage of the face on the mountain … he was the one who practiced kindness and compassion … he himself represented the best of humanity and helped bring about the best in community. As he told the stories of the face on the mountain, he became the face on the mountain.
And that, friends, is what it means to get in the way of grace. When we live disciplined lives, we begin to show the face of Jesus to a world that desperately needs a savior. So my beloved friend is right … a disciplined life is important if we are effectively to share Christ with the world. What we do really is important!
Get in the way of grace, and your life will never be the same!