- Have you faith in Christ?
- Are you going on to perfection?
- Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
The third of Wesley’s historic questions for leaders really puts us on the spot. It’s one thing to be asked “Are you going on to perfection.” It’s quite another thing to say that you “expect to be made perfect in love in this life.” Really? Is that really possible? John Wesley certainly thought so. He recorded many times in his journal meeting people in Methodist societies across Britain and Ireland whom he believed were “perfected in love.” How did he determine if someone was “perfect”, or a “grown up, mature” disciple of Jesus Christ? The evidence Wesley looked for was the sincere faith in Christ, habitual practice of the means of grace (works of piety & works of mercy), and the presence of “holy tempers” or what the Apostle Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23,
… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…
These “holy tempers” are a reflection of the character of Christ himself. They are what Charles Wesley called “the Savior formed in the soul” …
Active faith that lives within,
Conquers hell and death and sin,
Hallows whom it first made whole,
Forms the Savior in the soul.
Given his experience and his belief that God will be faithful to the promises made in Scripture, Wesley believed it was fair and appropriate to ask those seeking leadership roles in the Methodist movement if they expected to be made perfect in love in this life. After all, if you are going to help people in the process that increases faith, confirms hope, and perfects them in love then you need to have walked that path yourself. You also need to trust that God will be faithful to the promises he makes in Scripture and the Baptismal Covenant.
Many in Wesley’s day, and today, had no problem with Christian perfection as long as there is no expectation that it may be obtained and experienced on this side of the grave. The common belief was that a Christian may be perfected in love soon after death and taking his or her place in the “bosom of Abraham.” It was believed that the fullness of salvation is received when a person departs this world and goes to “heaven.” While Wesley did not disagree with this belief, he also thought it was a terribly misguided and incomplete understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For his most comprehensive argument, read Sermon 43: The Scripture Way of Salvation. This sermon is based on Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” Wesley argues that salvation is a present reality. It is God’s gift to us now; in this life, in this world. He believed that the God who saves us in this life will be faithful and will supply the grace we need to become fully the persons he created us to be, in the image and likeness of Christ.
Given the promises of God in Scripture and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Wesley asked potential leaders, “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” He asked this because if his leaders did not expect to be perfected in love in this life, how could he expect them to lead others in discipleship aimed at the goal of Christian perfection. Wesley clearly believed that leaders must be people who believe and trust that God will be faithful to the promises he gives in Scripture and in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
Questions for discussion and reflection:
How does expecting perfection in love in this life change or influence leadership?
What does expecting perfection in love in this life mean to you and the way you lead others?
Why do you think John Wesley thought expectation of Christian maturity in this life was essential for leadership in the Methodist societies?
How do you think expectation of perfection in love in this life could change the church?
How do you think expectation of perfection in love in this life could change the world?
How do you think expectation of perfection in love in this life could change you?