After You Believe

Sunday Service was led by Pastor Matt Price and the Sermon was titled “After You Believe”.


Well as many of you are aware, it was only a couple months ago back in June that I was finally ordained as a full elder in the United Methodist Church. That’s a long process. You go through a lot of interviews, a lot of different stages on the way to that. But I was finally ordained in the final stage as an elder.
So you might not have known you were looking at an elder here. I have a full elder now at the United Methodist Church. I put some pictures up of that day when I was ordained. And traditionally during the Methodist ordination ceremonies there’s a time for those who are being ordained.
You have to stand in front of everybody and you have to answer publicly these questions. And they’re called the historic questions. And the reason is because they go all the way back to John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement in the 1700s. And these are questions that Wesley believed that all of his ministers should be able to answer well before they could be ordained.
And really some of these questions, they sound a bit far-fetched to our ears today. They’re actually a bit funny if you think about them. For example, Wesley demanded that all of his ministers vow not only that you’re gonna be on time for every appointment that you have in your life, He also said, made you take a vow that you would never trifle away time, that you never spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary, and also that you do everything exactly at the right time. He was big on time and doing everything exactly at the right moment.
So I don’t know where that came from. I probably have to ask a lot of forgiveness for some of those questions. And believe it or not, Those aren’t actually the most intimidating questions that I think that he came up with. The most intimidating, I thought, standing in front of all these people and answering these questions, are where the questions, are you going on to perfection? And do you expect to be made perfect, to be made perfect in love in this life? Those are some of the ordination questions that Wesley came up with.
And so, think for a moment how you would answer those questions, because really those are intended, Wesley would have intended them for all Christians. If someone were to ask you whether you expected to be made perfect anytime soon, how would you respond to that? Is anyone perfect yet? Maybe somebody’s achieved it here. Marlene might’ve achieved it already. She might be perfect in love in this life.
But of course, I think I know how most of us would answer that question. Nobody’s perfect, that’s a pretty common phrase in the English language, we all know. And one thing that made answering those questions a little bit easier for me was learning that in the 1700s when Wesley wrote them, that word expect there in the middle, it didn’t have quite the definite sense it has for us in our time. It didn’t mean, are you sure you’re gonna be made perfect in love in this life? It rather meant, do you hope to be made perfect in love in this life? And that made it a little bit more palatable for me because after all, hope springs eternal.
Why shouldn’t I hope that I’m gonna be made perfect in love, in this life? But still, I ask myself the question, is that even something I should hope for in this life? ‘Cause after all, I know my own failings. I know that I’m a sinner, just like everyone else. I think if God is expecting me to be perfect anytime soon, then he might be waiting a long time for that. But in spite of my hesitations, I had this question about being perfect in love.
It’s actually central to our whole Methodist tradition. It was very central to John Wesley’s preaching and his thought. He thought it should be a genuine hope for all Christian believers in this life. And so what we have to understand, though, is when we talk about perfection, we’re not talking about always being able to get every math problem right, to do perfect in school.
We’re talking about being perfect in love. That’s the key distinction here that we’re making. It’s being so filled with the love of God that eventually someday everything you do will be done out of love for God and done out of love for other people who are made in the image of God. That’s what we’re talking about with that question.
And so if we go back to the two greatest commandments, the two greatest commandments are love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. And so when I took that vow, saying that I hope to be made perfect in love in this life, I was saying that one day I do hope that I’m perfectly keeping those commandments, that I’m filled with the love of God, that I love God, that I love others as God calls me to do. And so when you look at it that way, it should be something that not just pastors, but all of us who are Christians are hoping for, that we want to be so filled with love that we achieve that kind of perfection in this life. And I actually think that’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind in our lesson from Ephesians today, Ephesians four, when he tells Christians that our goal is to work toward the day when all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
He says we’re to grow up into every way into him who is our head, into Jesus Christ. And that’s just a wordy way of saying that for us, the Christian life should be one of growing more and more like Jesus. You actually need to be making progress as a Christian, growing more like God’s son. And so Paul uses the image of an infant growing up into an adult in order to make that point.
He actually says in the original language, It says we must no longer be infants, toss to and fro. So my baby daughter, Naomi, might be offended by saying we’re no longer infants, but if we think about it, it makes sense. There’s a picture of Naomi right there. Because of course, infants, as you see, they are really cute, so we might ask ourselves, well, why wouldn’t we wanna stay infants forever? But think about it for a moment.
No matter how cute Naomi is, she’s a baby, So that means she’s completely dependent on her mother and me to take care of her. She’s totally helpless. And as much as her mother and I would like her to stay little and cute forever, it’s a good thing that she’s gonna grow. She’s gonna grow into somebody who has gifts and graces of our own and can be the person that God created and God called her to be.
And so that same point holds for the Christian life. That’s the point that Paul is making here. He says, Although all of us were once infants in our faith, all of us were people who once depended on others to share the love of Jesus with us. We depended on our parents, depended on mentors, people we grew up with.
At some point, we’ve got to take the first steps of claiming our Christian faith for ourselves. We’ve got to grow up into being a Christian and strive to be filled with the love of God and to pass on that love that we were shown. And so we do so in the hope that one day we will reach maturity, that we’ll be completely filled with the love of God in all that we do, and we’ll grow more like God’s Son, Jesus. So part of our problem here, I think, is that for too long, we Christians have gotten in the habit of emphasizing only the infancy stages of faith, the stages where we’re dependent on others, and we don’t emphasize the stages where we actually grow into mature adults.
And so one way we can think about it is we’ve oftentimes make Christianity all about believing in Jesus, which is the very important first step, but then we’re hesitant to take the next step where we actually grow like Him, grow into that maturity. And so don’t get me wrong here. I think that that first step of believing in Jesus, putting our faith in Him, trusting His salvation and His forgiveness, that’s essential. And so if you’ve never confessed your sins, accepted Jesus as your Savior, invited His grace into his life, into your life, there’s no point in trying to become more like him because you’ll never make it.
And so I actually still am a fan of the old school style of preaching of someone like Billy Graham who kept his messages focused on the cross, focused on the payment that Jesus made for our sins there. In fact, the very first time I can remember making a confession of faith for myself was in second grade when I went to a Billy and Franklin Graham Crusade in Charleston, West Virginia. And I can remember hearing the story of Jesus and his love touched my heart and I wanted to go down to the altar and put my faith in him and trust him for myself. So that first step is completely necessary.
We’ve got to put our faith in Jesus. But the problem that Paul’s getting at today is when we get stuck on that step. We’re not ready to move on to the later stages of growing into a mature adult, growing like Jesus. And even Billy Graham, whose picture I put up there, he acknowledges that problem that I’m trying to get at here.
Because he likes to tell this story of a time when he was on this crowded plane to Charlotte, North Carolina. And it just so happened that sitting in front of Billy Graham on the plane that day was this really loud-mouthed man who clearly had too much to drink. He was using a lot of curse words in front of children. He was making some rude and crude remarks to the stewardess.
He was generally being a jerk in front of everybody there. And after this went on for a while, one of the passengers decided to do something about it. They turned and asked this rude guy if he was aware that he was sitting right in front of the famous Christian evangelist, Billy Graham. Once the man heard that, he actually perked up and got excited.
He turned around and held out his hand and said, Rev. Graham, I’m just so excited to meet you. I’m one of your converts. And so, of course, what makes that story amusing is that there was a total disconnect between what this man apparently believed and how he was living his life.
Those two things didn’t go together. And so although he thought of himself as a Christian convert, it’s likely the apostle So Paul might not even have said he was an infant in the Christian faith. He might have said he was a little fetus growing in the womb. He had not progressed at all in his faith.
And that’s because authentic faith in Jesus results in a changed life. If we return to Paul’s words in Ephesians, he says that faith in Jesus draws us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. So what that’s saying, in other words, is that being a Christian requires us to work alongside other Christians to help us grow more like Jesus.
And if we’re not growing, if we don’t find ourselves progressing in holiness, progressing in love, We’re right to do some soul searching and ask ourselves whether we really have trusted Jesus with our whole lives, put our faith in Him. So one other image, one other way you can look at the point I’m trying to get at here is if you think of the Christian life as entering this great big house, it’s the house of God. And so when we hear God’s love calling us, when we realize that Jesus died for us, realize That’s how much we’re loved. Well, that’s like stepping onto the porch of the house.
That’s stepping into the welcoming area of the house. And some might speak of this step when we’re justified by faith in Jesus. But we know from scripture that God wants more from us than that. God wants us to move into the house, to make ourselves at home there, to join his family.
And this is the step where we follow what Paul’s saying. we’re speaking the truth in love. We grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Jesus Christ. And so we can look at it this way.
Through acts like prayer, through acts like Bible study, communion and worship, we grow in our love for God. And through acts like giving our time, our energy, our money, our service to the poor, to others in our church family, well that’s where we grow more in love for our neighbor. And the technical term for this step is sanctification. That’s moving into God’s house, making ourselves at home there.
It’s when we grow more holy and more like Jesus. And so by the end of this process, when we’ve moved into that house of God, we find that we have grown into the image of God’s son. We’ve put on the full mind of Jesus Christ. And so what I’m getting at here is the point that we Christians run into trouble whenever we try to separate those two stages that I put up there, justification, which is where we believe in Jesus, and sanctification, when that’s when with his help, we become more like him.
Now John Wesley, who I mentioned earlier, who founded the Methodist movement, he knew this well. And so he never ended his sermons just by asking people to believe in Jesus, although that was part of it. He asked them to do something about their faith in Jesus. He actually, he was a genius at getting people involved with other Christians, so their faith isn’t just something they say with their mouths, it’s something they show with their lives.
He got people involved with other Christians who were gonna encourage and support them in the Christian life. He took seriously that line from Paul, who says that as Christians, we’re to equip the saints for the work of ministry, the work of service, for building up the body of Christ. And so that line says that all of us, whether we’re pastors, whether we’re teachers, whatever we are, all of us have gifts and graces that we’re to use to serve God and serve others. So that’s why in Wesley’s day, he required all of the Methodists.
He said, if you’re gonna be a part of our movement, you’ve got to be a part of these ongoing small groups that he called class meetings. And that was for prayer, and it was for accountability and encouragement. And so in these groups of seven, it was seven to 12 people, lay people gathered together each week to answer the question, how is it with my soul? or how is my life in God this week? And so those groups that John Wesley started, they were founded on the principle that if we’re gonna grow in the Christian life, that we need other people to help us do that. To be a Christian, you have to be part of a church, and preferably a smaller group, some kind of smaller group within that church where people really know you and know your struggles, and so they can encourage you and support you as you try to grow more like Jesus.
And that’s not just for our own good, That’s for the good of the whole body of Christ that we belong to. And so as a newly ordained pastor, I read Paul here saying in Ephesians that my calling is to help equip you who are the saints for the work of ministry. And so I do that, and Pastor Sue does that, by trying to provide opportunities for prayer and for study and for service to others, all of those things. Right now we’re planning a study that’s going to be called Revival.
It’s gonna be starting in October around the same time we kick off our Hilltop Church again. They’re getting back in their building. It’s gonna be a study that’s focused on the principles that helped John Wesley revive the church in his day and then telling us how we can apply them to our own lives today. That’s a study we’re thinking about now.
And I hope that will be an opportunity for all of us to grow as Christians together. But the truth is, if we accept what Paul’s telling us today, then all of us are ministers. All of us have a calling to use our gifts to find them to pray and see how we can serve God and serve others. And the truth is, no one can do that for us.
Remember that old chorus, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer? Well, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord, who has gifts and skills and graces that I’m to use to serve God and to serve others. And so we’ve gotta pray, and we’ve gotta find where God’s leading us to use our gifts. That’s why I’m thankful today, over the past few weeks, for people like Jamie Graham, who was at our Spencer Church, for Kelly Stasek here at Fairhaven, who took the initiative to lead a lot of volunteers over the past few months to put on some vacation Bible schools at both of our churches. I put a picture up from Spencer’s Bible school, and then a picture up from a Bible school here at Fairhaven, which Kelly helped lead.
And in both of these cases, there were people who were able to serve who had never really been involved in this church before, or at Spencer, there was opportunities for kids in our neighborhood to encounter the love of Jesus in a way that’s meaningful for them. And so neither one of those events could have taken place unless there were faithful disciples and volunteers willing to support them, were willing to step up and say, God’s put a call on my heart to do something, to serve him and to serve others. And so the question that we’re left with from our study in Ephesians, from these pictures of the Bible schools in our churches, the question we’re left with is where is God calling us to serve? Where is God calling you to serve? And even more, how can we better support one another if we have an idea that God’s put on our hearts when we’re about to take a leap of faith? We need other Christians to walk alongside us and encourage us to put those ideas into practice. And so those are questions we’re left with to think and to pray about and we answer that question knowing that it was God’s Son who first stepped forward in love for us.
We know that it was God’s Son Jesus who first loved us and gave himself for us. Even the Lord Jesus himself came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for us as we come to the altar in just a few moments to receive those precious gifts of His body and His blood as we remember Him and His love for us. I invite you to let His light, to let His love into your life that bit more fully than you have allowed Him in before. I invite you to challenge yourself and challenge and encourage one another in this place to take that next step of faith to grow more like Jesus in the love that we show each other and in the love that we show to the world around us.
And let’s pray today that our lives together would testify to that one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and in all. Amen. .