DO NOT FOLD
A friend and colleague of John Wesley’s had once written him to ask about the interplay between salvation and sanctification, which had come to be known as the “second work of grace.” Wesley replied: “If you ask someone whether he has this or that experience, and do not mean, ‘Do you have more love?’ you err.”
Over the years I have received enough theological questions and confessions from long-term C&MA-ers to suspect that we sometimes use the Fourfold Gospel to define our territory rather than to release more love. We “four-fold” these distinctives into a neat little box that comfortably contains our understanding of the fullness of Jesus. This temptation toward doctrinal origami calls for the same response that Wesley offered his friend.
Why? Because Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King are all—and only—about love. “God is love,” John tells us in his first epistle (4:8). How did John know? Because he had firsthand knowledge about “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” (1:1). John had seen Jesus, and Jesus said “‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’” (John 14:9).
What is it about God’s love that would compel Him to send His only Son into the world to die a painful, humiliating death so that all who believe in Him can have eternal life? We do not know yet, for, as Paul reminds us, “now we see but a poor reflection” (1 Cor. 13:12). What we do know is that Jesus expects His followers, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to imitate that depth of love as we take the gospel into the world and live out the Christian life with other believers.
How does a fourfold doctrine help us to have more love? First, as we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:9), we are saved. As we submit our lives to Him, we take up the Great Commandment of love and the Great Commission of discipleship. We cannot choose to do one and ignore the other—they are the Jakin and Boaz of the Church (see 2 Chron. 3:15—17). Without them it is not possible for our faith to be established or strengthened. In his brief second epistle, John reiterates that love is defined as obedience to God’s commands (vv. 5—6).
Belief is not the only thing that Christians are called to confess; John also tells us that we are to confess our sins (1 John 1:9). I was raised in a small church in a holiness denomination where sanctification was highly valued and yet sadly misunderstood. We were taught to seek “entire sanctification” as an instantaneous removal of the sin nature. To confess sin was tantamount to confessing that one was not sanctified and therefore not a full-fledged believer in the doctrines of the church. This teaching led to legalism; outward manifestations of piety (wearing the right clothes, the right hair styles, no jewelry save a wedding band, etc.) were displayed far more than actual humility and grace. The spiritual growth that is the hallmark of sanctification was choked out by a myriad of “commands” that were not based on love but on fear—of being judged unworthy, of not fitting in. Ironically, sin—because it was unconfessed—flourished.
In this issue, Dan Wetzel (p. 7) takes this sadly common state a bit further by examining what happens when religion is taken too far, and God Himself is expected to perform within the box we have made of our own self-righteousness. As Wetzel points out, the “yeast of the Pharisees“—seeking signs and wonders—is not faith at all but its antithesis. Instead of building up our relationship with Jesus, it leaves us demanding to see a bigger and better “show” before we choose real fellowship with Him.
Real intimacy with Jesus does not result from external displays but is born of a life that is rooted in His presence (Stephen Smith, p. 10). Just as quality time with our children cannot be planned and plotted on a daily calendar but springs from treasured moments spread throughout the day, intimacy with the Lord is the result of our willingness to both act and relax in His loving care. We can do this only when we accept His love as unconditionally as it is offered.
This is the love that compels us to “‘make disciples of all nations’” (Matt. 28:19). It is the Father’s love that makes us willing to stand in the gap for the infirmities of our world even as we expect His return. Rather than allowing us to fold Him into a neat paper box, it is His great love for us—saving, completing, healing and restoring—that shapes us into His image instead.