But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I am not the same person I have always been. I was confirmed in the church in the 6th grade and said yes to God’s accepting grace, I cannot ever remember a time living outside of God’s grace and love, but I have not always been who I am now. And I hope and pray that I will not stay the person I am.
I am not the boy I was at 14 when the PA system in my middle school called me out of class only to find out I was going with my mother to try and find my father in the parking lot of his workplace with ‘the other woman’. I remember conflicted feelings as a 14 year old Christian feeling emotions of hatred and fear.
I am not the boy I was at 18 when I hear God’s call to the ministry. I thought I had it all together and all figured out. I thought I was the smartest and the best (my mother still says I think that). I was arrogant and not very open to learning new things. I have grown a lot.
I am not the man I was in 1993 when I was appointed as an associate pastor in Dublin, Georgia. I was getting up four days a week at 4 a.m. to meet a friend and drive to seminary at Emory in Atlanta – four days a week for two years to be in class at 8 a.m. returning back to Dublin around 9 p.m. at night except on Wednesdays – all while trying to live with a new wife.
I am not the man I was when I served as associate pastor at St. Luke UMC and for the first time on my own, as a pastor had to journey to make the call to the bedside of a dying man and his family. Trying the best I could to recite the litany of what I learned in seminary only to realize that they just wanted me to shut up. I am not that man.
I am not the man who was appointed to St. Andrew in 1998 in Columbus. 40 people on Sunday morning and I thought – what did I do to be appointed here? I thought that my career path would be four years here and there. Thank God I’m not still that man.
I am not even the man who worked with those wonderful people at St. Andrew and St. John to help them merge together to form St. Peter. As wonderful a learning experience as it was and as much as I tried to do it right, there were people who were hurt and disappointed. I don’t have regrets, but I am not that person. I am someone different.
I am not even the same person who was appointed to Wesley in June 2009.
I am not the same person I have always been – but that is the point of Sustaining Grace – once we are justified and regenerated, born anew, we are not supposed to remain the same. God’s sustaining grace is working in us every moment of every day – assisting us to identify and die to the flesh and live the Spirit more and more every moment of every day. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Scripture teaches, and John Wesley helped explain, that after we say yes to God’s accepting grace, we are then to continually say yes and grow in God’s sustaining grace toward perfection. Yes – you heard me correctly – toward perfection. We cannot just sit on our laurels, so to speak, and claim God’s salvation and then do nothing. Please keep in mind that sustaining grace is God’s work moving us toward perfection. But when we Methodists say “perfection”, we are not talking about moral perfection or keeping the law of God. For Methodists, perfection is embracing fully the love of God. Perfect love of God and neighbor – embracing love fully so that the desires and motives of our hearts are filled with love.
We open our hearts and lives to God’s sustaining grace so that we might love more perfectly; so that God’s image in us might be re-created and restored.
Do you notice if you are dying to flesh and living more to the Spirit? Is God changing you? Or —— are you the same person you’ve always been?