January 2: It’s an Every Day Decision to Follow

January 2: It’s an Every Day Decision to Follow

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Audio of Scripture reading, sermon, and Wesley Covenant Renewal Service

During today’s worship service we renewed our covenantal relationship with God utilizing the Wesley Covenant Renewal Service. This portion of the service is included in the above video.

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

text "One and Done" with images of baskketballs

I’m no expert when it comes to the ins and outs of college basketball, but I am familiar with a phenomenon known as “One and done.” One and done refers to those players who put in one year of college hoops and then move on to the NBA. That freshman year is their steppingstone, if you will, to the big league. One…and done!

For those exceptionally gifted basketball players who have the skills to play ball at the professional level at such a relatively young age, that may work. But it seems to me—albeit an admittedly limited perspective—that there’s a lot more than goes into being ready to play sports on a professional level than having excellent technical skills. A significant aspect of what happens during one’s college years is growing emotionally. It’s not just about being successful on the field or the court or whatever the platform may be, it’s also about being successful while out of uniform. And that, regardless of how good a player one may be, takes times. And intentionality.

What would happen if all of us took the one and done approach to other areas of life?

  • One year of high school, then go on to college.
  • One year of college, then move on to the job.
  • One year of the new job then demand a promotion.
  • How many parents would say they’ve got the parenting thing down after just one year of raising a baby?
  • Can a writer consider him or herself a “bestselling author” after only one successful book?
  • There are lots of bands and singers out there who’ve had their “one hit wonder,” that one song that people remember. I’m guessing that none of those bands or singers stood the test of time.
  • How many construction companies are going to hire the person who had one shop class?
  • Do you think I’ll be ready for the stage after one year of piano lessons?
  • Or how about eating a heart-healthy diet for one week, or even one month following a heart attack—will that be enough to declare oneself a healthy eater?
  • Or how about if I were seriously exercise for one year following that heart attack—can I then stop all exercise and declare that I’m physically cured for the rest of my life?

I think you understand my point. Doing life well is never accomplished through the one and done approach. And yet, it’s probably how many if not most of us approach our spiritual lives. Not everyone, I know; but certainly, a lot of us who consider ourselves a Christian seem to me to demonstrate a kind of one and done approach to living out their Christian faith. I’m not saying that makes them a bad person, or even unfaithful. But I would say that it makes them spiritually immature.

So, what do I mean by this? What does a one and done approach to one’s spiritual life look like? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast answer to that question, but I can share with you some glimpses of what it often looks like. For example, regardless of their age, I know I’m conversing with a spiritual “babe” when their most important claim to faith is what local church they were baptized in. And in my experience, nine out of ten of these persons are referencing their infant or early childhood baptism, not a baptism they experienced as an adult. In most situations, these folks may have hardly darkened the door of a church since the day of their baptism, but they view that sacred event as their pathway to heaven. For them, nothing beyond that is necessary.

Another example might be the person who’s able to tell you how they came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and may even be able to point to a specific day and event, but in the years since then, they’ve done very little to grow in their faith. In my experience through the years, a lot of these folks go to church on a regular basis. Maybe even weekly. But if you press them a bit, you discover that that’s pretty much the extent of their faith-formation. And spending three or four hours a month in relatively light faith-formation just scratches the surface of spiritual maturity. For them, what matters—the “one” [aspect of one and done]—was the act of saying yes to Jesus at some point in the past. Beyond that, not much seems to be necessary.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “once saved, always saved”? That phrase forms the basis of a particular Christian belief that once a person professes faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord—and this is commonly referred to as ‘being saved’—they can’t lose their salvation. They can’t become unsaved. On one level, I agree with this viewpoint. I agree that if you say yes to following Jesus, you will not wake up one day and discover to your dismay that you’ve somehow misplaced, or “lost,” your faith. Your salvation will never just disappear or vanish into thin air. Also, you can’t lose your salvation in the sense of it being taken from you. No one can steal your saving faith from you.

Having said that, though, I do think an argument can be made that it’s possible for a person who once professed saving faith in Jesus Christ to consciously and intentionally turn and walk away from God. It’s called free will. Salvation is truly a gift from God in that we can’t bring it about through our self-goodness or self-righteous actions. And a believer can never lose that gift. However, I’m of the belief that one can willfully return that gift to God. 99% of us will never reach that point of rebellion, but that doesn’t nullify the possibility of someone doing it.

You see, the problem with a “once save, always saved” approach to one’s spiritual life is that it stands a good chance of leading to two unfortunate consequences. First, the idea of “once saved, always saved” reduces salvation to a one-time act of speaking a few “magical” words. The thinking is, Just say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ out loud and your name will forever be written in the book of life. That’s it; that’s all it takes. And second, which inevitably follows on the heels of that line of thinking, is the unconscious belief that how one lives their life from that point on doesn’t matter nearly as much as “getting saved.” Again, the thinking is, As long as you said yes, you’re in. It makes “getting into heaven” the only goal. And once you’ve got your “Heaven’s Club” membership card, then what else matters?

I’ll tell you what else matters? The rest of your earthly life!

A Wesleyan (pertaining to John Wesley, the Father of Methodism) theology takes a wider view of salvation. Yes, one aspect of salvation concerns the life that exists beyond this world. But we see salvation as being far grander than simply “getting into heaven,” or to put it in the negative, “avoiding the eternal fires of hell.” From a Wesleyan perspective, salvation is a process, and that process begins in this life and continues for eternity. The first part of the process of salvation happens in a split second, when a person says Yes to following Jesus as Lord and Savior. In that moment, irrespective of the kind of life we lived up to that moment in time, God declares a person to be righteous in his eyes. God “stamps” with the label righteous and holy. We’re forgiven of any and all sins which have separated us from God. John Wesley called this momentary work of the Holy Spirit ‘justifying grace,’ or simply, justification.

But guess what, there’s a lot more that happens after that momentary experience of being freed from the grip of sin. There’s the rest of our earthly life. A life of outwardly living what’s been inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit. Wesley called this aspect of salvation ‘sanctifying grace,’ or simply, sanctification. Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. If at the moment we’re saved God declares us to be inwardly holy and righteous in his eyes, then we spend the rest of our days outwardly growing into that inward reality. And guess what? Growing in faith, maturing in our spiritual lives, is a daily endeavor. Becoming like Jesus doesn’t happen by mistake. It doesn’t happen by happenstance. It doesn’t happen by osmosis by coming to church every week) or hanging out with mature Christians. Spiritual maturity is the result of intentionally working our faith, growing in knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, and putting into practice what we’re learning. This is exactly the meaning of Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:12, to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

The fact is, every single day we wake up and we’re still in this world, Jesus holds out his hand and says to us, “Come, follow me. Follow me today.” You may have said yes to following him yesterday, but today’s a new day, and new opportunity. If you’re anything like me, yesterday you messed up in your walk with Jesus. At some point you decided to handle that problem at work or the issue in your family your own way, using your own wisdom, and it resulted in making the matter even worse. Yesterday, your pride got the best of you. But today provides you with a brand-new opportunity to follow Jesus and do life his way. So, today, just like you did yesterday and will do again tomorrow, you reach out and take Jesus’ hand and follow him.

Friends, when it comes to our spiritual lives, the only one-and-done approach that works is a deathbed conversion. But from what I can tell, very few, if any, of us are in that position. Because the fact is, it’s an every day decision to follow Jesus. And I’m hoping and praying that you’ll decide once again today to follow him.

One of the tools we Methodists have in our spiritual toolbelt is the Wesley Covenant Renewal Service. The Covenant Renewal Service was adapted by John Wesley for the purpose of renewing a Christian believer’s covenantal relationship with God. Traditionally, Methodist-related churches hold this service either on New Years Eve—called a Watchnight Service—or the first Sunday in January. You can think of it as our Wesleyan New Year’s resolution—to re-covenant with God to be a disciple of Christ. That is, it’s intended to help us recommit ourselves to following him.

Before we move into the service itself, I want to make two important points. The first is, the contents of this service are quite somber and spiritually deep. There’s not an iota of “fluff” in what’s being said, either on the part of the leader or the congregation. In fact, even though we’re using a relatively modern version of the service (in terms of the wording), there may be some parts of it which you don’t’ understand or have questions about. Or maybe even disagree with. You’ll see that there’s a pretty clear line of belief made in this service of renewal. In any case, write down your question or through and ask me about it. I’d be glad to help clarify whatever I can.

Second, if you’re following along and reading your parts, most likely you’ll be prompted to say something that you’re not sure you actually want to say! My introduction to the Wesley Covenant Service happened on a Sunday morning in January, just like today, when I was in seminary. When I got the part of the service which is traditionally called “The Covenant Prayer,” but is presented as part of the Invitation in the version we’re using today—when I said/prayed out loud the words printed in the bulletin, I almost choked on what I’d just said. In part, we pray:

Put me to use for you.
Put me to suffering for you.
Let me be employed for you.
Let me be laid aside for you.
Let me be lifted high for you.
Let me be brought low for you.
Let me be full or let me be empty.
Let me have all things or let me have nothing.

No one’s going to deny that these are heavy things to tell God. Put me to suffering? Let me be laid aside for you? Let me be brought low for you? Let me be empty?

When you get to this prayer, I want to encourage you to go ahead and speak the words. On account of your faith in Jesus as your Lord, say the words. Say them even if a part of you feels like you’re lying. Say them as a profession of where you’re going in your faith. Say them in the spirit of the man who told Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

The power of the  Wesley Covenant Service is that it’s a roadmap of sorts of where we’re all trying to head spiritually. Even mature Christians are challenged by this service. So, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, my prayer is that this service of renewal will be a guide for you for the coming year. Let’s pray….

Wesley Covenant Renewal Litany

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