Tuesday, September 06, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #5

a) Theology:
5) How do you understand the following traditional evangelical doctrines: (a) repentance; (b) justification; (c) regeneration; (d) sanctification? What are the marks of the Christian life?

a) God’s grace is always extended to us, and working in us. Before we can name it, God’s grace is calling us to respond to God’s outpouring of love, and to be in relationship with God. God calls us to repentance, a response to God’s grace. From the opening of the gospels, with John’s voice crying in the wilderness, we are called to repent and prepare. Repent, from the Greek metanoeo^, is one of my favorite words! It means literally to “have a change of direction of the mind,” to do a 180° turn and head down a different path than the one which we were traveling before. It means admitting that our own path has gotten us lost, led us in the wrong direction, and that instead, we will choose now to take God’s path, re-order our life by God’s plan. Repentance is hard work, because, as cliché as it seems, we don’t like admitting that we are lost! We don’t like admitting that we’ve been wrong and that we need help from a source who knows more than we do. But repentance is necessary, if we want to walk with God, so that our direction is God’s direction for us.
b) Justification is our saving from the guilt of our sins, and our restoration to a right relationship with God. Our sins distance us from God – but through God’s grace, God closes the distance we’ve put between us, and frees us from the debt of our sins. Because of God’s love for us, God forgives us, and works in us to restore us to wholeness. Justification comes by God’s grace, and not by our own efforts, not as something we can earn. But when we experience justification and know that God loves us, then our faith helps us to bear fruit of justification, marks of repentance.
c) Regeneration means being reborn and recreated. It is the beginning of our journey of sanctifying grace. Regeneration is new growth, new life where it seemed new life was not possible. Repentance and justification bear fruit born out of God’s grace and our faith in God’s loving grace. When we take our life in a new direction, God’s direction, we feel the transformation of regeneration. Wesley wrote that new birth is “that great change which God works in the soul when [God] brings it into life,” where we are “renewed after the image of God.”[1] The work of God’s grace within one’s self is recognized. We are assured that we can trust in God’s love for us. With this faith, we are born anew. It is this regeneration or new birth of which Jesus speaks when he meets with Nicodemus in John’s gospel. We must have this new birth, he says, to experience God’s kingdom. John Wesley described regeneration as the “threshold of sanctification,” saying that it is like how a person is “born at once,” as opposed to the ongoing process of sanctification, where a person “grows larger and stronger by degrees.” Regeneration is our starting point in our new life – our new birth.
d) Sanctification is our ongoing story, as we continue to live into and grow into God’s grace. Even as forgiven, justified persons, assured of God’s grace, we are not finished products. We still long to live more fully into God’s purposes for us. We still stumble and struggle. We still seek purpose, strive for a deeper relationship with God. How do we live as children of grace from day to day? Sanctification is the process, the journey of Christian discipleship that takes us from our awareness and acceptance of God’s grace through the rest of our days as we are made perfect in God’s love, “entire sanctification.” As we let ourselves be open to our continued need and God’s continued working of grace in our lives, we can be filled with the love of God and neighbor, and work toward the Christian perfection – the perfect love which is our goal. Repentance, justification, regeneration, and sanctification. These are the marks of the Christian life.

[1] Wesley, John. “The New Birth.”
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