Thursday, March 28, 2013

What does it mean to be a "Free" Methodist? Part 5

Freedom From Sin

Many of the protestant denominations that exist teach reformation theology which, among other things, states that even after conversion we wrestle with the sin nature, and quite often continue to sin in word, thought, and deed. While Christ-likeness is an admirable goal, and holiness is a good thing to pursue, it is believed that it is impossible to attain on earth. Sanctification is seen as being attained at glorification.

Yet the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 61 that he was sent to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and captives. These were words repeated by Jesus, and indeed whenever anyone encountered Jesus looking for healing, or was caught deeply in sin, they weren't simply healed or delivered partially, but wholly.

As Free Methodists we believe that we can be delivered from our sin and, through the empowerment and guidance of The Holy Spirit, we can be more and more conformed to the image of Jesus. Not only is the penalty of sin removed, but the desire to continue in sin is removed and replaced by the new nature placed in us through the indwelling of The Holy Spirit.

Of the five founding freedoms of the Free Methodist Church, this may be the most unchanged as, the way it was expressed in 1860 still is valid for today. This goes to show that truth does not change. Yet, we still should strive to better understand this foundational truth.

When we say we have freedom from sin, we do not mean we are no longer capable of falling back into sin. We believe that, as free moral agents who are given the capacity to make choices, we can choose to follow God, or we can choose to be disobedient. This ability to make choices is not taken from us at the moment of conversion. Remaining in the flesh means we are still going to be faced with temptation that seeks to undermine the working of The Holy Spirit in our life.

But sin is about motivation as much as it is about physical action. The nature of the flesh is that it is opposed to God. So God, at the moment of conversion, gives us a new nature, His nature, and this is complete.

It is however also a process. We learn what it means to walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh. Our desire is to please God in all we do, and not ourselves.

This in in contrast to reformed theology which affirms that we have no ability to make choices as free, moral agents because God as Sovereign determines everything that ever has been or ever will be, including those who will receive salvation and those who receive condemnation. It also affirms though that, even for those who are saved (and somehow know it), the desire to sin remains present in us, and it is a constant battle between Spirit and flesh. The struggle will always remain, and because we are flesh we will continually fail. This does not sound like the freedom that Isaiah or Jesus affirmed.

Yet our belief that we are free from sin also stands in contrast to some modern beliefs that sin is not as much a reality in our world, or beliefs that affirm a distorted view of sin (such as poverty or disease is a sin).

Some believe that a good and loving God could not create a world in which our sin prevents us from spending eternity with Him, so they deny the reality of sin. They will deny that we are born with proclivity to sin rather than to God, and that even if we are saved, we can continue on sinning and not risk the consequences of eternal separation from God.

Others might try to portray sin as not a fundamental character flaw, but rather in terms that we are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of poor finances or disease. The cure for this sin is not that Jesus came necessarily to restore right relationship and redeem us from sin and death, but to give us the power of positive thinking and a can-do attitude.

Free Methodist teaching does not deny sin, but it does not give it any more power than it has particularly over the life of the believer. Because we are given a new nature at the point of conversion, the desire to continue on in sin is no more. The desire to live a life holy and pleasing to God replaces the former nature which pursued its own interests.

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