All the healing, provision and deliverance for which I now pray is just a brief preview of the great age to come when Jesus appears in power and majesty. Every manifestation of the kingdom in this age is temporary, local and incomplete.
So I recently wrote in Awaiting the Day. Does this apply as well to the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification? In my mind, it does.
Wesley taught that Christians should expect to be made perfect in love. For Wesley, perfection in love is synonymous with sanctification and necessary for true holiness. Inward love brought the outward forms of obedience and godliness to their completion. Perfect love is a divine gift, not a human achievement. Like justification, sanctification is a work of God’s grace operating through divinely empowered faith.
Wesley acknowledged that no human being could expect to be made perfect in knowledge, and so could err in even in love. Wesley also recognized that bodily weaknesses endure in this life, again leading to missteps. And finally, Wesley taught that Christians could, by their own actions, lose this second work of grace. Wesley did not teach “once perfected in love, always perfected in love.”
Still, perfect love is life’s purpose. Those who are perfected in love are without sin. Christians should pray and use the means of grace ordained by God as they seek this gift of God. This doctrine was so central to Wesley’s teaching that it came only after faith in Christ as a qualification for ordination. The second and third questions asked of all United Methodist candidates for ordination are these: “Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?”
So do I expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Yes, but not in the sense of reaching a goal or crossing a finish line. The experience is not linear but punctiliar. It’s not a road or a journey. It’s a lifetime of explosions.
In Two Worlds in Yellowstone, I compared the coming kingdom to the caldera under Yellowstone National Park. Just as the geysers, mud-pots and fumaroles of Yellowstone reveal the presence of sub-surface magma and presage a future cataclysm, so the events of this age give us a glimpse of the coming kingdom of God. The kingdom lies hidden beneath the surface of our age, erupting into our world and waiting to explode on the scene. At various times and places, this hidden kingdom bubbles to the surface, giving us a foretaste of the age to come.
The power of the kingdom bubbles into this world in many different ways. You will find it in experiences ranging from physical miracles of healing to experiences of Christian joy. The kingdom also bubbles to the surface in acts of perfect love. You can find it in in human affection, compassion, solidarity, forgiveness, reconciliation, fellowship, witness, and sacrificial service. You can (or should) expect to find it bubbling strongly and consistently within the church of Jesus Christ.
There are times I experience what I can only call “love” welling up within me, and yet somehow its source is beyond me. Such moments are beautiful, fragile gifts, not a permanent possession to be claimed forever or a reason for boasting. They are all-too-brief eruptions of the kingdom.
I know it is my own fault – my own grievous fault – that I do not see these moments endure or erupt with greater frequency or power. Lord Jesus, increase my faith. Still, I do not expect in this age to see anything other than temporary and localized manifestations of perfect love.
It’s not as if there is a dimmer switch inside of me called “love” that God can dial up to make me more loving in general. I might find myself loving well in relationships A, B and C but not loving well in relationship D. Love does not exist apart from its object.
Neither does a static thing called “me” exist. Life is dynamic. Relationships and their conditions are dynamic. The world is ever-changing, as am I and the people whom I am given to love. In such an existence, a fixed, inalterable state called “perfect love” cannot be. I have to learn how to love the people in my life anew every day. Every new moment disrupts the dynamic equilibrium of perfect love.
In my view, then, the perfection in love which I expect to experience in this age is much like the other signs of the kingdom which spring to life by the grace of God. Thanks be to God, who enables us to taste the perfect love of the coming age. To live in such love should be the desire of every soul united to Christ in faith, whose heart cries out “Come, Lord Jesus.” Those who desire such love actively seek it in the prayerful use of the means of grace. May God gain the victory over everything that is keeping you from seeing the power of Christ’s love erupt within your own life!