Christian Discipleship Must Forge Form with Power

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As we were thinking about how to explain the heart of the Wesleyan Way in our new book, The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way, we hit upon John Wesley’s regularly used language of 2 Timothy 3:5:

For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! (vv 2-5)

Wesley often spoke about the distinction between the form and power of godliness. He famously wrote, in his “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” that his fear for the Methodists is that “they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.”

Wesley’s own life was an example of both form and power united. He saw that both form and power are necessary – and God would give them both to us.

Imagine you like to build remote control cars. You order a new Jeep, and the package comes with all the parts. Included in the package is a set of instructions. They show you the form of the car. You follow those instructions methodically. And the next thing you know, you have arranged all these bars and rods and panels and wheels into the shape, the form, of a car. But the car won’t do what it is supposed to do just yet. You need to give it some power. It needs batteries! Only once it has that power can it make use of its form. Only with form and power can the car fulfill its purpose.

The same is true for the Christian life: we need the form of godliness–the methods of holy living, and we need the power of God to be really holy and truly happy.

Imagine you are a newly hatched baby goose. You think to yourself, “Why do I have these wings? Why do I have this flat bottom, short legs, and webbed feet? Waddling is slow and awkward. Why can’t I be sleek and have four legs like the horse?” Then one day you step out on the lake and realize you have a flat bottom and two short legs with webbed feet so that you float and paddle smoothly across the water. Your wings lay nice and flat against your body, helping you float and keeping you warm when wet. “That must be what these wings are for,” you think. And now you don’t care so much about those two little legs, webbed feet, and flat bottom. You can glide across the water! But little do you realize, there is so much more that you can do with that body. You have the form to fly, but you don’t realize it.

Then, you see the older geese start flapping their wings to scoot around the lake and gather more food. And so you start flapping yours. At first, you are just “beating the air,” because you don’t have the power of flight. But at some point, once your feathers develop and your muscles strengthen, you cross over. You have the form of flight and the power of flight. And now you can glide, not only on water, but on the air! Form and power come together, and you realize what that strange body was for all along. And when you realize what it was for, you realize it isn’t strange at all. It’s just right. This is why you were created the way you are. This is your purpose.

Salvation is like that. It’s when we finally become who we were meant to be.

But there’s another piece. Geese find their purpose when they learn to fly. And when they learn to fly they discover they can go further than a baby goose could ever imagine. They can fly for thousands of miles. They can cross whole countries in a few days.

In a similar way, God doesn’t only want us to be good. He doesn’t only want us to do great things. He wants to give us deep faith so we can go far. He gives us the form of godliness and the power of God so we can become more and more like Jesus than we would ever expect.

The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way is a 12-session study packed with dynamic illustrations and compelling analogies that explore the key elements of the Wesleyan movement. The lessons work through three primary sections: John Wesley’s life, his core theological message, and the legacy of Wesley’s leadership on the Methodist church. Like its predecessor, The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith, this book can be studied individually, but is designed for group use. The accompanying videos are perfect for new member or confirmation classes, and for small-group or youth group settings. Pre-order your copy from our store here.

Perfect for:

  • Confirmation classes
  • Newcomer classes
  • Families
  • New Christians

In these pages you’ll:

  • Find a robust catechesis presented perfectly for a modern audience
  • Discover difficult biblical concepts explained simply and visually
  • Be equipping new Christians and younger audiences with a language with which to explore, discuss, and ask questions about how the big story of Scripture connects to everyday life

Rich in both history and faith-building, this study walks readers of all ages through a fundamental understanding of the value of scripture, prayer, communion, spiritual relationships, and the power of salvation, as evidenced in the life and teachings of John Wesley. As readers grow in their personal knowledge and understanding of God’s truths, this book gives them the perfect tools to carry their faith into the future.

Get it from our store here!

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Justus Hunter (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Church History at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of If Adam Had Not Sinned: The Reason for the Incarnation from Anselm to Scotus. You can find him on Twitter: @JustusHunter.

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