Atonement and the Method of Methodism-Part 3: Cross-Bearing
By Steve Manskar
Jesus tells those who want to be his followers to “take up your cross daily.” Christian life is cross-bearing because it is centered in God’s love revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross. The cross we are to take up is daily obedience to his teachings summarized in Matthew 22:37-40:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
God has given us the grace and means needed to obey Jesus. Love for God and those whom God loves take the form of the cross. Loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind comprises the vertical beam. The means of grace Wesley called “works of piety” are the practices that enable us to participate in the relationship God desires for us. These practices are how we are “at-one” with God.
The works of piety are “ordinances of God.” This means God commands them. They are the basic, expected practices of the members of God’s household. He commands them because they are “ordinary channels whereby he might convey to [people] preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Wesley, Sermon 16, “The Means of Grace,” § II.1, 1:381). In these practices God calls us to give our time, presence, and attention to him. “The life of prayer begins in a deceptively simple way. It begins with a commitment to make time for the relationship—to show up for our appointment” (Robin Maas, Crucified Love: The Practice of Christian Perfection, 49). God promises to be there when we show up. The challenge is to keep our daily appointments with God.
The essential works of piety are found in the third of the General Rules: The public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; fasting or abstinence. They are practiced in public (worship, the ministry of the Word, and the Lord’s Supper) and in private (prayer, Scripture study, and fasting). Each practice involves the body, mind, and soul. They require us to make time in our day and our week to show up and be present to God and to others in God’s household to offer ourselves to him and open our hearts to his grace.
The horizontal beam of the cross of obedience to Christ’s teachings is our relationship with our neighbor (those whom God loves). Wesley called these practices “works of mercy.” Christ teaches us in his commandments that loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind compels us to love what and whom God loves. Therefore, we love our neighbor as ourselves. Christ teaches that our neighbor is anyone anywhere in the world who is suffering (see Luke 10:25-37). He also said that serving people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick or imprisoned brings us into his presence (see Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus identifies himself with the poor. Therefore, if we want to be in relationship with him we must be with and for the poor. Feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, witnessing to Christ are the means of grace God gives to love our neighbor as ourselves and, in the process, live out our love for God in the world God loves. Wesley encapsulates these means of grace in Rules 1 and 2 of the General Rules:
“It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire for salvation,
First, By doing no harm, by avoiding evil in every kind—especially that which is most generally practiced. …
Secondly, By doing good, by being in every kind merciful after their power, as they have opportunity doing good of every possible sort and as far as possible to all men …
The cross represents God’s love, which is the nature and name of the Triune God. This love, this grace, makes obedience to Jesus teachings possible. This cross-bearing life draws us closer to God and closer to one another.
Christ calls us to journey together – to be his body in and for the world. He calls and equips us, through self-denial and cross bearing, to be his witnesses in the world. We follow together as channels of God’s love and justice for the world in Jesus Christ.