In his book, “John Wesley for the 21st Century,” John Gooch writes: “All the understandings of “perfect” above have nothing to do with what Wesley meant by perfection. They are “perfectionism's,” the kind of dreams that drive advertising. We’re not going to get that “perfect” body by trying fad diets or achieve complete happiness because we drive a particular kind of car. They are “legalisms,” pushing the idea that if I just try hard enough, I can be perfect.”
Wesley seemed to be following some of the thoughts expounded from our scripture this week which comes from the Letter to James. He used the words “perfection,” “holiness,” and “sanctification” interchangeably. To him, holiness was not so much an impossible goal to be striving for, but a way of life. In some ways, holiness means, “How we who profess to be Christian live as a Christian in a world where it’s often hard to do that?” In both the early church and in Wesley’s writings, being perfect meant being complete, whole, becoming everything God has put within us to become. This helpful and valid reasoning has come to the surface throughout our Christian History. What it means to me and in some ways to others is that perfection is different for each one of us, because each of us has different gifts and for each of us being complete and whole looks different.
But let’s get back to the idea of riches and how a Christian faces this issue. We are sometimes partial to the rich because we mistakenly assume that riches are a sign of God’s blessing and approval. But God does not promise earthly rewards or riches; in fact, Christ calls us to be ready to suffer for him and give up everything in order to hold on to eternal life. For that means I am to be unattached to the things of this world. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have things of this world for my well-being, it means that I need to view them as gifts for which I am called to use wisely and be a wise steward of.
God does love us and accept us “just as we are.” God does not expect us to measure up to some impossible standard of “righteousness” before God loves us. Maybe if we hold on to the thought that we will have untold riches in eternity if we are faithful in our present life will help us on our journey of faith. Holiness also means we practice doing good works. If spiritual disciplines help us practice our love for God, doing good works help us practice our love for neighbour. We may begin serving meals at the homeless shelter out of a sense of obligation, but if we keep “practicing,” we reach the point where we see homeless persons as children of God and find joy in our relationship with them.
Some further thoughts on James 2:1-17 follow which gives us all food for thought in this age of growing greed, personal gratification for its sake and an extreme individualism. In verse 14 of James 2 it says; “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? A primary test of faith is our attitude toward God’s and the way we are able to listen to his Word and living that in our everyday lives. “Be you doers of the word, and not hearers only.” A person might look at his face in a mirror and see that his face is dirty but do nothing about it.
A second test concerns our attitude toward people and God’s creation. Apparently in those days there was a tendency to focus more attention on the wealthy than the poor. James says we are to have the same respect for all. Every person is an immortal soul and his life is sacred to God. Another test focuses upon our work. “Faith without works is dead.” We are saved by grace, but we express our gratitude by willingly working for our Lord. A most sensitive test is in the manner of our speech. James talks about the power of the tongue. The same mouth ought not to curse God and then try to praise God.
Think about the way in which you live out your Christian life. Do your words and actions inspire others to seek the Lord? If not, what would you have to change for this to happen? Remember that every day there comes the challenge of the command: Let your light so shine that others may see your good works and glorify -- not you, but --- your loving parent, your God who is in heaven.
That is really the test of a Christian life, whether it does or does not, glorify our God. If it does then there will shine out of our lives a great radiance, if only the wick of our life is illuminated by the light of Jesus. Then we shall be people who will bring light wherever we go, the light of love, of tender courtesy, of peace.