“What does your denomination believe is the most important?” This question surfaces a lot. What does the United Methodist church think is the most important aspect of faith? I certainly can’t speak for all United Methodists. Yet, an important aspect is balance. Balance is important, balance between personal piety, your relationship with God and social justice/acts of mercy. What I find imperative and grounding is the belief that both are equally as important in practicing a holistic faith. Some of us start our faith journey by coming to know God through a personal relationship with Jesus. We have felt our hearts or souls embraced by Jesus drawing us into a relationship with God. The relationship Jesus has with God is the relationship Jesus wants us to engage, maintain and live so God can shape us and transform us to be Christ like. Nurturing and remaining in God’s presence in order to grow Christ like is a life filled with joy, challenge and conversion. Studying the Bible, praying, worshipping, and other personal piety disciplines are key elements in staying and growing in Christ to be transformed into Christ like beings. This is a worthy call and investment of our time and resources and I can understand the misconception that this is all there is to living out our faith.
Yet, some of us have come to know Christ through engaging in acts of mercy or social justice. Acts of mercy are those attempts we make to bring kindness to the people we encounter. It is feeding the hungry, comforting the mourning, and attending the sick and poor. These are direct actions to help a group or an individual find grace in difficult situations. Social justice is the practice of working toward the Kingdom of God a society that is just for all people where systems, laws, governments and institutions don’t oppress, degrade, and exploit those who are part of their care or system. This is also a worthy call and investment of our time and resources and I can understand the misconception that this is all there is to living out our faith. James 2: 14-18 from the Message translation clarifies for us,
“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, ‘Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!’ and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, ‘Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.’ Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, also preached and taught our faith is a balanced between personal piety and acts of mercy and justice. Our actions toward our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith and outside of the faith are just as important as what we are doing to grow in Christ. Are you balanced in your faith? Do you find your current personal piety practices transforming? Are they making you more Christ like? If not find a practice that draws you into the presence of God, a study, a commitment to church attendance, a personal prayer time, fasting or giving up something that distracts you from God. If your personal piety practices support God’s transformation in you, great. Take a look at your involvement in acts of mercy or social justice. Are your actions toward others bringing the grace and transformation you experience in your personal relationship with Jesus to others? Are you working to build systems and societies that are just and when need be speak out against oppression and persecution? Balance is important; a balance of faith practices nurturing us, individually and collectively. This season of Lent will be a great time to assess these areas of our faith.