Proclaiming the Good News – Acts 4.5-12
Acts of the Apostles model of salvation is one of heightened visibility. The early church model demonstrated the breaking in of the Kingdom of God with heightened visibility because of the healing, signs, wonders, bold proclamation, and community participation that happened in Jesus’ name. When we encounter Peter and John in this passage they are being questioned by the religious establishment about the preaching of the resurrection of the dead because of Jesus and the healing of a 40-year-old lame man. The religious leaders put Peter and John in prison, and the next day they were questioned. They inquired, “What power or in what name did you do this (Acts 4.7)?” Although the leaders were not really seeking to know Jesus, Peter and John purposefully preached to them that salvation comes through Jesus. In fact Peter answered their question, stating, “Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved (Acts 4.12).” To be sure the early church model did not shy away from the practice of preaching in the name of Jesus or offering salvation to all who were near. In fact the writer reports about 8,000 members in the initial community of faith.
Wesley’s model of salvation is one of transforming grace. John Wesley grew up in the Anglican Church of England in the 1700s. His dad was a priest in the church and his mother was well versed in the Scriptures enough to teach her children how to read the Greek New Testament. John became a priest in 1728. During his years at Oxford College he developed a Holy Club that regularly met to study the bible and visit the sick and imprisoned. Seven years after becoming a priest he took a mission trip to America, landing at Georgia. On the journey he met some religious folks from the Moravian tradition that held a deeper faith than anyone he had ever met. His desire to experience God in a deeper way grew until one day back in England he attended a meeting that stirred his spirit. After hearing the preface to the Book of Romans, his heart grew strangely warm with a deepening trust in Christ alone for his salvation. He experienced an assurance that God had taken away his sins. And, for the first time in his life John received the gift of his salvation. After this experience, John was never the same. When we think about John’s experience and his style of ministry, you and I can understand why he emphasized the transforming power of God’s grace in the life of believers just like the early church experienced.
West Point’s model for ministry is a fresh expression of grace. Here at West Point when we talk about salvation we are not speaking of going to heaven, or the promise of what lies on the other side of death, although that is part of salvation. When you and I dialogue about salvation, we are speaking of the already not yet experience of God’s Kingdom breaking into our lives and changing us from the inside out.
When we talk about salvation, we mean the grace that begins in our hearts and works us over until we are transformed entirely through the stages of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. When we speak of prevenient grace, we mean the grace of God that works in our hearts before we rightly know God. We might know about God, but we have not gotten to know him intimately as our own personal God. It’s all the encounters with God that we are mostly unaware of in our daily living. When we speak of justifying grace, we mean the grace of God that pardon’s us of all our sins and our full acceptance of God as our Savior and Lord.
Salvation is here. The way of salvation in the Methodist tradition is both present and future, and rooted in the fulfillment of the prophetic word of God. We believe that God is ready to deliver us safely into this spiritual care in the moment that our salvation is secured. We don’t have to wait on our deliverance until we die and go to heaven. We understand salvation as an on-going process. The grace of God is constantly working within us modeling us into the image of God in mind, body, soul, and spirit.
When we speak of sanctifying grace, we mean the power of God that comes into our hearts and roots out the issues of sin that were stunted by justification. When we talk about sanctification, we mean “sozo” grace. This “sozo” grace leads us to a life-style of loving God with our whole-hearts filled with joy, prayers without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances. This “sozo” grace leads us to abstain from every kind of evil and presses us onward to acts of good deeds toward our neighbor.
The Greek word for salvation is “sozo” but in this passage we see another form of the word swthri÷a (Acts 4.12), and means to rescue from danger, deliver to safety, to make whole or heal. The Hebrew word for salvation is yeshua h¡Do…wvy`Il (Ex. 15.2), and means to deliver from trouble. When we study the Acts of the Apostles, the word “sozo” appears a number of times (Acts 2.21,40,47; Acts 4.9,12; Acts 11.14; Acts 14.9; Acts 15.1,11; Acts 16.30-31; Acts 27.20,31). These texts teach us that the only way we can save ourselves from corruption in our culture is to run to Jesus (Acts 2.40).
We believe that the Kingdom of God begins in the moment of our intentional salvation through grace by faith alone. Although we understand the process of sanctification as an on-going transformation from this fleshly existence to a spiritual renewal, we do not believe we earn our salvation through good works. We are saved by faith alone, but we participate in the working out of our faith journey in our lives. We are participants in the Kingdom of God’s transforming work. We continually say yes to God, and he continually pours out spiritual renewal upon our flesh.
Faith is belief in the unseen reality just beyond our senses, a reality not yet understood or seen with out naked eye. Faith is a belief in the unperceivable reality beyond our sensual perception of eyes, ears, touch, taste, and smell. Even our sixth sense or gut instinct cannot perceive this reality correctly. The only way we can believe in the supernatural God is through the working of faith and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is through an awakening of our spiritual senses even our mind being opened to new understandings, can a person truly experience this spiritual reality. Jesus’ death ripped the veil between heaven and earth so that those on this side of heaven can grasp the reality of the supernatural Kingdom of God breaking in to redeem us. If you have not faith, ask for it! If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart!
Salvation comes through faith alone! Salvation is here!
Good News is here. The opportunity to share the Gospel or Good News to others is called evangelism. Methodists by their very DNA are evangelical – they share the Good News of salvation. The Acts of the Apostles demonstrates the importance of sharing the Good News about Jesus to those in our communities. The sharing of the Good News happened with persuasive conversations, invitations, being present in community gatherings, relational connections, and personal discovery. We discover in the early formation of the church that the movement was Incarnational. It was a grassroots kind of expression of God’s love among the people who formed deep relationships with one another. When the love of God grasps your heart, all you can do is share it with others.
As those who are responsible for sharing the Good News it is important that we show up and listen well. And, that means every Christian. Listening is critical. I recently attended a “Fresh Expressions of Church” conference in Lexington. The purpose of the conference was to offer a new model of doing church that would revitalize the church and community. And, in many ways this community is ripe for this kind of ministry outreach. The key to this model of evangelistic outreach is relational listening. The first step to any good relationship is to listen well. We all know that but sometimes we forget that part of our relationships because we want to be the one’s talking and telling others what we want. But the key ingredient to any kind of outreach in the community is to listen well.
Loving and serving our community comes from our having listened deeply. After we listen well, we love and serve those we have heard. The next step is not presuming we know the answers before we have listened well. We put our ear to the ground and listen to the cries of their hearts – and sometimes that means looking at the situation and discovering their history. When we reach out to others in our community, it should always be meaningful to what their needs are. But what happens when the church and the community have differing viewpoints about needs? Sometimes we want to give to the community what they really don’t want from us.
Relations are built from transparent relationships and storytelling. As we love and serve the individuals in our community then relationships are built, and trust deepens. Often it is more successful to immerse yourself in the neighborhood rather than expecting the neighborhood to show up at your doorstep. When’s the last time you had a stranger show up at your doorstep ask if they could come in and be your best friend? This is exactly what we expect of the people in our communities that haven’t experienced the life of the church. We are expecting them to show up to an unfamiliar place and befriend complete strangers that they have no reason to trust. Because faith demands intimacy in relationships, it takes a large amount of blind trust for others to even want to reach out their hand to get acquainted.
Genuine discipleship happens in the midst of trusting relationships. If there is not trust developing in a relationship, then stories about Jesus have little value. When we begin to care for one another, then our personal stories have meaning and the stories about Jesus have value. Until we get beyond scratching the surface in relationships, we will never successful bring others to Jesus. The key to discipleship relationships is knowing how Jesus has impacted your own life, then inviting others to experience Jesus – not necessarily church. Church doesn’t save us, only Jesus does.
Worship emerges as an expression of your new relationships. As discipleship takes hold of not only your new relationship but yourself, then the opportunity to worship together emerges. Worship becomes a new expression of the relationship as you learn to pray together and experience God’s Holy Spirit that moves between the two of you. If you have failed to worship together authentically, it’s because trust was never established or allowed to grow in your relationships. Sometimes trust is thwarted because we see discipleship as a one-way street not a two-way adventure. If worship has not happened successfully, perhaps your vision for this new relationship didn’t fit within the box. Sometimes worship has to spill outside the confines of what we traditionally know to explore other ways of worship when new relationships are formed.
New worship-filled relationships teach us to live our whole lives as a witness (Acts 1.8). There are some foundational truths that we will hold to when our whole life becomes a witness or Incarnational ministry. We will always be Trinitarian. We will always stand for our creedal beliefs. We will hold to the teachings of Wesleyan heritage of grace. We will hold to the truths of the bible. We will remain firm to the teachings of Jesus as the only way of salvation and the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophetic teachings. We will pray and read Scripture. We will be faithful to worship God with a community of believers. We will demonstrate grace-filled giving and stewardship. We will practice loving and serving others with our whole-heart. We will live as courageous witnesses of Jesus’ transformational grace in our communities.
New expressions of grace happen sometimes when you seek them out, but sometimes God makes us wait to see God’s grace in action. New expressions of grace might happen when we least expect them to, but sometimes they happen when we are planning for them in times of worship and study. New expressions of grace happen most frequently when we are in our everyday life journey exercising our faith in living the reality of loving God and neighbor – through listening, loving, serving, and sharing our lives together that leads us to talking about Jesus and worshiping him in community. When we love each other well, the story about Peter and John is not so far fetched. As we love God with fresh expressions of grace in our lives …you and I can begin to imagine what it’s like to offer the right hand of fellowship to someone in need.
When was the last time you experienced a fresh expression of grace in your life that lead you to share your life with a stranger? How might you imagine a fresh expression of grace extending from you to others in your community?
Check out other Fresh Expressions of grace here: http://freshexpressionsus.org