When I say the word “house,” what image comes into your mind? Do you think of a single-family dwelling such as a bungalow on a tree-lined street, or a sprawling suburban manse, or a big country farmhouse, or maybe a towering urban brownstone?
Or do you think of a multi-family dwelling such as an apartment house or condominium complex?
A house can be a group of people as well as a building. The Bible speaks of dynasties such as the “house of David” and nations such as the “house of Israel.” Scripture uses the same term, “house of God,” to refer to a holy place such as the Tabernacle or the Temple, and to the people of God as well.
My favorite use of the word comes when the hero Joshua gives the Israelites a choice. He says: You must decide today whom you will serve. You may choose to serve the false gods of other nations. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24.15) What a powerful statement of faith and commitment that is!
The first letter of Peter describes followers of Jesus as living stones who are being built into a spiritual house that has Jesus as its cornerstone. That spiritual house is at least in some sense the church – and by “church” I mean not so much the building as the community that gathers in the building – or online – to serve the Lord.
I’ll be talking about this “house of faith” over the next several Sundays. I introduced this idea to you several years ago in another series of messages. Now we’ll look at it more closely.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, uses a house to describe the way a person comes to new life in Christ. Wesley says repentance is the porch, faith is the door, and the interior of the house is religion itself.
Repentance is the porch, faith is the door, and inside is religion itself, life with God, the kingdom of God or reign of God. With these images, Wesley describes three movements of God’s grace. Not incidentally, these also are the three pillars of Methodist theology and what Wesley calls the scriptural way of salvation.
The first movement of grace goes by several names. In Methodist circles, it’s often called “prevenient grace.” That’s an archaic word I don’t use very often. It means the grace that goes ahead of us, the grace that surrounds us at all times and works to draw us closer to God.
It may better be called “common grace” or “everyday grace,” because it’s available to everyone every day. Sometimes it’s called “seeking grace” to describe how God seeks us out, wherever we try to hide. Sometimes it’s called “convincing grace,” because God hopes to convince us that we cannot save ourselves, we cannot rely on our own strength, we must have a relationship with God if we are to live to the fullest.
This first movement of grace occurs even before we get near the house of faith. It leads us to repentance. This is the first pillar of Methodist theology and the porch of God’s house.
Repentance is not, as often believed, feeling sorry for yourself or sorry for you sins. It’s far more than that. As one pastor puts it, “Jesus doesn’t care if you feel guilty. Jesus wants you to change.”
When Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, he doesn’t go around proclaiming, “Feel guilty, because you’re a miserable sinner!” No! He proclaims, “Repent, and believe the good news that God’s kingdom is here!” (Matthew 4.17, Mark 1.15)
The Greek word we read as “repent” is “metanoia.” It means “turn around.” It means change the way you think and the way you act. It means make a big U-turn right here and right now. Commit to live differently.
This change of attitude is the first step toward getting right with God. But it’s only the first step. You’re not in the house of faith yet. You’re only standing on the porch. The door is open to you, but the next step is up to you. You’ve got to walk through that door. To do that, you’ve got to have faith.
The second movement of grace is “justifying grace,” or “saving grace.” This is the grace that pardons you for all your wrongdoing, forgives you for all your sins and fills you with confidence that you are saved.
Faith is the door you have to walk through, and faith is the second pillar of Methodist theology. But faith, Wesley cautions us, is not just intellectual assent to the truth of the Bible or to a set of propositions about God or Christ.
Faith is not “a train of ideas in the head,” Wesley insists. It’s a disposition of the heart. It is the sure trust and confidence that God has restored you to divine favor – and not because of your own merits but solely because of the merits of Christ.
Such trust leads to justification. Now there’s a heavy word! It means being set right with God. Like a child playing with blocks or Legos, it’s being stacked or assembled in the right order.
God justifies us, sets us right, by forgiving our sin. Sin is what separates us from God. When God forgives us, we are reconciled with God. We are no longer separated from God. We are now friends with God. Even more, we are accepted and adopted as beloved children of God.
This is the new birth, Wesley says. When we step through the door of faith, we are born anew. And when we step through the door of faith into the house itself, the third movement of grace comes into play. This is “sanctifying grace,” the grace that works to wholly change us.
Justifying grace produces a change of relation. Sanctifying grace produces a change of nature. Justification is what God does for us. Sanctification, another big word, is what God does in us.
One thing we learn when we repent and turn our lives around is how very difficult it is to keep going in the right direction. In fact, we cannot do it on our own. Even after we have been set right with God, we tend to drift. We are “prone to wander,” as that old hymn says. (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)
We need more than a change of attitude and a change of relation. We also need a change of nature. That’s what God works in us through sanctifying grace. God works to remake us in the original image of God in which we were created, so that at the end of the process, we look just like Jesus.
Think of it as the best extreme makeover you can imagine. God takes who we have become and remakes us into who he intended for us to be in the first place. Salvation is restoration in the image of God. We were created in God’s image, but we have put on many masks that distort that image. Through this process known as sanctification, God strips away those masks and restores us to his image. This is the third pillar of Methodist theology.
Repentance is the first step toward salvation. We stand on the porch. Then we step through the door of faith, justified. Now we stand in the house of faith itself, sanctified. But God is not finished with us. There’s more work to be done.
Wesley drops the house metaphor at this point, but others have picked it up. Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta speaks of three rooms in the house of faith, three spaces where we explore our relationship with God and one another.
When you first enter the house of faith, you stand in the foyer. This is the welcome area. This is where you are made to feel at ease and comfortable.
Next is the living room. It has big, cushy chairs and sofas and recliners. It’s a place to relax in the company of others and get to know each other better.
Finally, there’s the kitchen. This is the heart of most homes, isn’t it? This is where people naturally congregate because this is where the food and drink are. This is where you can share a cup of coffee and talk over your problems. This is where you form deep and lasting relationships.
The house of faith has other spaces. As that fun song by Audio Adrenaline says, it’s a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms. We’ll open some of the doors to those rooms and explore them next week. Today, I simply invite you to ask yourself where you are in the house of faith, and to remember the steps you took to get there.
Have you felt the movement of God’s seeking and convincing grace? Have you turned away from destructive behavior and turned toward the light of Christ? Are you standing on the porch looking toward the door?
Do you feel God’s justifying and saving grace moving in your life? Do you know God’s pardon? Do you feel set right with God? Do you have the assurance and confidence that you are a beloved child of God? Welcome to the new birth! Step through the door into the house of faith.
Here you will be welcomed in the foyer, then invited into the comfort of the living room. Once you get comfortable, you’ll be ushered into the kitchen, the heart of it all. Here you’ll feel God’s sanctifying grace. You’ll find yourself being changed, remade, molded moment by moment and day by day so that you are becoming more and more like Jesus.
So where are you today, and where have you been on the way of salvation? Are you on the porch? At the door? In the house? In the foyer? The living room? The kitchen? Wherever you are, I invite you to more fully experience the salvation that God offers to all. Welcome to the house of faith! I’m sure you’ll like it. It was built just for you!
The message was delivered July 26, 2020 at Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas.