Our basic theological statement of what we believe and understand about God can begin with the traditional version of The Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by
the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, sufferered under Pontius
Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from
the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of
God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the
quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic
church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the
resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
God: There is one eternal God who is the source and ruler of all things, who is infinite in wisdom, power, and truth, and who is revealed in three inseparable, co-equal, yet distinct persons in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God, the Father is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving. He is self-existent, who always was, always is, and forever will be. In Him there is no beginning and no end. He is unchangeable. He is a God of justice as well as mercy and grace. He is fatherly in His relationship to His creation in general and to believers in particular. God's divine nature is revealed within His creation.
God, the Son is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten Son of the Father. Jesus is the Living Word of God who humbled Himself to come to earth in human flesh, truly human and at the same time truly God, in order to reveal the Father and to redeem mankind. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born to a virgin. He lived a sinless and perfect life, died to pay the penalty for our sin, rose miraculously again to life, ascended to Heaven to return to His rightful throne as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will come again in glory to judge the world and restore paradise on earth.
God, the Holy Spirit, is also one with the Father and the Son who is an equal co-member of the Triune Godhead. He is a personal agent that convinces the world of sin, restrains evil in the world, indwells believers, illuminates the Word of God, regenerates the hearts of people and empowers them to pursue lives of holiness. God, the Holy Spirit comforts, sustains, and empowers believers in all truth.
The Bible: The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament contain the authoritative Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit and written centuries ago by chosen people of God. The Bible is without error in its original manuscripts for faith and practice of that faith. It is completely and authoritatively reliable. It is centered on the person and the work of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament looks forward to the life, death and resurrection of Christ, where as the New Testament looks back at Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The Bible is the living and active Word of God that speaks to the hearts and minds of his people. It contains history, prophecy, narratives, prose, poetry, and revelation concerning God and His plan for humankind. One cannot pick and choose what to believe or not believe in the Bible. It is a collection of writings that are to be taken as a coherent whole. It contains the mind and truth of God and should be handled with care. It is God’s instruction manual to guide and direct people along their journey of faith.
Sin: As a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, all people have fallen under the curse of death and are natural descendants of Adam, therefore born with a sinful nature. Mankind has fallen from righteousness and is inclined to evil. All people have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and are deserving of the judgment penalty of death given by a just and holy God. The depravity of mankind is the result of Adam’s fall from grace. Apart from divine intervention, mankind is incapable of restoring the sinful state of humanity. Sin separates people from God and is the result of disobedience. Sinful behavior is ever-present in the world today. Even in the hearts of regenerated, converted believers, the battle against our sinful nature is always present.
Salvation: Because God is all loving and merciful, He offers us a way of to be restored and made new through His Son Jesus Christ. God sent His Son Jesus to suffer the penalty of death in place of condemned humanity. The innocent blood of Christ was shed, and as the blameless “Lamb of God,” Jesus died a substitionary death in order to provide the way for people to be reconciled to God. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Simply by believing and accepting by faith the good news that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, a person can be forgiven of all sin, declared righteous by God, reborn into a new life, and guaranteed eternal life with God. There is nothing we can do to work or earn our way back into a right relationship with God. We are saved by grace, which is God’s unmerited and undeserved favor. Salvation is a gift from God, but a gift must be received and opened. We have the choice to accept or reject God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life with Him. Once we have received God’s forgiveness and grace by accepting that Jesus lived, died, and rose again on our behalf, nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:39). Jesus Christ’s death on the cross provides the only way back to a right relationship to God. It is Jesus Himself who said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him. The work accomplished by Jesus on the cross was sufficient for the whole world. However, not everyone will be saved. Many will reject His offer of redemption and salvation. Jesus says that only those who are born again will see the Kingdom of God. Whether one uses the words born again, converted, justified, or regenerated, the Bible says that those who believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord will be saved. God does not wish for anyone to perish, but He allows us to choose for ourselves whether or not we will accept His free gift of salvation.
Grace: God’s grace is defined as his unmerited and undeserved favor bestowed upon a person through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is only by God’s grace, through our faith in Christ, that we are restored back to a right relationship with a holy and just God and redeemed to be forgiven and rewarded with everlasting life lived in the presence of a merciful and loving God. There is but one grace; however, we can break down its meaning with various terms that help us understand the unfathomable love of God. As United Methodists we believe Charles Wesley’s portrayal of Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying Grace is a strong doctrine that helps us define and understand God’s amazing grace. We can relate Wesley’s thoughts of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace to that of a marriage relationship. First there is a courtship period, followed by a wedding day when we exchange vows and become one with one another, and now we spend the rest of our lives growing and maturing in that covenant marriage relationship. The church is the bride of Christ. As individuals who make up the church, we were courted by God and united to Jesus. We are expected to mature in our relationship through the help of the Holy Spirit.
Previenient Grace is the grace of God that comes “before” a person accepts Christ as Savior and Lord. God is always courting us and wooing us to return to a restored relationship with Himself. He continually pursues us and reveals Himself to us in an offer of reconciliation. God is like the “Hound of Heaven” who never gives up on us. We are continually given the opportunity to return to God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the powerful working of God the Holy Spirit.
Justifying Grace is the moment we say, “YES” to God. The moment we accept His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, we are restored and made right in our relationship with God. We are re-positioned in Jesus Christ and God lives in us. Jesus who knew no sin was made sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is a transition that takes place here. Not only are our sins taken away and put on Jesus as He pays our debt penalty through His death on the cross, but we are also given, in exchange, the righteousness of Christ. When God looks at a forgiven and redeemed individual, He doesn’t see that individual covered in sin, but instead covered with the righteous blood of Jesus that washed our sins away.
Sanctifying Grace is the maturing process of a disciple toward Christ’s likeness. The acceptance of God’s gift of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ is not the end. It is really a new beginning. Sanctification is the perfecting work of God’s grace through the Word and the Spirit that enables the follower of Jesus to grow and mature spiritually. Discipleship is all about becoming more and more like Jesus for the sake of others. We are not be saved “by” good works, but we are saved to “do” good works that God has planned for us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, for the Father’s glory, we strive to live in holiness and righteousness until we eventually reach perfection when we come face to face with Christ in eternity.
The Church: In the Apostles Creed, we state that we believe in the holy catholic church, meaning the universal church. The church is made up of the body of Christ consisting of true believers in heaven and on earth over whom Jesus reigns as Lord. Believers are called to faithful membership in a visible local congregation for the mutual purpose of encouragement and spiritual growth. God-glorifying worship, Scripture-centered preaching, intimate and caring fellowship, intentional faith development, and acts of missions and evangelism mark a healthy church. The goal of the church is to build up the kingdom of God, where members remain faithful to their vows to uphold Christ’s Church with their prayers, presence, gifts, and service. The church is not a building. It is a priesthood of believers growing up in the unity of God for the sake of others.