In this sermon, Wesley clearly defines true religion. He first states that it is synonymous with “the kingdom of God.” He then goes on to say that true religion is not about creeds, laws, or any rituals, “nor indeed in any outward thing whatever; in anything exterior to the heart.” Instead, true religion is found in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. He wants to make clear that when we get caught up in creeds and rules this leads to people defending the right way or the right opinion, rather than people experiencing the love of God, whereas true religion calls us into right relationship with God so that we might experience holiness and happiness. What are the pitfalls or dangers of thinking of religion as creeds and practices? How does thinking about religion in this way lead to divisions and judgment? What are the advantages of thinking of religion as an inward experience within the heart?
At the beginning of this sermon series, “More Than,” we discussed that salvation is not only about guaranteeing entry into heaven through eternal life, but that salvation happens here and now. This same idea is true of the kingdom of God as well. We often think of the kingdom of God as synonymous with heaven, a place far away in both time and space, a place we will get to one day. But as Wesley uncovers the kingdom of God in this sermon he says the kingdom of heaven “is heaven opened in the soul.” And, this means that the kingdom of God is here, now, not just a place we hope to go to in the future. We get to help bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven, just as we say when we recite the Lord’s Prayer each week. How is your idea of the kingdom of God transformed as you think of it not as a far off place, but as a place that is here, now, within you?
Read Romans 14:17. Wesley uses this verse as the basis for his definition of the kingdom of God. He considers the kingdom of God to be synonymous with true religion. He explains what is important about each of these characteristics throughout the sermon, The Way to the Kingdom. Each of these gifts is worthy of reflection on their own.
Over the past two weeks, Wesley has offered the definition of righteousness to be a right relationship with God through faith in our redemption through Jesus Christ. We receive pardon or righteousness from God through what God did for us in Jesus, not because of anything we’ve done. In this sermon, however, Wesley offers a different definition of righteousness. In this sermon, righteousness is the two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor. How does this definition contribute to your understanding of righteousness by faith?
As he speaks about peace, he address that peace comes from God, and passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). In the kingdom of God, peace banishes fear – fear of God’s wrath, of condemnation, of death. How does this understanding of peace encourage you in your reflection on the kingdom of God?
Wesley speaks about joy as that which comes when we realize that we are children of God. This joy is deep, true happiness which allows for us to “rejoice with joy unspeakable, in hope of the glory of God.” Joy flows from our souls because of who God is and who we are in God. From this joy and this emphasis on righteousness and peace as well, flows holiness and happiness. How do these gifts of righteousness, peace, and joy support the idea that true religion is an inward experience of the heart, not an outward experience?
An important part of our relationship with God is being willing to admit our sinful nature. We must be willing to confess our sins and repent – turn from our sin. While sin is not something to be proud of it is an important part of our lives that we must be willing to confront. For Wesley to repent is to “know yourselves.” If this is true, then you certainly must confront your sin, being willing to confess your sin to God. We cannot be in right relationship with God if we don’t know ourselves well enough to admit that we are sinners and that we do in fact commit sins. How is repentance important to true religion and righteousness with God? How does Wesley’s definition of repentance help you to think about the act of repenting in a different way?