For Methodists, we remember that John Wesley struggled with similar feelings. He talked about wanting a sense of assurance. He had quite a crisis of faith before his Aldersgate experience, where he finally experienced a life-changing assurance that God loved him. He writes in his journal, “I felt that God loved me. I experienced that God loved me. It was no longer something that was in my head, but it’s something that I felt in my heart.”
We often have little trouble believing God is gracious to others, but do have a hard time believing God could possibly accept us. We know the worst of ourselves — just how imperfect we are — andwe wonder if God could ever love someone like us. We’re so used to the idea that there is almost always some fine print somewhere; some strings attached, that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That’s the way our world works. But it’s not the way God works. Psalm 103 tells us that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. It goes on to say that God does not deal with us according to our sins, but has compassion, like a loving father.
God knows our hearts, and expects that we will stumble and falter and make some of the same mistakes over and over until our new life in Christ has taken root down deep. If that seems hard to swallow, read the story in Matthew 18, where a disciple asks Jesus how often we have to forgive. Remember that Jesus answered him “not just seven times, but seventy times seven.” If God wants us to show this forgiveness toward one another, surely God will offer this kind of patient love to us, and even more.
United Methodists see the church as the place to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The church is not the place for perfect people, but for those who are “going on to perfection.” For us, being made in the image of Christ is a lifelong process that begins with acknowledging God’s grace and love and accepting that we are forgiven.
It sounds like you have some fear of judgment from the people in the church. The church should be a safe place where we work on our imperfections and struggles. We regret that this is not always the case. This is one of the reasons why we are proponents of Covenant Discipleship groups and other small group ministries where people can build relationships that include a level of trust where we can confess our struggles, and be encouraged to grow beyond them.