By Jay Rogers
Published March 31, 2008
“And a highway will be there, a roadway – And it will be called the highway of holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way – And fools will not wander on it” (Isaiah 35:8).
The following article – “The Highway of Holiness” – is John Wesley’s plan of salvation according. In this article, I will be making repeated reference to the sermons of the 18th century revivalist John Wesley. Although I am not Wesleyan or Methodist in background, I make use of Wesley’s sermons because he was the first Christian leader in modern times to develop a systematic plan of salvation which included the biblical doctrine of sanctification – or holiness. The singular use of Wesley’s sermons is not intended to exclude nor detract from any other Christian movement which came before his time or after it. I use Wesley’s quotes merely because they are biblically sound and useful in this study.
Sin … The Problem
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
It is pleasing for us to hear about the love and forgiveness of God, but it is wrong and unscriptural to preach nothing else. We are all born sinners, first and foremost; we must be purged before we can receive God’s love. If we are not cleansed of all the filth of the flesh, any gospel of God’s love will only feed the disease.
We must first be awakened to the reality of sin. The unawakened will only have a false sense of security. As full of diseases as they may be, they will see themselves as being in perfect health. Simply stated: We cannot truly be saved until we realize that we are sinners.
You don’t have to be a Christian to realize that there is something seriously wrong with the human race. Yet few people can see to the heart of the problem. Some would say that if we could change our habits, change our environment and learn to love our fellow man, then we could solve the problem. The problem is not found in society, however, the problem is in man’s heart. We are full of a deadly disease that human ability cannot cure.
In addition to this, the disease is universal – all have sinned. Even decent people who have lived respectable, moral lives are filled with the worst kind of iniquity. The doctrine of “moral depravity” is almost absent in our society today. This message cuts across the grain of modern thinking. Wesley wrote: “It is now quite unfashionable to say anything to the disparagement of human nature.“1
The world tries to deny the reality of sin, while the Church softens the term by saying, “nobody’s perfect,” or by calling it a mistake, a problem, a habit, etc. Yet in the 20th century we have seen some of the worst acts of moral depravity ever known to man.
The Bible does not say we are sinners because we commit acts of sin; it says we commit acts of sin because we are sinners. As painful as this may be, we must become fully awakened to this fact: there is no good thing in us. If we do not accept this, we will continue to grow worse and worse until we die and are eternally separated from God.
A Short Word on Grace …
Before we examine the different stages of grace in salvation, understand that they are merely stages and not categories. Grace is grace. The stages are put into categories merely to illustrate the nature of spiritual pilgrimage in the conversion experience of the believer. Grace is the love and power of God that continually draws us toward Himself and away from sin and the world.
Prevenient Grace … The Power to Begin
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:28).
Prevenient grace is leading grace. It is the grace that operates in us before the conversion experience. It means literally: “the grace that comes before.” We have already seen that man is hopelessly lost and sinful. He is like a drowning man in a vast ocean, a thousand miles from outside help; unless he receives supernatural intervention he will die. There is nothing this man can do to save himself. His only hope is a supernatural move of God.
It is God’s grace that keeps the unconverted sinner from sliding into the pit of hell at this very moment. The sinner is kept alive, although he deserves to die, because of God’s great love for him. It is prevenient grace – this grace that comes before – that enables anything resembling the image of God to remain in us. Many say that we are all God’s children. This is not the case! We are all born with an adamic, sinful nature that is more akin to the devil than to God! Were it not for God’s grace, life on earth would be a living hell for all people. There is no good thing in us – there is only One who is good!
How does prevenient grace work in us to draw us toward God?
First, it is God’s grace that creates an awareness in us that He even exists. We see this through God’s imprint in nature. The great work of nature declares that God is alive today. He created the world and is Ruler, Lord and Judge over it.
Second, prevenient grace works through the LAW. Through the Law we are able to see that we are sinners. While we are never able to be justified by keeping the Law, it gives us the knowledge of our great need for a Savior and Redeemer.
Third, God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to die for us and pay the penalty for the sin of the world with His blood. This blood exists today as a payment for the sins of all people. In His great love, God also gives us the right to choose – to accept or reject His grace.
Before a sinner can be converted, he must be strongly convicted. He must realize: (1) God is a holy God who is coming to judge this world; (2) There is no good thing in him; (3) God is a loving God who sent His only Son to become sin on our behalf and was nailed to a cross to pay the penalty of our sin. The sinner must come to a position in which he fully believes this before he can be saved.
Converting Grace … The Turning Point
“Repent and be converted” (Acts 3:19).
“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31).
“Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Converting grace is saving grace. Whenever Wesley spoke of prevenient grace, he always said to his hearers, “If you stir up the spark of grace which is in you, God will give you more grace.“2 Converting grace is salvation empowered by equal thrusts of repentance and faith. Saving grace focuses on two terms: repentance and belief (faith). Together they constitute salvation. However, repentance always precedes faith.
Picture in your mind, if you will, the Space Shuttle taking off from the launching pad. The first stage of the rocket, the booster stage, propels the shuttle upward, upward until it reaches the outer atmosphere. At this point, it is far from the earth, but not yet in orbit. To accomplish this, the shuttle orbiter ejects itself from the booster stage and ignites its own engines thus giving it the additional thrust needed to be propelled into orbit.
In the same way, repentance gives us the power to be free from sin, the world and the devil. Repentance, however, is not enough. We also need faith to receive the grace – a supernatural ability from God which enables us to overcome sin in our daily lives – and walk out our salvation in a way pleasing to God. Without repentance we will never be able to get off the the launching pad. Without faith, we will lose our momentum and our shuttle orbiter will come crashing down to the earth. We need equal thrusts of each to really soar and become true converts. But repentance must always precede faith.
What does it mean to repent? In Wesley’s own words, it is “a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.“3 There are essentially three aspects of repentance: knowledge, conviction and change.
First, know yourself to be a sinner. Know that you are corrupted in every way. Know that you are miserable and lost without God. Apart from God no one is “O.K.” You are in a desperate situation.
Second, we must experience conviction. Conviction is threefold. We are convicted of our sin; of God’s righteousness; and of God’s eternal judgment (John 16:8). Conviction means that the Holy Spirit has dealt with us. In our hearts, we are convinced that we are guilty and deserving of eternal destruction. Conviction is not all negative, however, since it leads us to change.
Third, we must be changed. To repent is to turn away from sin. This is the true end result of having repented. If we were merely to have been convicted of sin, then we would have remained in a most miserable state! But repentance leads us to want to change. Repentance is an attitude of the heart but it also requires action. To say that we have truly repented means that we must have turned 180 degrees away from sin and toward God.
But repentance is not enough! Repentance alone cannot save anyone! We must also believe the good news. Belief means the same thing as having faith. Faith is not a mere intellectual acknowledgment that God exists. Faith is belief, but belief that provokes a response. Faith is an action word. As we turned away from sin in repentance, we also need to turn toward God in faith. Faith is also threefold: confidence, assurance, reliance.
First, we must have confidence in the mercy and forgiveness of God. This means that we trust in God alone for righteousness. Through prevenient grace we saw the exceeding sinfulness of our own hearts, but through converting grace we see God’s great love for us! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This means that God cleansed us from all unrighteousness. There is no unrighteousness left. In God’s eyes, we are righteous! But we must always remember that the confidence we have comes from Jesus. It is His righteousness that saves us.
Second, in order to be saved, we must have assurance of our salvation. Consider Wesley’s famous conversion experience at Aldersgate Street:
“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sin, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.“4
What more can we say about assurance? Through faith we have assurance that Jesus Christ is the only foundation on which we can stand.
Third, reliance means that we are dependent on the Lordship of Jesus. We are standing on the Rock, now and forever. In the past we relied on our own strength and our own works; now we must rely on Jesus. True faith is at the heart of the declaration – “Jesus is Lord!” True faith is the expression of the Lordship of Jesus in every area of our lives. Jesus Christ is the supreme authority. In this way, reliance is further expressed by obedience. This is not in terms of legalism, but by a joyful obedience – the intense desire to obey and to please God. It is from Christ alone that we get our direction and power to live a holy life. This reliance on Christ for our salvation never changes.
Saving grace is repentance and faith walking hand in hand. We need God’s prevenient grace to enable us to repent. But repentance always comes before saving grace. Repentance without faith is false repentance; and faith without repentance is dead faith. The Bible requires us to look at ourselves (Galatians 6:1) – this is repentance – and also look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) – this is faith.
Salvation can be compared to a house. Repentance is the porch of salvation; justification by faith is the door; and all the rest of the house and all its rooms are your sanctification. You are now standing at the door. Before we go on to explore the house, ask yourself the following question:
“Am I saved?”
To be saved means that you have truly repented from all known sin and that you have faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross alone for your salvation. We hear countless testimonies from people who were saved “X” years ago. Sadly, many of these were counterfeit conversions. Many of these people accepted Jesus “by faith” but they did not repent. These are the “Almost Christians.”
In addition, salvation is a day by day process. We have been saved; we are being saved; and we will be saved. How about you? You may claim to have been saved “X” number of years ago, but are you saved today in this moment? Are you continuing to grow and walk in the Lord Jesus by faith?
Before you continue on the highway of holiness – take a good look at your own heart. Is there known sin in your life? If so, you need to turn away from sin – NOW! Pray that God would give you a true hatred for all sin, not just a hatred for the guilt of sin, but for the sin itself. You need to repent before you can receive the faith to live a holy life.
Do you have true faith? Are you relying on Christ, and Christ alone for your salvation – or does guilt and condemnation rule your life? Have you fallen into a “works” mentality? If so, then you need a good dose of God’s mighty grace and His holy love. This alone is sufficient. Pray that God would birth this revelation of faith in your heart.
Take a moment now and examine yourself. The rest of this article cannot benefit you unless you fully understand the nature of your salvation. I pray that you will let these truths sink into your heart.
Transforming Grace … The Effects of Salvation
“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away. Behold! All things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Assuming that you have been saved, you must have been changed. Converting grace begins it all, but then there are the effects of salvation. In order to be saved, you must be: (1) Justified by Faith. (2) You must be Born-Again. (3) You must bear the marks of Initial Sanctification.
This teaching cuts across much of the established religious teaching of our day. It is possible to be born, baptized and raised in a church, live a respectable and moral life, die a church member in good standing and still split hell wide open!
The teaching that the “new birth” is something you need in order to be saved is the very essence of Christianity. Yet it is sadly neglected or repudiated in many circles. Criticism is also leveled at the doctrine of initial sanctification. Many so called believers in Jesus Christ cling to the belief that they remain fallen, though Christian. They say, “We still sin every day in thought, word, and deed.” They simply refuse believe that it is possible to live a holy life. May God use this study on “Transforming Grace” to deliver us from this warped and shallow view of salvation!
Justification by Faith
“By grace ye are saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
As we saw earlier, faith puts us in a position to receive the empowerment of God’s grace which enables us to walk out the Christian life. We are justified by the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. This alone has the power to save us from all sin and all unrighteousness.
This is how Wesley defined faith: “It is not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition in the heart … it acknowledges His death as the only sufficient means of redeeming man from death eternal, and his resurrection as the restoration of us all to life and immortality; inasmuch as He was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification. Christian faith is, then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of His life, death and resurrection; reliance upon Him as our atonement and our life, as our wisdom, righteousness, and redemption, or, in one word our salvation. Ye are saved … from sin. This is the salvation which is through faith. Ye are saved … both from the guilt and the power of it.”
No longer does guilt and condemnation rule the lives of those justified by faith, nor does any habitual sin reign in their lives. They desire continually the holy and perfect will of God.
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1).
“Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (1 John 3:3).
All those who are justified by faith or saved by faith, are born-again. Jesus spoke of being born-again of the Spirit (John 3:1-8). All those who have been saved have died to sin through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. They have been raised to new life through the Spirit; they are born again into a new life which is hid with Christ in God. “All things have become new.” Newborn babies desire milk; even so those born of the Spirit desire the sincere milk of the Word (1 Peter 1:23-2:3). They feed themselves voraciously on the Word and grow mightily in the power of God, from faith to faith, grace to grace, until they become mature and measure up to the stature and fulness of the life of Jesus Christ.
In studying the scriptures on regeneration, you may ask: “Why must I be born-again?”
Man was created in the image of God, but when Adam sinned, death entered the world. This speaks of spiritual death as well as physical death. In Adam all died – all mankind. All the children of Adam came into this world spiritually dead – dead to God, and dead in sin. We came into the world entirely void of the life of God, and void of the image of God. Everyone that is born of Adam is born in sin.
All those who are born in sin must be born-again of God. Therefore, everyone who has ever been born into this world, must be born-again before they can even see the kingdom of God. Understanding the depravity of man in the light of the holiness of God, you should not be surprised at the mandate: “You must be born-again.”
“What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid!” (Romans 6:15)
Many of the reformers preached salvation by faith, and faith alone. Wesley believed this, but also added: “To preach salvation, or justification, by faith only, is to preach against holiness and good works. But we speak of a faith that is not separate from these, but productive of all good works and all holiness.“5
This question was posed in Paul’s time: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?” The answer: “NO!” Or as J.B. Phillips translates – “What a ghastly thought!“6
This is one of the most confusing points of salvation theology for most people. The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and almost every Protestant denomination holds to the belief that sin nature remains in a believer even after he is converted. The fact that Christians continue to sin after salvation is merely a reality speaking both from experience and biblical precedent. However, some have carried the corruption of the heart too far. They view remaining sin nature to such an extreme that the believer is still in bondage to sin and there is hardly any outward distinction between a believer and a sinner. How do we define inital sanctification?
First, initial sanctification does not mean that we cease to sin altogether when we are converted. “I do not suppose any man who is justified is a slave to sin; yet I do suppose sin remains (at least for a time) in all that are justified.“7
Second, God never provides a license to sin – sin nature may remain in you and you may remain a child of God. But if you walk after the flesh, you are a child of the devil. This doctrine does not encourage you to sin, but to resist it with all your might. The blood of the cross justifies you. At that very moment, sin nature is under your feet. It has no dominion over you, but it still exists. “Sin can exist but it cannot reign.” This is not a license to sin. It is merely a reality. Believers are delivered from the guilt of sin and the power of sin, but not from the being of it.
“Christ gave himself for the Church, that it might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
This is an encouragement to press on. Though it never was – and is not yet – so it will be in the end. The believer goes on, conquering to conquer all sin. Every babe in Christ is holy if he is holy in part, yet not altogether so. This is initial sanctification: Sin may remain, but it must not reign.
Growth in Grace … Pressing on to Perfection
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
Grace is the supernatural power of God that enables us to grow in Christ and live a holy life. This study on salvation is a study on grace. Grace means infinitely more than just forgiveness or “God’s unmerited favor.” Grace is power over sin. Grace preceded our salvation; it was the means of our salvation; and it is our means of growth in faith and holiness.
A tiny acorn falls to the ground. The earth receives many acorns, but only a few will grow to be mighty oaks. In order for an acorn to sprout and grow, the conditions need to be right. First, the ground needs to be soft enough for the acorn to put down roots. Second, the sprouted acorn needs to be watered. Third, the soil needs to provide enough nutrients for the young tree to grow. These conditions provide the growth – yet they are not the growth itself. The means of growth are not the same thing as growth.
Means of Grace …
In the same way, there are many means of grace in the life of a believer. It is important to understand that these means of grace are not grace in and of themselves. If it were so, then grace would no longer be grace, and our salvation would be one of works. There are, however, means by which God moves through grace to help us grow. Here we will study six means of grace: assurance, prayer, the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper, fasting and fellowship.
How do we know that we are saved? This is an important question – for how can we begin to grow in our salvation without first having assurance of our salvation? According to Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies that we are God’s children.” Here we find the law of two witnesses:
First, there is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The first move is always of God since it is He who loved us first (1 John 4:10). Salvation is God’s gift to us and we have the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God as evidence of these promises. We are indeed the children of God.
Second, there is the testimony of our own spirit. We examine ourselves to see that we have repented of all known sin; that there is an outward change in our lives; that there is the fruit of the Spirit being manifested in a renewed character; that we find joy in the service of God. Once we have ascertained the positive testimony of these two witnesses, we are to put ourselves in position to receive more grace.
Prayer is a relationship with God. If we have disciplined prayer lives, we will grow in grace with God. If we do not pray at all times, every day, spiritual dryness will result. In Wesley’s words: “Such is the nature of what many have termed, and not improperly, ‘the wilderness state.’ … What are the causes of it? These indeed are various … God never repenteth of what He hath given, or desires to withdraw them from us. Therefore He never deserts us, as some speak: it is we only that desert Him … Perhaps no sin of omission more frequently occasions this than the neglect of prayer.“8
The Word of God
John Wesley knew the power of the Word of God. A casual perusal of his sermons will prove that he saturated himself with the scriptures. His writing is soaked in biblical allusions, quotations and analogies. To Wesley, wisdom began with the knowledge of the Word. He advocated his Methodists to read the whole Bible and not just portions of it. He himself read from both the Old and New Testaments every day. He had little use for dry, distant interpretations of the Scriptures. Instead, he wanted readers to ask, “What does this mean for me? – How shall I then live?” The practical application of the Word of God to daily life is by far the greatest means of grace.
The Lord’s Supper
The taking of communion is to be understood as a means of grace. Matthew 26:29 should be taken literally: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” In other words, when we receive communion, Christ eats and drinks with us. Christ manifests His presence through the elements. Not that the Bread and the Cup actually become the Body and the Blood of Christ – by no means! We must stop short of any notion of transubstantiation. But communion is not just symbolism either – (as many Protestants believe). The Body and Blood of Christ are present during the time when Lord’s Supper is taken as Christ exercises His divine authority from heaven. Thus, communion exists as a means of grace for those believers participating in the Lord’s Supper.
In the beginning of his ministry, Wesley kept regular fasts twice a week on Wednesday and Friday. Later, he dropped Wednesday but encouraged his followers to keep regular fasts every Friday. This was not an act of suffering of mortification; it was merely a time set aside for prayer. Wesley would fast after his last meal on Thursday evening and break it at tea time on Friday afternoon. Although he often did longer fasts, it was not the length of the fast that mattered, but the quality of the time consecrated to God. The weekly regular fasts were viewed as a sufficient means of grace.
As it turned out, fellowship groups, or as Wesley termed them, “Christian conferences,” were the primary means by which the Methodists gained power as a “little church” within the Church of England during the 18th century. These were the primary instruments by which the Methodists worked for reformation of doctrine and restoration of New Testament Church experience. The Methodist revival was maintained with great power for as long as they kept up this practice. The structure of the Christian conference was organized into three units: bands, classes and societies.
These were groups of four to eight people of the same sex and as near the same maturity level in Christ as possible. These were led by a “band leader” who was a more mature Christian. This was a response to a felt need that almost every Christian experiences – to have a small, intimate place to confess our sins one to another, to share our concerns, to find common spiritual experience so that we can relate to one another, and to encourage one another.
These groups were about a dozen men and women ranging in maturity from the leaders of the church to those new-born in Christ. This group proved to be the most effective place for nurturing spiritual life. The class leader was termed the “undershepherd” and was responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the group.
Societies were church meetings of about forty. They met weekly for praise and worship, testimony, expository Bible preaching, and prayer. These groups were led by ordained clergy as well as by laymen. It was rare to find a Methodist Society meeting that was “large” by today’s standards.
On each level, the dynamic was different, but together the groups functioned as an effective means of grace for nurturing and discipleship. Wesley was constantly organizing and reorganizing these groups with advice and input from his friends in the Moravian societies. The Moravians had kept up a similar practice in Europe for years with great success and had trained some of the first Protestant missionaries through these groups. Wesley would interview almost every new Methodist convert personally and expected that spiritual experience in Christ would be upheld with great fervor within each group.
The effectiveness of Wesley’s conferences was due to the great importance he placed on them as a “means of grace.” On one occasion Wesley visited a church that had yet to implement this structure and remarked: “The consequence is that nine out of ten once awakened are now faster asleep than ever.” Wesley further warned that “preaching like an apostle without joining together those who are awakened and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer.”
Christian Perfection … The Heart of Holiness
“Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy: for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7).
This was John Wesley’s vision: God Himself had raised up the Methodists to proclaim the doctrine of Christian Perfection – “to spread scriptural holiness across the land.” This was a special mandate which God had given the Methodists. It was Wesley’s most important contribution to the Church.
What is meant by – perfection? There is hardly any expression in the Word of God that is more offensive to the carnal mind than the words perfection and holiness. The very thought is enough to make us cry out, “But nobody’s perfect!” And yet the scriptures command us again and again, “Be ye holy … be ye perfect.”
By “perfection,” we do not mean absolute, total, outward perfection. Even the Apostle Paul speaks of himself as not perfect: “Not as though I had attained, either were already perfect” (Philippians 3:2). So what does it mean to be perfect?
“Christian perfection, therefore does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance, or mistakes, or infirmities, or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus, every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect. Yet we may, lastly, observe, that neither in this respect is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, as it is termed; none which does not admit of a continual increase. So that how much soever he is perfect, he hath still need to ‘grow in grace,’ and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his savior.“9
In what sense, then, are Christians perfect? Christian perfection is bound up in the action of “pressing toward the mark.” If we are in the process of doing this, then in God’s eyes we are already perfect, although we have not obtained its fullness.
There is an initial sanctification, evidence that the person had been born-again; a gradual sanctification, a growth in grace leading to greater holiness; which in turn could lead to an entire sanctification, a total separation from all known sin. It is at least possible by grace to abstain from all known sin. Involuntary, or unknown sin, is not excluded in the life of the one who is entirely sanctified. Thus, no one has reached sinless perfection.
But it is possible for a believer in all cases to abstain from known sin. This is a result of the grace that God gives to us to have power over sin. It is not a holiness of works; it is a holiness of heart. We are saved by faith which produces all inward and outward holiness.
- Perfection also speaks of maturity. There are stages in the Christian life and perfection is the aim of our spiritual pilgrimage. There are those who have grown up into the fulness of Christ. They are mature and, in a sense, perfect.
- Perfection also entails purity of the heart or singleness of intent. The heart of holiness is a will that is bent toward God. And while outwardly we may make mistakes, our intent is always to please God, our heart being pure. This also entails purity of the mind from evil thoughts. Our hearts and minds are entirely consecrated for service to God.
- Perfection also requires perfect love. Our intentions are empowered by the grace that that is found in a loving God. We receive this grace through faith and understanding that we are accepted by God on the basis of His love, not by the level of perfection we have reached. This revelation makes it easy; we do not have to be afraid to fail or be devastated by our failures. We can confess our sins and then move on again to perfection.
Believers aim toward perfection and expect to attain it by the power of the Spirit. We should acknowledge the problem of sin in believers, but firmly resist the notion that “we are bound to sin every day in thought, word, and deed,” as some teach.
Failure is not a loss of personal holiness. It is merely a reminder of our own incapability to be holy outside of the grace of God. And no matter what level of perfection we have reached, our own holiness is still “as filthy rags” in comparison to the holiness of God. This is Christian perfection: We can live a holy life and still grow in holiness – “Let us go on unto perfection.”
Glorification … The Power of the Kingdom and Eternal Judgment
“Beloved, now we are sons of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that has this hope purifies himself even as He is pure” (John 3:2,3).
Glorification is the end result of our Christian life. Once we have been justified, we are born again and can receive the grace to live a holy life. Holiness, in turn, results in eternal life. This is a life that exists not only in heaven, but here on earth as well. The mandate Christ gave to the Church was to advance His glorious kingdom forcefully through the preaching of the gospel. Each individual believer’s personal holiness ought to affect every area of society and a holy Church ought to right every social wrong.
Central to this teaching is Jesus Christ’s command to His disciples to pray: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
John Wesley once proclaimed: “Give me one hundred men who love only God with all their heart and hate only sin with all their heart and we will shake the gates of hell and bring in the kingdom of God in one generation.”
The Kingdom of God goes forward every time the gospel is preached. One day the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. This does not mean, however, that everyone who hears the gospel preached will become a part of the Kingdom.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
“Knowest thou not that the wages of sin is death ? – death, not only temporal, but eternal … This is the sentence, to be punished with never-ending death, with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.“10
While he fully accepted the doctrine of eternal judgment, Wesley preached to emphasize the grace and love of God, believing that love was a more powerful and sincere motivator to commitment than the fear of judgement. Wesley concluded that, although the wrath of God should be taught, an overemphasis on this type of preaching “generally hardens them that believe not, and discourages them that do.”
Eternal hell exists only in the light of the infinite love of a holy God. Hell exists for those who reject the promises of God. Eternal judgment awaits the children of disobedience. Not everyone is going to respond to the high calling of the Kingdom of God. Not all who say, “Lord, Lord,” truly embrace the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And there will always be those who flatly reject the life of righteousness, peace and joy found in Jesus Christ.
The message of salvation in Christ is offered on the basis of love. Yet, at the same time, hearers are urged to give up the notion that they can remain in sin and “make heaven.” The Word of God is very clear about what makes you fit for heaven: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Instead of asking: “Will I make it to heaven?” – you should rather be asking: “Am I holy?” Only the pure in heart shall see God.
John Wesley saw the Kingdom of God advance in his own lifetime, but he also understood that only the eternal power of God would remain when the Kingdom came in its fullness. Wesley’s accomplishments during his lifetime were indicative of this belief. Regarding earthly wealth, he often encouraged his followers to: “Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can.”
Wesley lived an abundant life in full assurance of his salvation. Shortly before he died at age 88, he sang a hymn: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath; And when my voice is lost in death, Praise shall employ my noblest powers; My days of praise shall ne’er be past, While life, and thought, and being last, Or immortality endures.” He raised out his arm and proclaimed: “The best of all is, God is with us!” Then he said, “Farewell,” and died. Wesley had this assurance because he believed and practiced what he preached.
Millions of English pounds passed through his ministry, which he used to build orphanages, print Bibles and books, and give to the poor. He died with the following possessions: several silver spoons, six one pound notes – “Give one each to the pall-bearers who carry my casket to the grave” – and a handful of his books, sermons and commentaries.
But the spiritual accomplishments of his life – millions of changed lives the world over – are riches that defy comparison.
1 Wesley, Sermons: “Original Sin.”
2 Ibid, “Working Out Your Own Salvation.”
3 Wesley, Notes Upon the New Testament, Matthew 3:8.
4 Wesley, Sermons, “The Witness of Our Own Spirit.”
5 Ibid, “Salvation By Faith.”
6 J.B. Phillips, Letters to Young Churches, Romans 6:15.
7 Wesley, Sermons, “On Sin in Believers.”
8 Ibid, “The Wilderness State.”
9 Ibid, “Christian Perfection.”
10 Ibid, “Of Hell.”
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