SERMON from 11-18-12: John Wesley on Salvation

Ephesians 2.8

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.


John Wesley on Salvation


The same thing can happen whether you are enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate, having a holiday wassail–maybe enhanced with something from Mr. Jack Daniels–or slurping a hot bowl of butternut squash soup. It’s a warming from the inside out. You’ve had it before.


It starts from the center of your torso, where a nice fire begins to well-up. It's somewhere on the border of hot and just right. After it has warmed your belly, it radiates outward–as if you’ve just slipped into a warm bath. It’s at that point you feel the hairs on your arms, legs and the back of your neck begin to rise as you understand just what it means to have your self “strangely warmed.”


It happens in other instances.


You curl up with your significant other, surround yourself with your fluffiest blanket and watch your favorite Christmas movie–probably the final scene from It’s A Wonderful Life where Zuzu points out the ringing bell on the Christmas tree.


You turn off the lights, sit down on the couch and feel a strange warming as you stare at the glowing lights of your Christmas tree–filling an otherwise darkened room.


Hopefully, it has happened to you as you sit down to enjoy a meal that you’ve just spent two hours serving to those who truly need it.


When was a time you felt your heart “strangely warmed?”


John Wesley reported feeling his heart strangely warmed by an experience he had while attending the Aldersgate St. Society while in his native England. Mr. Wesley had always struggled with the idea of salvation. He wrenched himself over it. It says in Philippians that we should each work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” John took this to heart. He spoke of the idea of Christian perfection–and by all accounts kept his life according to it–yet he still worried himself about whether or not his salvation was secure.


One night, while listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s notes on Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome, Wesley reported what many refer to as his “Aldersgate experience.” He said of that night, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”


Why? Wesley finally felt assured that his salvation–that he had long-fought and lived his life for–was something he could rest assured in.


That’s even better than crawling up with a fluffy blanket and a holiday movie.


Of course, this is not how Wesley would define salvation–only what salvation might feel like to some people.


What is salvation, then? Salvation refers to the act of being “saved,” right? From what, then, are we saved? According to Wesley–and to the majority of the Christian tradition–man needs salvation from all facets of sin. Wesley’s sermon–Salvation by Faith–speaks about the different facets of sin and how it affects us, and how we are affected by it.


Wesley says that by our faith we are saved from our sin. That is, in a “wages of sin is death” kind of way. That’s the one we most closely associate with salvation. When you go to a revival–or back when revivals were still a thing–the firebrand in the crisp, pin-striped suit would tell those gathered sinners that everything they did before they entered that church (or tent, it could have been a tent) was offensive to God. The consequence of that behavior was that God was so offended by that action that he would have no other choice than to toss you into the pit of fire–at least that’s how I remember it. Salvation is–according to Wesley–God’s work through Jesus to grant us the grace of a pardon through him.


He also called it “justifying grace.”


Wesley also says that our justification by grace frees us from the fear sin can induce in us. That is, the fear we once felt as a result of our having sinned against God is broken because God has chosen to save us. Hence, we have no more to fear.


Along with our ability to fear no more the consequences of sin, Wesley claims that the power of sin is also something of the past. It’s like this. If we are saved from the consequences of sin by our faith in God–and the work of his son on the cross–Wesley claims that our hearts are changed. This change is such that our hearts are changed, and the temptation and power sin once had on our lives is diminished and destroyed.


This is what’s known as “sanctification.” It is the act or process of being made holy. Theoretically, when you are made holy–or are in the process of being made holy–sin is given different meaning to you. It is no longer something that you secretly desire to do, but don’t do because you seek to please God. Sin is something that is abhorrent to you. Sin is no longer an option for you to succumb to.


Wesley believed that salvation is so powerful as to remove the consequences of our sin, the fear we feel from sin and our propensity to sin from hence forth.


I threw that in to sound more Wesleyan. When you read Wesley, you get a lot of “hence,” “thee” and “thou.”


So, you’re saved, which begins an upward trajectory that ends when you kick the bucket and arrive at heaven’s gates, where St. Peter is there to swing them open just for you, right? What if that trajectory were to be…interrupted? That is, can someone lose their salvation?


Good news! Wesley spoke about that, too. He preferred to think about it in terms of someone backsliding–and not so much losing their salvation.


Wesley noted that the Bible only ever talks about two instances where one would experience eternal separation from God. It is difficult to lose one's salvation. Considering the source of our salvation, I'm not surprised. If you are a believer who publicly rejected Jesus after claiming him as Savior, you were out–according to scripture. Also, if you claimed Jesus’ works were actually those of Satan, you were gone.


To be sure, the Bible doesn’t come down with a hard and fast rule about these specific situations being the final words on the matter. There isn't an appendix to the Ten Commandments. It is a situation here or there where people were acting particularly unchristian. Wesley uses those to illustrate that, while it can happen, it is pretty difficult for someone to outrun God’s grace.


Can you lose your salvation? There is certainly an argument to be made. Can one person to something so bad as to disabuse himself of God’s grace? We have a little harder time answering a question like that.


What can we know? What can we be sure of? What are the important bullet points to walk from this with?


Jesus says, “…whosoever believes.” Paul says, “…by God’s grace, we are saved by our faith.” John Wesley reports a strange warming when he understands the certainty of his salvation.


However you think it might transpire in your own life, we can know certainly that it all begins with faith.


As with so much else in life, first things first.




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