Ben Gosden has a thought-provoking post about young adults and the church. At the center of it is the old, old problem in the church of spiritual pride, people who see themselves as “good” Christians and others as outsiders who have to earn their way in.
It causes me to reflect with appreciation on the old evangelical doctrine of justification. As any reader of Wesley’s sermons will know, the key to the doctrine is the realization that nothing we can do can earn salvation or deserve it. Indeed, Wesley saw justification by faith as designed specifically for the purpose of uprooting human pride:
One reason, however, we may humbly conceive, of God’s fixing this condition of justification, “If thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ, thou shalt be saved,” was to “hide pride from man.” Pride had already destroyed the very angels of God, had cast down “a third part of the stars of heaven.” It was likewise in great measure owing to this, when the tempter said, “Ye shall be as gods,” that Adam fell from his own steadfastness, and brought sin and death into the world. It was therefore an instance of wisdom worthy of God, to appoint such a condition of reconciliation for him and all his posterity as might effectually humble, might abase them to the dust. And such is faith. It is peculiarly fitted for this end: For he that cometh unto God by this faith, must fix his eye singly on his own wickedness, on his guilt and helplessness, without having the least regard to any supposed good in himself, to any virtue or righteousness whatsoever. He must come as a “mere sinner,” inwardly and outwardly, self-destroyed and self-condemned, bringing nothing to God but ungodliness only, pleading nothing of his own but sin and misery.
If we find ourselves in a church gathering or among Christians who are full of pride about their own spiritual attainments, it may be an indication that the doctrine of justification has been neglected or never taught. It could be a sign that salvation by personal merit or works is the unspoken theology at work in the congregation.
The self-righteous take pride in their goodness that has earned them God’s blessing. The justified take joy in the gift that has been given to an undeserving one. The self-righteous sees the sinner as an inferior being who has not attained the spiritual heights that he has. The justified sees the sinner as a brother or sister wandering in darkness no different from the darkness that would engulf him if not for the light of Christ.
I believe this is a fair representation of John Wesley’s evangelical theology. It is one of the aspects of his preaching that many of us are most in need of hearing and embracing.