John Wesley wrote that without holiness no one will see the Lord, quoting Hebrews. He thought “going on to perfection” was crucial because being pardoned without being sanctified could lead to backsliding that could erase justification. Rather than the “door” and “house” metaphor that we hear so much about, justification was something like hanging on he edge of a cliff. If we did not pull ourselves up, we were liable to fall off again.
Such images are troubling, of course. My read on Wesley is that he was even more troubled by people who went by the name of Christian but did not live in any way like Christ. He saw outward religion as false religion. He insisted that Christians should be deeply anxious about their salvation. This is what made assurance such a gift. Aldersgate was such a big moment for Wesley because he had been so anxious for so long about his faith. In his approach to these questions, Wesley gave the early Methodists powerful incentives for discipleship.
Absent his theological framework, what do our calls to discipleship amount to? Is it a kind of consumeristic spiritual self-help? Does our call to discipleship end up saying nothing more than “Your life will be richer and better when you are aligned with God’s purposes for your life”?
It feels to me that such a stance is based on the assumption that the way to heaven (or the kingdom) is broad and not narrow. We can afford to relax because, hey, God is going to cut all some slack for basically good intentions. All the stuff about holiness is just a way to keep the primitives in line.
That may not be what people mean by the things they say and do, but it feels like there is a lot more intensity and gravity in Wesley’s discussions about discipleship (a word I don’t believe he used) and salvation than there is in ours.