From John Wesley’s journal on December 11, 1785:
I strongly enforced St. James’s beautiful description of “the wisdom from above.” How hard is it to fix, even on serious hearers, a lasting sense of the nature of true religion! Let it be right opinions, right modes of worship, or anything rather than right tempers!
This frustrated journal note captures something at the heart of any Wesleyan theology. For Wesley, a person who said they were a Christian but did not act like one was no Christian at all. Right tempers, that is right attitudes or dispositions or habits of mind, are the mark of true religion.
This makes Wesley quite different from those who place an almost total emphasis on what people say they believe. The true sign that you really do have faith in Christ is not a statement you make, but the life you live. Proud, angry, impatient, and lust filled “Christians” are no more Christians than your run-of-the-mill pagan in Wesley’s book.
Our problem, for the most part, is that we are what Wesley would call enthusiasts. We want the benefits of religion — heaven, peace, justice — without using the means by which those benefits are bestowed by God. We do not dwell in the means of grace. We do not work out our own salvation. We often do not even desire to be transformed in heart and life. Just give us our stuff, and at a cheap price, and we’ll be on our way.
I get the impression this is not a new problem, right? Sounds like people in the Bible, doesn’t it?
But I do wonder what we should do in the face of such a reality. I wonder if we have an impoverished theology of salvation that makes it seem not worth “denying yourself and taking up your cross”? Who would cut off their right hand or pluck out their eye to ensure the kind of salvation we tend to preach — something Dr. Phil and the right pharmaceuticals can give us with a lot less crimp in our lifestyle?
In the meantime, we can spend our energy arguing about doctrine and worship styles — and church government.