In his account of the rise of the Methodism, John Wesley laid out the four convictions that he and Charles put at the center of their preaching in the early days of the movement:
First, that orthodoxy, or right opinions, is, at best, but a very slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part of it all; that neither does religion consist in negatives, in bare harmlessness of any kind; nor merely in externals, in doing good, or using the means of grace, in works of piety (so called) or of charity; that is nothing short of, or different from, “the mind that was in Christ;” the image of God stamped upon the heart; inward righteousness, attended withe the peace of God; and “joy in the Holy Ghost.”
In short: Christian religion is about nothing less than changing people. It is not about small adjustments. It is a supernatural transformation of a person to the deepest core of their being.
Secondly, that the only way under heaven to this religion is to “repent and believe the gospel;” or, (as the Apostle words it,) “repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That word “only” is the big one here. The conviction that drove Wesley on all those early mornings and rainy nights was that thousands of men and women were cut off from God if their eyes were not opened to the need to repent and believe. If he believed there was another way to save people, he might have slept in until 5 a.m. from time to time.
Thirdly, that by this faith, “he that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, is justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ.”
In the middle of our sins, we are made right with God by the free offer of grace to every one who believes. This has nothing to do with our merit or worthiness. It is a gift that we neither deserve or control in any way.
And, Lastly, that “being justified by faith,” we taste of the heaven to which we are going; we are holy and happy; we tread down sin and fear, and “sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.”
In short: We are holy. We are happy. We tread sin under our feet.
I have to admit it.
I have moments in which these words ring true. I have had times when I have fled to Christ and by his grace tread down sin. I do know the joy of the Holy Spirit.
But not always. Not every moment. I am still working out my salvation. Indeed, at times I fear I am like Wesley who had his Aldersgate but still at times felt the joy of the Holy Spirit eluded him.
Life can be hard. And the trouble right in front of me today is hard to dismiss. It is, in fact, in this fourth preaching point of John and Charles that I am struck most forcefully by the fact that faith has nothing to do with willpower or earnest striving. I cannot make myself “taste of heaven” when I’m mired a day that leaves me worn out and bewildered. No matter how much I’d like to be able to flip a spiritual switch that washes it all away, some days life does not go away at the thought of Jesus.
Not most of the time, any way.
So, I’m reminded that I have a long way to go. I need grace. Oh, yes. I need grace.