In his sermon, “The Righteousness of Faith,” John Wesley considers some ways people hold themselves back from seeking the forgiveness of God.
The first mistake is to believe that before we can be forgiven we must first do certain things. We must first conquer sin or break off from every evil work. We must do good to all our neighbors. We must first go to church or hear more sermons or take the Lord’s Supper.
To this, Wesley says, “First believe!” and then you will find the power to do.
The second mistake is to harbor the thought in our heart that we are not good enough to be accepted by God. To this Wesley responds that not one of us is good enough to deserve acceptance by God, but that should be no barrier because we are invited into the cleansing waters. “Then delay not,” Wesley says. “The fountain is open.”
The third mistake that hinders us from seeking the forgiveness of God is the idea that we are not sufficiently wracked by the pain of our own sins. We are not contrite enough, so therefore we are not ready to be pardoned. Wesley responds that we should be more contrite than we are, more aware of our own deep sinfulness, but we should not let that delay us.
It may be, God will make thee so, not before thou believest, but by believing. It may be, thou wilt not weep much till thou lovest much because thou hast had much forgiven. In the mean time, look unto Jesus. Behold how he loveth thee! What could he have done more for thee which he hath not done?
These are all words of spiritual counsel to those who are mindful that they are in need of pardon and reconciliation with God. They are not words offered to those who blissfully go along as if all were well.
These three hindering notions — that we must do certain things, that we must achieve certain degrees of holiness, or that we must feel certain things before we can find pardon in Jesus Christ — are familiar to me. I think Wesley is perceptive about the ways we talk ourselves out of seeking what is freely offered.
Can you think of other ways people who know they need redemption hold themselves back from seeking pardon, from faith in Christ?