John Wesley

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Mere Grace

Posted by on 29 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: God's Grace, John Wesley

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Peter 5:11

Grace is God’s undeserved, loving commitment to rescue us from his wrath and judgment. In Christ, God delivers us from sin and transports us into his loving kingdom of forgiveness. Grace calls us to trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, the one who has taken all our sin and just judgment upon himself. When we trust Christ by faith, his work of forgiveness begins by releasing us from our debt, transforming our hearts, and freeing us to live for him. Grace flows from the Cross: Christ death, burial, and resurrection was a costly grace.

All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favor; his free, undeserved favor; favor altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies.

It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.”

The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things.

For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand.

“All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.”

These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

John Wesley, “Salvation by Faith,” Preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on June 18, 1738.

HT: Fred Sanders

Spiritually Blind, Deaf, Lame, Dumb, Dead

Posted by on 23 Jun 2011 | Tagged as: God's Grace, John Stott, John Wesley, Roman Catholic Church, Sin

The Disability of Sin

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . .

Eph. 2:1 (ESV)

Theologically, disagreement exists between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics over the nature our sin which was inherited from Adam. Roman Catholic teaching prefers the terms, “propensity to sin” and “inclination to evil” to describe our fallen state (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405). Roman Catholic teaching wants to leave open the possibility that we can in own ability respond to God’s call to faith and repentance.

However, Evangelicals teach the concept of “pervasive sin” and “inherited guilt.” Every aspect of our being is affected by sin–our minds, emotions, desires, hearts, wills, and physical bodies. Evangelicals do not deny that fallen people can do good things, but in relationship to God, no spiritual good can be achieved toward a relationship with him (Rom. 7:18; Titus 1:15; Jer. 17:9; Eph. 4:18).Evangelicals recognize that only God by his grace can awaken us from our dead state and draw us into the life of Christ.

Theologically, God’s drawing is called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts granting us the ability to receive or resist the gospel. Our sin enslaves us, God by his unmerited favor must go before providing us the ability to accept or reject his offer of salvation in Christ.

[Prevenient] grace  is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own righteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gifts of God (John 6:44).

Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 246.

Jesus himself illustrated human lostness by the language of physical disability. By ourselves we are blind to God’s truth and deaf to his voice. Lame, we cannot walk in his ways. Dumb, we can neither sing to him nor speak for him. We are even dead in our trespasses and sins.

Moreover, we are the dupes and slaves of demonic forces. Of course, if we think this exaggerated or ‘mythical’ or frankly false, then we shall see no need for supernatural power; we shall consider our own resources adequate. But if human beings are in reality spiritually and morally blind, deaf, dumb, lame and even dead, not to mention the prisoners of Satan, then it is ridiculous in the extreme to suppose that by ourselves and our merely human preaching we can reach or rescue people in such a plight . . . .

Only Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit can open blind eyes and deaf ears, make the lame walk and the dumb speak, prick the conscience, enlighten the mind, fire the heart, move the will, give life to the dead and rescue slaves from Satanic bondage. And all this he can and does, as the preacher should know from his own experience.

John Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), 329.

The Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

Posted by on 01 May 2010 | Tagged as: Holy Eucharist, John Calvin, John Wesley

Christ Present, Not Absent, at His Table

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:19-20

In Roman Catholic and Protestant discussions on the nature and meaning of the Lord’s Supper, Roman Catholic polemicists often criticize Evangelicals for dumbing down the nature of the sacraments by making them mere symbols. They lump all Protestants together as Memorialists: Christians who honor Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross by reenacting the Last Supper meal without faith that Christ is actually present. True some Protestants obey Christ’s command to practice the Lord’s Supper as an attempt to simply remember Christ’s work on the cross (Luke 22:19). These groups or denominations descend theologically from the reformed movement of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). Zwingli adhered to a figurative understanding of the words of Jesus, “This is [signifies] my Body.”

However, the Reformed branches (i.e., John Calvin) and the Wesleyan/Arminian branches (i.e., John Wesley) of Evangelicalism believe that Christ is present in the bread and wine by the power of the Holy Spirit.

John Calvin stated that if Christ is not present then “this holy sacrament [is] frivolous and useless.”

We begin now to enter on the question so much debated, both anciently and at the present time—how we are to understand the words in which the bread is called the body of Christ, and the wine his blood. This may be disposed of without much difficulty, if we carefully observe the principle which I lately laid down, viz., that all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all. That being fixed, we will confess, without doubt, that to deny that a true communication of Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Supper, is to render this holy sacrament frivolous and useless—an execrable blasphemy unfit to be listened to.

John Calvin, A Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper

John Wesley preached that where Christ is present, grace is present, and where grace is present, strength to live the Christian life is present.

The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, by enabling us to leave them. As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.

If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord’s Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us.

John Wesley, “The Duty of Constant Communion”

HT: Euangelion

The Divine Law Court

Posted by on 24 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: Early Church Father, Evangelical, John Wesley, Justification, Martin Luther

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Evangelical Essentials (Part Six)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

Phil. 3:8-9 (NKJV)

Many criticize the Reformation’s understanding of forensic/imputed righteousness because of the law court metaphor. The law court metaphor was used by the Apostle Paul frequently in the letters to the Romans and the Galatians.

What God does for us in justification is similar to what the judge does in a law court: He does not change the defendant by turning him or her into a new kind of person; rather, he declares the defendant innocent of the charges brought against him or her . . . Justification reminds us that our standing with God is by grace and that thankfulness should be the hallmark in all our dealings with him.

[Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 56-57.

A law court seems impersonal and abstract–too judicial. Imputed, or forensic righteousness, seems to teach a declaration in heaven of righteousness for the believer without the corresponding transformation of character on earth. The problem with rejecting this understanding is that this is the exact image that the Apostle Paul uses in Romans 1:16-17 and in Romans 3:21-26.

The phrase the “righteousness of God” (dikaiosune theou) means that an individual is vindicated in a divine law court because of the work of Christ. The term signifies that people who are still sinners stand not guilty before God because of the gift of righteousness. This righteousness from God is truly a gift (Rom. 5.17), it is from God (1 Cor. 1.30), it is received by faith (Gal. 2.20, Rom 9.30-31), it is reckoned therefore making it a status (Rom. 4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11; 6.11) and it has as it’s source the very nature of God therefore making this gift what Martin Luther called an “alien righteousness” (Phil. 3.9). Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, agreed when he stated, “Justification means both the discharging of the debt of sin, and the crediting (imputation) of Christ’s righteousness” (Stromata V:5).

The problem that I, or anyone of you, would have with the doctrine of imputed righteousness is when a believer claims to have a righteous standing before God and yet lives inconsistent with the holy standards of the New Testament. This inconsistency occurs when Evangelical preachers neglect to recognize that the righteousness of God (dikaiosune theou) also means transformation. That is, the righteousness of God is the saving power of God to change an individual’s life and transform them into the Christ-like character.

The righteousness of God is not only a status, but is the very power that transforms us into righteous people. Romans 1:16-17 (RSV) is emphatic concerning this truth:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

In other words, the declared righteousness of God is an effective righteousness in that it transforms an individual’s life.  Romans 8:1-4 teaches that Christ died destroying the power of sin which enables us to live the righteous life God demands.”Justification, whose sole condition is penitent faith, is never lacking in fruits of faith, by which the believer is assured that the Spirit is working within.”

[Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 206.

Therefore, the righteousness of God (dikaiosune theou) declares us righteous in the Father’s court of law while simultaneously transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

What is the Imputed and Imparted Righteousness of Christ?

Posted by on 23 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: Evangelical, John Wesley, Justification, Wayne Grudem

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Evangelical Essentials (Part Five)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 (NKJV)

Justification by faith is God’s acceptance of me to be in right standing by the righteousness of Jesus Christ being accounted to me, a sinner. Justification is an immediate legal work of God in which he forgives our sins, counts Christ’s righteousness as our own, and declares us righteous in his sight.

[Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 723.]

Evangelicals believe in the imputed (i.e., Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan,etc.) and imparted righteousness (i.e., Wesleyan) of Christ, this phrase and these terms can be confusing and intimidating. The imputed righteousness of Christ is summarized by a sentence in the Lake George blessing: “God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself not counting men’s sins against them.” Imputation is the crediting of Christ’s righteousness to my account. This imputation is twofold: we receive Christ’s holiness and forgiveness and Christ takes upon himself our guilt and judgment.

Impartation is Christ releasing within us his very life so that moment-by-moment we may experience his presence enabling us to make righteous choices. In summary, Christ’s righteousness is a gift which can be described as a wedding garment—a white robe of righteousness—completely covering us in Christ enabling us to spend a lifetime of communion with the Father (Isa. 61:10). This same righteousness is imparted to us on a constant basis enabling us to display of the fruit of the Spirit, as we trust Christ in our weaknesses and struggles.

[Bob Mumford, The Agape Road: Journey to Intimacy with the Father (Nashville, Tenn: Lifeway Press, 2000), 57-59.]

This declaration is forensic in that the legal charges against us have been dropped and we have been declared righteous. To be credited as righteous is to be conferred a legal standing of being forgiven and no longer liable to punishment. This new status declares me righteous in God’s sight; free from the condemnation of sin, the fear of death, and accusations of the devil. The imputed righteousness of Christ is a gift; it cannot be earned. This gift can only be received from a grateful heart by faith alone (Rom. 3:26, 28; 4:5; 5:1, Gal. 2:15-16). Christ’s righteousness is not only declared to be my righteousness in heaven, but this righteousness also transforms my life here on earth.

John Wesley concurs that the righteousness of Christ is both imputed and imparted (his word is implanted):

That Christ’s righteousness is imputed means that ‘all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them.'”

I believe that God implants righteousness in everyone to whom He has imputed it. Implanting is a lively horticultural metaphor, as distinguished from a declarative, juridical metaphor. It requires daily nurturing, not a simple bang of a gavel.It is the fruit of our acceptance with God, not the ground of it.

[Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity:A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 207, 208.]

In brief, Christ’s righteousness is a transformative righteousness in that it effectively changes those who have been declared righteous by God.

Total What? Total Depravity!

Posted by on 07 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: John Wesley, Sin, Timothy George

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Evangelical Essentials (Part One): Total Depravity

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Eph.2:1-3 (NKJV)

The term, “depravity,” does not mean that we are all deranged fanatics living in a padded cell with long hair and nails, screaming and drooling all day. Total depravity (or pervasive sin) means that our self-centeredness has affected our hearts, wills, minds, emotions, and even our physical bodies. Our attitudes and actions motivate us to selfishness and pride. Every aspect of our lives has been marred and scarred by sin. Our bondage is so great that we cannot do anything to deliver ourselves. The effect of our sin is complete: there is nothing we can do to please God. However, we are still valued in God’s eyes. We should never see ourselves as insignificant and worthless for Christ died for every one of us. Even in the midst of our fallenness, the blessed Trinity reached out to us in love and mercy.

Total depravity does not mean that there’s absolutely nothing good about anybody anywhere. I know God’s common grace extends to everybody in the world, and the fact that there’s any good anywhere is a result of God’s sustaining and preserving and common grace. But total depravity really means that, vis-a-vis God, there’s nothing we can do, in and of ourselves, to make any contribution to our standing before Him. We are totally and hopelessly and eternally lost apart from God’s radical intervention in our lives.

Dr. Timothy George, “Timothy George on Reformed Theology”

The doctrine of total depravity teaches that my essential problem is not my parents, my economic background, my upbringing, my circumstances, or my boss, etc. No, my greatest problem is I that great trinity of me, myself and I. My selfishness, my self-absorption, my self-concern, and my self-conceit reap utter destruction. Sin is selfishness evidenced through my willful thoughts, words, or actions involving a choice in which I consider myself more important than God or anyone else. The foundation of sin is my selfishness.

“Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin,” said Bishop Ambrose of Milan. With sin this deep, a great deliverance is needed. With bondage so great, a miraculous salvation is needed. We cannot help ourselves. We are dead in sin, trapped in the ways of the world, ruled by Satan, and in bondage to our sinful nature. The only way to stop sin is kill it. Yes, put it to death. This is why scripture says that the wages of sin is death and that the soul that sins shall die (Rom. 6:23, Ezek. 18:20). We deserve judgment. We deserve God’s wrath. We deserve to be utterly and completely ostracized from God’s presence. However, the good news is that Jesus suffered my just judgment and died my death so that you and I might live. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by His stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:5 NKJV).

Because total depravity is the ‘T” in the acronym TULIP, which is description of Reformed thought, the doctrine of total depravity is usually thought of as a Calvinist doctrine. However in Evangelical theology, both Arminians/Wesleyans and Reformed/Calvinists believe in the doctrine of pervasive sin or total depravity.

John Wesley, my favorite theologian, wrote:

Our old man–Coeval with our being, and as old as the Fall, our evil nature; a strong and beautiful expression for that entire depravity and corruption, which by nature spreads itself over the whole man, leaving no part uninfected.

Robert W. Burtner and Robert E. Chiles, eds., John Wesley’s Theology: A Collection from His Works (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1982), 120.

Evangelicalism takes sin seriously because the Bible takes sin seriously. We are great sinners; therefore we need a great Savior.

The doctrinal term, ” total depravity,” has fallen on hard times, but truth of our fallen condition stares back at us in the mirror. Possibly, the term, “pervasive sin,” can replace the phrase, “total depravity,” which carries different connotations in today’s English than during the sixteenth century Reformation debates.

John Wesley, Andrew, and Me

Posted by on 04 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: John Wesley

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Andrew and I met John Wesley today. You know the great evangelist, the founder of Methodism, and great communicator of justification by faith through grace. He lived 1703 to 1791; but today Andrew and I met him in Savannah, Georgia, at the site of his first pastorate. You laugh, but don’t you believe in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? Don’t you know that John Wesley is alive in Christ Jesus. But come to think of it, when John and I shook, his hands were awfully hard and clammy.