Bible Text: Ephesians 2:8, Acts 16:25-34 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: What Would Wesley Say? | This week we will once again be venturing back in time to visit with Reverend John Wesley and examine one of the sermons that he preached during his time working in God’s ministry. The first time we did this we talked about his theology on grace. I truly believe that these opportunities we are taking to look at some of the sermons of Reverend Wesley are incredibly helpful as we work to better understand the theology and doctrine of our denomination, as well as how they continue to apply to our world today.
This week we will be looking deeper into Wesley’s sermon titled, “Salvation by Faith”. In this message Wesley works to consider and explain the meaning of the following three key terms: grace, faith, and salvation. Each of these words is found in our Scripture reading for this morning from the book of Ephesians chapter two. We read there, “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.”
Now we previously spoke at length last time about grace as Wesley described it in his sermon “The Means of Grace”, including the three types of grace being prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. In this sermon he uses similar language as he did in that message, so I don’t think we need go into defining and explaining grace again so soon.
Now after his discussion on grace he shifts over to a focus on faith. Wesley describes faith as the requirement of salvation, something so imperative and important. But remember that grace is the cause of our salvation and faith is only a requirement of our salvation. Faith without grace is meaningless and powerless for our salvation. Without grace, we would be hopeless and lost.
In his specific description and definition of faith Wesley explains that Christian faith is more than the faith of heathens or devils or even the apostles. He explains that Christian faith includes the faith of heathens and devils and the apostles, but it is more than any single one of these. Christian faith is much bigger than just one of these smaller, more simplified pieces.
Wesley explains that the Christian faith also includes a common morality. It includes an awareness of a judging God. It includes an intellectual knowledge of Scripture. It includes an agreement in the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and a following of the life and teachings of Jesus including the witness of his miracles. But Wesley again reminds us that even with all of these pieces, each and every single one, we still fall short of having a saving faith. All of those things combined are still not enough to produce a saving faith.
So, what is then? What can possibly be added to this mass of things that I think most Christians would already claim today that could make it a saving faith? Or is that even possible? I think to even attempt to answer that question we need to continue with Wesley’s sermon as the next thing he addresses is salvation.
Now in this sermon Wesley explains salvation as the salvation from sin. It is washing away the stains and guilt of past sins. It is the destruction of the chains of sin that drag us down. It is the absolute shattering of the power of present sin in our lives. And it is the promise that we will be able to meet the requirements, the highest standards, of final judgement without having that stain that sin leaves upon our hearts and our lives.
But when it comes to salvation, for Reverend Wesley it wasn’t like getting handed your first-class ticket to heaven. If you remember from two weeks ago, I told you how he saw salvation as a continual experience of God’s presence that works to transform us into whom God has intended us to be. He understood salvation to change the quality of our lives right now. Salvation takes away the fear and the guilt of sin. Salvation gives us the power to live lives free from sin – right now, today.
This is exactly what Wesley was talking about when he speaks about being born anew. It is what I am meaning when I talk about being remade. Salvation is not just wiping the slate clean. It is more than just that. Salvation is also the working of Christ within each of us. When he preaches on this in other sermons, he describes it as “holiness of heart and life”.
So, when we look at that question of what is that final piece of faith that we need to have a saving faith…well the truth is, it doesn’t exist. We have to remember that salvation is not something that we can achieve by our own efforts and works. Salvation is a gift from God. Grace is what works salvation without any merit or deserving of it on our part. Remember what I said earlier, faith is the condition or requirement of salvation. Faith is not the cause of our receiving salvation. Our faith, a deep and abiding trust in the work that Jesus Christ does for us and in us, is only a requirement for salvation.
And I think when we look back at our Scripture reading it is easy to see how Wesley crafted his message. He took this passage and said exactly what it says in the passage, but he expounds upon each point, working in deeper explanations and examples of the important parts and words. And as someone who writes a sermon almost every week, I have to say that it is impressive to craft a whole message using such a short piece of Scripture as well as provide such foundation for one’s faith and understand of our relationship with God.
So, we have now gone over the sermon that Wesley wrote as well as the Scripture passage that he utilized. Let’s take some time now to look at the core of Wesley’s message and this passage and how they relate to our world today. And to be really honest, I think this should be a pretty easy one to connect.
I mean we have talked at length about the importance and need for God’s grace. We have also talked about salvation at length in the past as well. The only part of the equation we have not really gone over all the much in real deep detail is faith. And even faith is something we have spoken about in bits and pieces over my tenure here. But we have yet to really bring all three pieces together as they are in the Scripture and as Wesley has in his sermon.
Now as I mentioned before, we have already covered grace in great detail just last week. Given that I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time on that when looking at our world today. I spoke about how we need grace now just as much as the people of Wesley’s time and the people of ancient Israel. Grace is something we desperately need, and we are given it freely by God.
So, what about faith? What role does faith play in our world today? Or does it even play a role in the lives of most people? How many times have you ever heard someone say something like, “Well I’m not really religious, but I am spiritual.”? I have to admit when I hear things like that I struggle because I have never gotten any kind of meaningful explanation of what that really means. I think for some people what they are really trying to say is that they don’t want to be involved in organized religion, but they do have some kind of faith.
But has faith become more of a buzzword in our society and in our world today? How many bumper stickers or wall art or plaques or other similar things have some quote about faith on them? Not that there is anything wrong with that. I think we need to own our faith and make it a central part of our lives and to share it. But sometimes people throw the word “faith” around and I don’t think they really understand what it means. As Wesley tells us Christian faith is more than the faith of heathens or devils or even the apostles.
And what about salvation? Do we still need salvation today in our world? There are people working every day to discover new ways to extend our lifespans, though not something I think is bad or wrong. We have a generation that has not that long ago gone around using the acronym “YOLO” or “You Only Live Once” as a justification for their actions, no matter how heinous or destructive. Have we forgotten about salvation?
Do we get so caught up in our lives and in our busy world that we put our thoughts about things like salvation to the side? Or maybe we are just so confident in our salvation being secured that we don’t bother to give it another thought and almost forget about it. Not that we should be in doubt of our salvation necessarily. But isn’t it something we should at least think about every now and then? Isn’t it something so important that we should want to make sure that we are keeping up our end of this situation as best we can? Again, salvation doesn’t come from our own merit or works, but it does require us to have faith as I previously described.
So yes, I think that even today with all of the distractions and other happenings that fly around us, even today we need not only God’s grace and salvation, but also faith and a focus on all three of those things. We cannot grow in faith if we do not engage in Christian practices like prayer, worship, studying the Scriptures, and more. Our faith cannot be strengthened if we do not pay attention to it and nurture it.
Faith is kind of like a muscle in our bodies. If we don’t exercise it, if we don’t work it, if we don’t use it – then it will begin to whither and fade away. I said last week that to be a Christian is work, it is not a spectator sport where you can just sit on the sidelines. For our faith to grow we must engage it. We must continue to work with it to expand it and strengthen it.
Can you imagine your life without faith? I honestly tried the other day and I couldn’t. Now you might say that it’s harder for someone like a pastor since our whole lives tend to revolve around faith and the church. But even when I tried to look back at my life before I answered my call to ministry, I still could not imagine my life without faith.
Without faith in a loving God, this world becomes a much darker and depressing place. Without faith in a saving Christ, death becomes the end with nothing beyond. Without faith in a connecting Holy Spirit, life seems so much more disjointed and pulled apart. Without faith what are our lives about? Money? Power? Accomplishments? All things that are fleeting when death knocks on the door.
So, I again implore you to remember that it is God’s grace through which we receive salvation, but that salvation requires our faith. Grace and salvation are gifts from God, gifts we cannot earn in any way on our own. But they are gifts that we must take an active role in. So today and every day I encourage you to examine your faith, build it up, strengthen it, expand it, nurture it, and share it. Because if you don’t you may find yourself with a weakened and weary faith. Amen.