John Wesley’s message was simple, just like Jesus’. Is ours?
He insisted in his 1746 The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained:
I have again and again, with all the plainness I could, declared what our constant doctrines are; whereby we are distinguished only from Heathens, or nominal Christians; not from any that worship God in spirit and in truth. Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three, — that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness. The first of these we account, as it were, the porch of religion; the next, the door; the third, religion itself (Works, 8:521-22, CCEL digital edition).
Jesus was once asked to sum up all the Law and the Prophets, the heart of the message of what Christians now call the Old Testament. He answered by saying that we should love God and love our neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). These are the two Great Commandments, and they are the very marrow of what it means to be a Christlike disciple.
What does the religion of loving God and others look like, particularly as worked-out socially? In Principles Farther Explained, Wesley continued:
This love we believe to be the medicine of life, the never-failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world, for all the miseries and vices of men…this religion we long to see established in the world, a religion of love, joy, and peace, having its seat in the heart, but every showing itself by its fruits, continually spring forth, not only in all innocence, (for love worketh no ill to his neighbor), but likewise in every kind of beneficence, spreading virtue and happiness all around it (p. 524).
Yesterday someone asked me: “Does your church preach the full Gospel?” As the conversation unfolded, it became clear that “full Gospel” was their code word for Pentecostalism, a particular view on a handful of the spiritual gifts as outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Though I made it clear that our view of those gifts was not the same as our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ, I really wanted to say: “Absolutely! We preach a full Gospel, because the full Gospel is the love of Christ changing us then spilling out from our hearts and transforming everyone around us, and that’s what we’re all about.”
And this isn’t so much the Wesleyan way as the Jesus way, for John Wesley invented nothing new. He simply re-focused our attention on what One far greater than he had said centuries earlier. Love God, love people. Period. Do that, and you are the children of my Father in heaven.
In our zeal to change the world, let’s not lose sight of the proper order of things:
God must change us first. Only then are we in a position to be agents of God’s transformation in our world.
Don’t miss the phrase in Wesley’s quote. This religion of love, joy, and peace — what is its source? Its “seat” is “in the heart.” Only God can change the human heart! Peter observed regarding Cornelius and his family:
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:8-9, NIV).
One of Wesley’s favorite phrases was “holiness of heart and life.” Note the sequence: A holy heart will be demonstrated by a holy life. What God does inside of us through saving and sanctifying grace cannot help but transform our behavior, making us more and more like Jesus. This is the love of God that is “poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5, NIV). And the overflow of that love will not only change our sinful habits into righteous living but will engage those around us in winsome ways, our family, our communities, our nation, our world. Only then will people be able to say of us what they said of Paul and his companions in Ephesus: “These that have turned the world upside down are come here also…” (Ephesians 17:6, Jubilee Bible 2000).
I’m glad to follow the Wesleyan way, because it’s the Jesus way, the way of love. Have you experienced the life change that comes when you open yourself up to God’s powerful love?