THIS WE BELIEVE
WEEK THREE: “SOLA CHARIS”
Intro: “The Bible is true. The Bible is true for me. The truth of this Bible should change the way I believe and behave.”
We’re in our fourth week in the series called, “This We Believe, Essential Christian Doctrine from a Wesleyan Perspective.” So far, we’ve talked about two beliefs: (1) JESUS IS LORD, and (2) THE BIBLE IS TRUE. Last week we began a discussion on Wesley’s Doctrine of Grace Here’s our building block Scripture regarding grace:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).
[Again, let me commend Dr. Steve Harper and his book on the Wesley’s theology of grace called, The Way to Heaven.]
Last week we went into detail defining biblical grace:
- Charis means: grace, favor, kindness. Charis has this idea of “being disposed to, inclined or favorable towards, leaning towards to share benefit.”
- In the case of God, he is leaning towards us to share in his benefit.
- The Lord’s favor is freely extended to give Himself away to people because He is “always leaning toward them.”
- Simply put: Biblical grace is getting what we don’t deserve (e.g., forgiveness, salvation, restoration, righteousness—and NOT getting what we do—unforgiveness, eternal death and damnation, separation from God, and continuing state of sinfulness.
I also stressed that we can’t experience God’s grace without first being in need of it. Therefore, we must understand the nature of ORIGINAL SIN. John Wesley once said , “We know no gospel without salvation from sin.”
Wesley’s classical definition of sin was, at its base, a broken relationship—either toward God or toward others. Sin doesn’t sneak up on us…it comes up out of us. And the result of sin is sickness. Wesley would use the term “corruption.” Because of sin HUMANITY IS SICK UNTO DEATH. Sin has struck at the root of what it means to be human.
If sin were just a “thing,” we might find some way to rid ourselves of it. But because sin is an infection of our humanity, the only option is transformation.
We can’t try hard enough, learn enough, worship enough, give enough, serve enough, or work enough to heal ourselves. Outside help is our only possible solution. Remember how Paul wrote about our helpless state and God’s great love earlier in Ephesians 2?
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient… 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
One of the effects of sin in our lives is that is makes us dead toward God. “Once you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” says Paul. Dead people can’t ask for help and they don’t even want to. People who are dead in their sins are under the illusion that they are just fine without God. They have a false sense of security and peace.
Were it not for the work of God through the Holy Spirit in the life of the unawakened sinner, he or she would remain oblivious of their need for salvation. This inner working of God is known by Wesleyans as PREVENIENT GRACE.
This is what we talked about last week. For Wesley, prevenient grace is the grace of God that operates BEFORE our experience of conversion. It is the activity of God before we give conscious thought to God or to our need of him. As Paul says in Romans 5:8, “While we are still sinners, Christ died for us.” The first move toward salvation is God’s, not ours.
Let’s deal with Wesley second order of Grace: JUSTIFYING GRACE. Other terms to describe God’s gracious work include: Converting Grace or Saving Grace. For it is by grace that you have been SAVED. God acted, we are saved.
It does us little good to be stirred up into some hope from our deadly state unless there is a way out of that state beyond ourselves. That’s were God steps in…AGAIN. Not only does God lean toward us and lead us toward himself by making us aware of our need for a cure to our sickness, but God then ACTS through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to make a way for ALL to be saved.
The act of salvation—from a Wesleyan point of view—has two sides: the divine side and the human side. [Stick with me! We are not saved because of anything humans do.] From the divine side, salvation is by GRACE ALONE: “SOLA CHARIS.” Wesley said , “There is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand.” Remember our theme verse: “For by grace you have been saved…”
It is only by divine action that anyone is saved. But God has acted! Through Jesus Christ, justice has been done and grace has been given. Listen to God’s Word in Romans 5:1-2. 1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
That word, justified, in Greek is δικαιόω (dikaióō) and it carries a legal meaning of being right, having judicial-approval; cleared of all charges. It means to be declared righteous. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who took the penalty for our sins, God our Judge has declared us RIGHT…CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN!
This is the divine initiative of God. He acted on our behalf. But there is the other side to salvation: the human side. If all it took for man to be saved was the divine will of God without a human response, there would be no need for repentance…turning away from the sin of self and turning toward God. From a human standpoint, salvation is by FAITH.
Let’s consider our theme verse again : For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Faith is the human response to divine grace. Now watch this : and THIS (faith) is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Even the faith that we exhibit is a gift from God. So, in another sense, it’s ALL GOD.
PREVENIENT GRACE enables us to make a faith response to God’s Saving Grace. And a faith response, for Wesley, involved two parts : Repentance and Belief.
Repentance has with it a basic idea of change. We can’t say we’ve repented when there’s been no change in our lives. Wesley called this change “a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” We have a change of heart where we once thought little of God and now recognize sin matters and it must be forsaken. We make a 180-degree turn.
Repentance affects our knowledge of ourselves. We now see ourselves as living apart from God. Here’s what Wesley urged his listeners: “Know thyself to be a sinner. Know that corruption of thy inmost nature. Know that thou art corrupted in every power.” In repentance we have a change of heart about our spiritual condition. Apart from God we are NOT okay!
Because of repentance, we also experience more change through conviction. It’s one thing to KNOW we are not right; it’s another to FEEL the weight of our spiritual condition apart from God.
In our conviction, God is impressing on our minds the fact of our guilt and our deserving of eternal destruction. Maybe that is why, during Halloween, so many young people fall under conviction when they visit a Judgment House at a local church.
But conviction, while heavy, is meant to be a positive action by God in our lives, not negative. When writing about the promise of the Lord’s return and why Has not already done so, the apostle Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9 NIV.
God WANTS us to return to Him. Conviction of our sinful state is meant to lead us to the final stage of repentance: a change of mind. Remember the Prodigal Son ? After he squandered his inheritance on loose living and found himself slopping hogs, he came to a new “self-revelation.” Even his father’s servants have it better than he does. But if it stopped at self-knowledge and conviction that he had messed up, he would never have received the freedom he had hoped for. It was not until he acted on his conviction. He engaged his will. The process of repentance was completed when he said, “I will set out and go back to my father.” That’s what repentance is: a determination to Go HOME.
But repentance is only part of the process of Saving Grace. The second part is equally vital: FAITH. It’s not enough to turn FROM something; we must turn TOWARD Someone. And that Someone is Jesus Christ. This necessitates our BELIEF in Jesus Christ as Savior.
BELIEF is not some intellectual assent to a creed or statement of faith. As good and right at creeds may be, they cannot save us. Only the Person of Jesus Christ can save us. For Wesley, saving faith…BELIEF in Christ included at least four aspects:
1. To put our confidence, our trust, in the mercy and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. Consider the prodigal son again. Faith gave him the confidence to know that when he returned home, he would be loved and forgiven. If had not believed that mercy would win out over judgment, he would never had gone home! We believe God is LOVE, and so belief fosters confidence. God is more willing to heal us than to hurt us, to receive us than to reject us!
2. We have the ASSURANCE. Not only are we confident of God’s love and forgiveness, but belief fosters a note of certainty that Jesus is truly the Son of God who has come to take away the sins of world.
3. Belief moves us to a RELIANCE on God to be the cure for our soul’s sickness rather than something or someone else.
When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” this is a statement of reliance on Christ to save us from our sins. The CROSS of Jesus is the focal point of our deliverance.
Finally, for Wesley, belief was ultimately expressed in OBEDIENCE. The true test of knowing Christ is whether or not we obey him. It’s one thing to profess faith, it’s another to live it out. A life of faith is a life of OBEDIENCE. And we don’t obey unless we turn from ourselves and turn toward a trustworthy God.
Repentance and Belief. These are the marks of Saving Grace. Remember how the Gospel of Mark records the beginning of Jesus’s ministry with his opening declaration: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 NIV) John the Baptist, likewise, gave the same command to the crowds.
Converting Grace…Saving Grace is a divine act (justification and righteousness) and a human response (repentance and faith). Let me put it one other way: The ACT of Jesus’s death upon the cross makes our justification POSSIBLE. Our response of repentance and faith in Jesus makes our justification EFFECTUAL.
So here’s the deal. Jesus Christ died for you. That’s a done deal. Have you turned and believed in Him? Have you made God’s SAVING GRACE actual? I’m convinced that every week we gather, there is at least one person who needs to REPENT and BELIEVE the Good News for the first time. Is that you? No manipulation. No emotionalism. You either know or you don’t. And if you don’t, then maybe its time to stop running and decide today to follow Jesus. Let’s pray.