A modern take on John Wesley’s first sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford on June 18th, 1738.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
All the many blessings that God has given us are undeserved. It is a free grace that created mankind in the spiritual image of God, and is the same grace that God gives each of us today. There is nothing we can do or be, or works of our hands, or our minds, that can equal God’s free Grace, the gift of eternal salvation. The truth of Grace is not found in man, but in God.
So what about our sins? Can we do anything to atone for them, to make our personal relationship with God right? No. We are sinful, broken, and no matter how hard we try, remain so. We all “come short of the glory of God.” What could any of us do to equal Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? He took the sins of the world, throughout time and history, all of human sins, wickedness, vileness, my sins and your sins, upon Himself, and cleansed us, so that when we stand before God, we are pure in Him.
The only way we can have a personal relationship with God is to have the grace to accept His Grace! What else can we do but accept His grace. For “while we were yet sinners, Christ died” to save us “by grace” then “are you saved through faith.” Grace is the source, faith is the condition, of our salvation.
This leads us to two great questions: (Wesley had three, the third being how to argue against those who believe in human works, rather than faith)
1. What does it mean to have faith?
2. What is the salvation we receive through this faith?
Faith is a belief in Jesus Christ. This belief is not a cold, rational thing, but is a condition of the heart. The Bible tells us that “With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness” and, “if thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thy heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.” This faith realizes the necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection as the restoration of us to a eternal life with Him. He was “delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” Christian faith is the full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of His life, death, and resurrection; a belief that he has atoned for our sins, and dwells within us, as we hold to him as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” or in one word, our salvation.
So what is salvation? It is something attainable for all of us, by all those who decide to have faith in Him. This salvation is the Grace of God. The entire world of man is guilty before God. But he paid the price for our sins, we are saved from the divine judgment of God. None of us are perfect enough to attain heaven. In fact we should all be sent to Hell based on our sins. But Christ sacrificed so that we might be saved for eternity, that we can be in communion with God, to have a personal relationship with him. “So God gave his only begotten son, that whomsoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” We are justified by Jesus’ gift of Grace. We have been forgiven in God’s divine court, not by our doing, but through Christ.
As we have been saved from guilt, we have been saved from fear. We do not have to fear eternal torment, punishment, or the wrath of God, as “They have not received again the spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father: the Spirit itself also bearing witness with their spirits, that they are the children of God.” We all fall short of the Glory of God, but through the Grace of God “neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Through our faith, we are saved from the power of sin, as well as from the guilt of it. As the Apostle states, “You know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. Whosoever abides in him sins not. (1 John 3:5). “Whosoever is born of god, does not commit sin for his seed (Jesus) remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
So this is the salvation which is through faith; a salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin. This means we have been justified by Christ’s sacrifice for us. This implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment by the atonement of Christ’s blood, a deliverance from the power of sin, so that any who believe in Him is justified, or saved by faith. This is what we mean by being born again. We are born again in the spirit, born into a new Christian life in relationship with God.
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, along with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, all our blessings, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might, for ever and ever, Amen.