ENTHUSIAST! & Do You Have Fair-weather Faith or Faith of a Son?

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: ENTHUSIAST! Finding a Faith that Fills (A 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs) (2018).

Day 4………………………………………………………….. Fair-weather Faith or Faith of a Son?

Imagine how Wesley felt on his voyage back to England: uncertain about ministry, uncertain about relationships and most distressingly, uncertain about death. He wrote, “Is he uneasy at the apprehension of death? Then he believeth not that ‘to die is gain’.”[1]

Enthusiast! 3D.jpgStormy relationships and more storms at sea reminded him he was not prepared to die. What began with such promise now ended in disgrace, a lawsuit and broken relationships. Describing his feelings about the mission’s promise and it’s failure he reflected, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near: but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say ‘to die is gain’.”[2]

Have you ever felt the same way? That squandered opportunities and the pull of sin make you fearful of meeting God? What happened to Wesley reminds us of what God wants to do for you.

Back in England Peter Bohler, a Moravian, cautioned John that good works and methods were no substitute for a saving faith that converts a person’s passions and happiness. Such faith saves a person not just eternally, but also from undue worry and debased passions. Wesley would later recall that in Georgia he had the faith of a “servant,” seeking to please God because of obligation and duty. But later he would experience the faith of a “son,” seeking to please God because of their relationship.

At this time Charles Wesley, who had also returned from Georgia, became ill and was attended by a saintly matron. Impressed by her faith Charles asked, “Then are you willing to die?” To which the matron replied, “I am, and would be glad to die in a moment.” After she left, Charles said he felt “a strange palpitation of heart” and declared, “I believe, I believe.”[3]

Though we are sometimes weak in faith and lack assurance, God promises that he can grow a “new heart” within us, as Ezekiel reminded the similarly downtrodden Israelites:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

A few days later, John attended evensong, an early evening service of prayers and psalms at stately St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The choir sang Purcell’s profoundly stirring anthem, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord” in which Wesley saw his own “godly yearning, mingled with heartfelt anguish.”[4]

After evensong Wesley ambled down the adjacent Aldersgate Street toward a Moravian Bible study. They were reading Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, where Luther reminds the reader that living out faith in the midst of persecution and judgment is key to our faith. When the following passage from the book was read, John’s life was forever changed: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1(12-13). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and brings with it the Holy Spirit.”[5]

In Wesley’s own words here is what happened next: “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[6]

From this moment a conversion to a new assurance took hold of Wesley’s life. No longer was his focus upon a successful career or cultivating friends and family. Rather the faith of a “son” characterized by assurance grew so that he would be ready to stand before God’s throne at any moment an be welcomed with the words, “Well done! You are a good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).

The lesson for today is: How is your assurance? And, how is your sonship? Do you have fair-weather assurance, where you are confident in your fate when death is absent? Do you have faith of a servant, simply obeying the Father out of obligation or fear. Or do you have faith of a son, who obeys God because of your relationship?

Lesson: Assurance of a Son Overcomes Fair-weather Faith

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Ask yourself, “Do I have a fair-weather faith, confident in my Christianity when everything is going well? For instance do you attend to spiritual matters (like Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship) when things are going well? Do you find it difficult to have peace and calmness when facing temptation or death?

Then ask yourself, “Is my relationship to God more like a servant or a son? Do I follow God as a servant might, because of obligation and duty? Or do I seek to follow and please God because of a relationship, because I am his child?

And can you say, “I am ready to stand before God’s judgment this very hour?” Can you say, “I have the assurance that if I were to die this instant, I would hear God say ‘’Well done! You are a good and faithful servant’.” (Matt. 25:23)

Read these verses about assurance and sonship. Then write down three things you have learned.

God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. This was so he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted. Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15).

And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13)

You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Finally, compose a one-paragraph prayer to God describing your assurance as His child.

Footnotes:

[1] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Hietzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), p. 207.

[2] ibid., 18:211

[3] Thomas Jackson, ed., The Journals of Rev. Charles Wesley (1838). Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980), 1:91-92

[4] Kenneth Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), p. 87.

[5] E. Theodore Bachmann, ed., Luther’s Works: Word and Sacrament I (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1960), 35:369.

[6] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Hietzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), pp. 249-250.

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