by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 2018.
The Faith of a Son or Daughter
Stormy relationships and more storms at sea reminded John Wesley he was not prepared to die. The ministry that began with such promise had ended in disgrace, a lawsuit, and broken relationships. Describing his feelings about the mission’s promise and its failure, he realized that though he had gone to the colonies to convert native Americans, he too was in need of a spiritual change. He knew he needed a spiritual change because “when no danger was near” he could believe, but when facing death his spirit was troubled.” 1 He lamented that could not say, like the apostle Paul; “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21 NIV).
Have you ever felt the same way—that squandered opportunities and the shame of sin make you fearful of meeting God? Wesley’s experience points us toward the spiritual change God wants to make in you.
Once John arrived back in England, Peter Bohler, a Moravian, cautioned him that good works and methods were no substitute for a faith that saves a person not only from eternal punishment but also from undue worry and debased passions in this life. John would later recall that, in Georgia, he had had the faith of a “servant,” seeking to please God because of obligation and duty, but that he later came to experience the faith of a “son,” seeking to please God because of their father-son relationship.2
After returning from Georgia, Charles Wesley became gravely ill and was attended by a godly woman. Impressed by her faith, Charles asked, “Then are you willing to die?” 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” (Ezek. 36:25–26).
A few days later, John attended evensong, an early evening service of prayers and psalms, at stately Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The choir sang Purcell’s profoundly stirring anthem “Out of the Deep Have I Called,” 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. He arrived to find the group reading Martin Luther’s Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, in which Luther reminds readers that living out faith fosters a newness and an assurance. 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
Assurance of one’s relationship with God overcomes fair-weather faith.
From that moment of conversion, a new assurance took hold of Wesley’s life. No longer was he focused upon a successful career or cultivating relationships with friends and family. Instead with faith like that of a son, characterized by assurance of salvation, grew so that he would be ready to stand before God’s throne at any moment and be welcomed with the words, “Well done! You are a good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). Formerly John’s career as a churchman and a theologian had focused on his efforts to serve God with strict rules and precise theology. But after his Aldersgate experience, John saw that his relationship with God as a son of a heavenly Father meant that rules and theology serve the relationship, rather than the other way around.
The lesson for today is that assurance of salvation moves us beyond a fair-weather faith that is dependent upon circumstance. Instead, assurance grows in us the faith of a daughter or son, reminding us that we possess our heavenly Father’s genetics. We represent Him not because we are His servants but because we are His family, doing so with the graciousness, forgiveness, and joyfulness He exemplifies.
[Special block or other formatting.] For personal devotion, read the questions, 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 only when everything is going well? Do I attend to spiritual matters (like Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship) only when times are good? Do I find it difficult to have peace and calmness when facing temptation or death?”
Then ask, “Is my relationship to God more like that of a servant or of a daughter or 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?”
Can you say, “I am ready to stand before God’s judgment this very hour,” or, “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’”?
Read these verses about assurance. Then write down three things you have learned.
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. (Eph. 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.’ (Rom. 8:14–15)
You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal. 3:26–27)
Finally, speak out a short prayer to God, describing your assurance as His enthusiastic child.
Speaking hashtag: #Kingswood2018