By Hal Knight
The heart of John Wesley’s message was the promise of a new life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The beginning of that new life was the new birth. By “new birth” Wesley did not mean a decision we make or an experience we have, but a transformation of the heart that shapes how we then live in the world. In his sermon “The Marks of the New Birth” Wesley says the new birth consists of the same three marks that Paul names in I Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love. This month I want to talk about faith.
By faith, Wesley is not speaking of a “national or speculative faith.” It is not an “assent to the claim “Jesus is Lord,” nor is it even an assent to the entire Bible. Wesley notes that Satan and his demons believe all of those things but are devils still.
We often speak of “the Christian faith” to mean teachings or beliefs. But while believing those teachings is necessary, it is not sufficient. Wesley advocated Christian orthodoxy, but not a dead orthodoxy. He wanted us not only to know about God, but to know God.
The new birth brings a living faith that enables us to both know and trust God. With regard to trust Wesley says in his sermon “Justification by Faith” that this faith is a “sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, that he loved me, and gave himself for me.”
We live in a world today that tempts us to put our trust in things other than God for guidance, meaning, assistance and fulfilment. But these things never satisfy; they disappoint and leave us empty. It is only trust in Jesus Christ that provides the foundation for the life we were created to have, a life that reflects the love of God into the world.
We trust in Christ because through faith we know God. In his “Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” Wesley describes faith as “that divine evidence whereby the spiritual man discerneth God and the things of God. It is with regard to the spiritual world what sense is with regard to the natural.” Just as we know the natural world we see through our five senses, we know God who we do not see through faith. To know God is to know God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and be transformed by that love so we begin to love as God loves.
Faith is not something we strive to have but a gift we receive. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. Let us then join with Charles Wesley in praying for the Spirit to give or renew us in this faith:
Spirit of faith, come down,
reveal the things of God
and make to us the God-head known,
and witness with the blood.
‘Tis thine the blood to apply
and give us eyes to see,
who did for every sinner die
hath surely died for me.