4 Economic Points to Wesley’s Picture of Salvation

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purse with old coins in long background

John Wesley didn’t view salvation as merely a matter of ‘getting to heaven’. He didn’t see it as merely a future state. Rather, he viewed salvation as a new kind of transformed life—which can begin now.

Theologically, we might say that a Wesleyan view of salvation is not merely about being declared righteous. It is also about being made righteous, as we cooperate with God’s sanctifying grace.

Four Wesleyan-inspired points about the nature of salvation have ready application to our financial habits and choices:

First, God’s grace can and should penetrate every aspect of a person’s life. Wesley’s understanding of ‘total depravity’ was that sin affects every aspect of our lives. Equally, God’s grace is seen as totally transformative: penetrating every aspect our lives. This includes financial aspects of our lives.

Our attitudes toward the poor are part of who we are as persons, whom God is seeking to transform. So God will be concerned with these attitudes. The same with the liberality with which we give. The same with the purchases we make. The same with our willingness to share, and to give honest reports at work, and to work hard at tasks we’ve been given which seem menial. Every aspect of our lives should show evidence of God’s grace at work in us. For God’s grace is meant to penetrate absolutely every area of our lives.

Second, God’s grace should continue to sanctify every aspect of a person’s life. For Wesley, our interactions should be more and more characterized by “holy love.” Whether a new Christian or a Christian of many years, we should all show signs of being more generous than last year, more willing to share, more apt to work hard at menial tasks, more restrained in making purchases.   Speaking for myself, I don’t see how this is remotely possible with some kind of system of accountability to others. And if you’re familiar with Wesley, you’ll know that small group accountability was a major theme of his description of the Christian life.

This leads us naturally to the third point: God saves us to a community. I myself find that we Christians in the Protestant tradition are usually capable of very good descriptions of what we’re saved from when God saves us from a life of sinful self-destruction. But I think we often fail to offer an equally rich description of what we’re saved to. The briefest description, I think, is that we’re saved to a community of loving fellowship with God and with others in whom God’s Spirit dwells. But the way this communal life is often under-described makes me wonder if it is also under-practiced in many Christian communities. As one initial point relevant to our topic, part of what it is to be ‘saved to a community’ is to be saved to group discussions about our financial choices and habits.

Fourth, personal and social holiness cannot be separated. Part of Wesley’s emphasis on the connection between personal and social holiness has to do, once again, with the need for mutual accountability as we think through our choices and habits (including financial ones). But I think part of this connection between the personal and the social also has to do with the nature of “holy love”, which is the organizing theme in Wesley’s theology. Love is obviously a relational pursuit. To say that someone is loving is to describe some relational attribute he or she has. So, personal holiness isn’t something that we hope will be manifested in our relationships with others. Personal holiness is largely a matter of relating to others—to God and to other people—in a certain way. And in our capitalist system, our financial transactions (making money through work and making purchases) are a constant way we’re relating to others.

When I think about Wesley’s description of the Christian life as we allow God’s grace to penetrate us, on the one hand it all seems so daunting. But on the other hand, all this is actually really good news! It’s a positive description of the life we can have in Christ. And that life will always prove to be a good one for the person who is truly living it.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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