The Christian Way Is the Way of Repentance

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The Wesleyan way is a way of repentance. This is why we decided to devote an entire chapter in The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way to repentance. It’s the engine along which we make our way to Christian perfection.

Now, this is not to say that we are the ones who power that engine. In “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” Wesley argues that the only condition for justification is faith, and faith alone. Sola fideas the Reformers put it. And any righteousness we have is Christ’s alone. Sola Christus. Wesley is entirely committed to the Reformation principles.

But like the great Reformers, he also knows this insight is no excuse for any lifestyle whatsoever. Those who receive the gift of faith, and are thereby united to Christ, receive Christ himself, and so will come to emulate him. John Calvin put it like this:

Although we may distinguish (justification and sanctification), Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness. (Institutes, 3.16.1)

Luther speaks a similar message. As he comments on Psalm 51:

It is well known that the new obedience in the justified brings with it the daily growth of the heart in the Spirit who sanctifies us, namely, that after the battle against the remnants of false opinions about God and against doubt the Spirit goes on to govern the actions of the body so that lust is cast out and the mind becomes accustomed to patience and other moral virtues. (Luther’s Works 12:381)

Wesley’s theological interest lay entirely in the path whereby we come to emulate Christ by the Spirit who sanctifies. And this path, Wesley saw, was a path of repentance from start to finish. In “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” he puts it like this:

I allow there is a repentance consequent upon, as well as a repentance previous to, justification. It is incumbent on all that are justified to be zealous of good works. And there are so necessary, that if a man willingly neglect them, he cannot reasonably expect that he shall ever be sanctified; he cannot grow in grace, in the image of God, the mind which was in Christ Jesus. (III.5)

Sanctification, good works, and holiness are all poured out on the one who repents. The Christian life is a life of repentance. Christians are those who have been justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And that very same Christ would so consume our hearts that, as St. Paul put it in Romans 6, sin would have no dominion over us.

This is the theological insight that drove Methodism’s distinctive structure – the Societies. What were the qualifications for those entering the Methodist Societies? “A desire to flee the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” The class and band structures were designed to foster increased awareness of the depth of sin in the human life, and to guide their participants into deeper degrees of repentance. The way of repentance leads to holiness.

The Methodist Bands especially reveal the depths to which Wesley sought to guide the Methodists along the way of repentance. His first question was,

1. “What known sins have you committed since out last meeting?” Sin is “willful violation of a known law.” So the question asks straightforwardly, what have you done that is sin full stop – you knew it was sin and you did it anyway? But the Band doesn’t stop there. It goes on to ask other questions: “2. What temptations have you met with? 3. How were you delivered? 4. What have you thought, said, or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not? 5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?”

The questions asked in the Band press beyond known sin into unknown, and seeks to clarify the sin by its telltale sign: guilt, shame, secrecy.

The Methodist way is a way of repentance. The way of repentance leads to the fullness of life in Christ, even to entire sanctification. This was Wesley’s peculiar insight within Protestantism – the path set out by the Reformed solae leads all the way to the fullness of divine love in the soul. That is the full flowering of faith for which we are intended.

The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way is a 12-session study packed with dynamic illustrations and compelling analogies that explore the key elements of the Wesleyan movement. The lessons work through three primary sections: John Wesley’s life, his core theological message, and the legacy of Wesley’s leadership on the Methodist church. Like its predecessor, The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith, this book can be studied individually, but is designed for group use. The accompanying videos are perfect for new member or confirmation classes, and for small-group or youth group settings. Pre-order your copy from our store here.

Perfect for:

  • Confirmation classes
  • Newcomer classes
  • Families
  • New Christians

In these pages you’ll:

  • Find a robust catechesis presented perfectly for a modern audience
  • Discover difficult biblical concepts explained simply and visually
  • Be equipping new Christians and younger audiences with a language with which to explore, discuss, and ask questions about how the big story of Scripture connects to everyday life

Rich in both history and faith-building, this study walks readers of all ages through a fundamental understanding of the value of scripture, prayer, communion, spiritual relationships, and the power of salvation, as evidenced in the life and teachings of John Wesley. As readers grow in their personal knowledge and understanding of God’s truths, this book gives them the perfect tools to carry their faith into the future.

Get it from our store here!

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Justus Hunter (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Church History at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of If Adam Had Not Sinned: The Reason for the Incarnation from Anselm to Scotus. You can find him on Twitter: @JustusHunter.

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