The Path of Salvation
Each Christian tradition offers its own contribution to the theological discussion within the larger church. John Wesley’s approach to the Christian faith was based on the primacy of God’s grace at work in each person’s life. (John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement.)
1. Awareness of Original Sin
The story of Adam’s sin is really the story about human sinfulness, the abuse of our God-given free-will. We have alienated ourselves from God…“In Adam, all died,” (everyone comes into the world spiritually dead). “So in Christ, shall all be made alive,” (God, because of His grace, sent Christ to us to offer us eternal life.)
2. Prevenient Grace
Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before faith, the “still small voice” that beckons us. God calls us through His grace. Even before we know it, God is at work in our lives laying the groundwork for us to turn to Him. This prevenient grace is available to all people, not just to a predetermined “elect.”
3. Repentance (Surrender or Conversion)
Repentance involves two elements: 1) Self-knowledge: We stand before God as convicted sinners (conviction), not so much of our individual sins, but that our whole life is wrong: “Not that I stole, but that I am the kind of person who might steal;” and 2) Convincing Grace: God’s grace is also at work in leading us to repentance.
4. Justifying Grace
We are saved, not by works, but by faith alone (“sola fide”). At the moment of pardon, the image of God is restored; we are “born again.” As a result of repentance, we are set right with God.
5. Rebirth (Regeneration or New Birth)
Rebirth is not the same as Justification, but it happens at the same time. In Justification, God does something for us (He changes our outward relationship with Him). In Rebirth, God does something within us (He changes our inward selves). Therefore, we experience the Trinity in this way: God the Father: Creator of Life; God the Son: Redemption of Life; God the Holy Spirit: Renewal of Life.
Assurance is having trust and confidence in the merits of Christ that our sins are forgiven. Assurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit…the witness of the “Spirit bearing witness with our spirit” that we are redeemed children of God, thanks to Jesus Christ. This was what John Wesley experienced at a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, an event that changed the course of his life.
7. Sanctifying Grace (Personal Holiness)
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in making us more and more holy, and is our ultimate goal. It is a never-ending journey. Justification and Rebirth are essential, but they are only the beginning of a long process, directed by the grace of God. United Methodists do not emphasize “once saved, always saved,” as if salvation were an end in itself. Instead, we emphasize that, once saved, the believer then spends the rest of his or her life in growing into the likeness and image of Christ. “Salvation” is not merely a change of status before God; it describes the condition of our relationship with God. Even when saved, we are prone to sin and to backslide. Yet, even when we do, we can still ask for forgiveness and our relationship with God can be restored.
8. Entire Sanctification (Christian Perfection)
We constantly strive toward perfection into the image of God, that he intended for us in Creation before the Fall. To say we strive for perfection does not mean that we will not make mistakes, but that we will be made “perfect in love” . . . that we will become more and more like Christ. We believe that we can achieve “perfect love” by excluding sin from our heart.
9. Good Works (Social Holiness)
We are led to do good works because of our salvation, not in order to attain our salvation. As Jesus said, “A tree shall be known by its fruits,” and “A good tree bears good fruit.” United Methodism insists that personal piety and social action (charity and striving for justice) must go together.