Tag Archives: Salvation

Ellsworth Kalas ~ Advent with Charles Wesley: Singing all the Way

Here at the beginning of another Advent season I ponder again that I didn’t know there was such a thing as Advent until I was a young man. In the Methodism of my childhood we began singing Christmas hymns and carols as soon as we heard them on the radio, which was of course at the beginning of the shopping season. It was a while before I fell in love with Charles Wesley’s great Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

This hymn is one of Charles’ first, published in 1744 in a little 24-page booklet, Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord. Before I go further, however, let me say that there was a certain logic in our singing Christmas carols weeks before Christmas. After all, why sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” when he was already here?

It took me a while to realize that I needed to sing the Old Testament so I was ready to sing the New. That is, we need to recognize how our world got lost; only then will we understand why God sent his Son to find it. I had to remember that we humans have needed Jesus from the time we stumbled out of Eden, and that our hearts have longed for him ever since Eve heard that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. When Charles Wesley prays, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,” he is reminding us that our longing for Jesus is as old as the human heart.

We also need to remember that while Jesus came to our planet some twenty centuries ago, he hasn’t yet come to every heart. Charles Wesley said that Jesus was born to set his people free. But we aren’t all free. As we go through shopping malls where the music tells us consecutively that Mommy was seen kissing Santa Claus and that there’s joy to the world, God is not much in the thoughts of those hurrying through the stores. Know it or not, most of them are still waiting for Jesus to come.

And still more. Our grand Wesleyan message offers a full salvation. Wesley put it succinctly. Jesus was “born a child and yet a King,” and as a King he was “born to reign in us forever.” Christmas is wonderfully sentimental, and I confess unashamedly that I love every moment of its sentiment. But there’s something tough about Christmas, too. Jesus has come, not to be cuddled, but to be our King.

That’s a tough word. Jesus isn’t waiting to be elected president. He isn’t hoping for the last precinct to raise him to office. He is King, whether I vote for him or not. The question, rather, is whether I acknowledge him as my King and become part of his Kingdom. Specifically, whether I am ready to grow up into his likeness, by submitting to his will.

So it’s Advent, and it’s just in time. Because in the Kingdom of my soul there’s an area hidden away from the King, recent territory where I haven‘t yet let him in. It’s time for Advent, time to make full room for our King.


Featured image courtesy Unsplash.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Be of Sin the Double Cure

Familiarity sometimes breeds dullness. It’s true in the whole of life; it is especially true in the way we hear things and reflect on what we hear. The hymns we sing are a great example of this. If we have sung them often, we are so familiar with the tunes that we sing the words by rote. Not only do we not reflect on the meaning of the words, the words don’t even register in our minds.

An example is one of our most familiar hymns, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. In the very first stanza of the hymn, one of the great themes of the Christian faith is stated in such a unique way that it should lodge firmly in our minds.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

The image is a powerful one: Rock of Ages. This was a favorite metaphor for the Psalmists.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
      my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
     He is my shield and the horn of mu salvation, my stronghold.
I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
     And I am saved from my enemies.” (Psalm 18:2-3 NIV)

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call on you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been a refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe. (Psalm 61:1-3 NIV)

In the little country Baptist Church where I was converted, we sang a gospel song based on this Psalm/Prayer. Ray Steven made it popular later on.

Why don’t you lead me to the rock that is higher than I?
Oh lead me to the rock, yes lead me to the rock.
Why don’t you lead me to the rock that is higher than I?
Thou hast been a shelter for me.

Our minds are swirling around the notion of God as our rock, and finding the shelter of a mighty rock as we come to the petition, “be of sin the double cure.” If we stop to think about it, we may be so puzzled by the language that we don’t stay with it long enough to ponder what the poet is talking about. Yet, it is a clear expression of what salvation is all about.

Too many think of salvation in a limited way: the forgiveness of sin and nullifying guilt. It is far more than that, and this verse of the hymn expresses it so solidly: “Be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure.”

Salvation is pardon, yes; but it is also power … power over sin. We are saved from the guilt of sin by the forgiveness of Christ, but we are also saved from the ongoing power of continuing sin. Salvation is a double cure. Another hymn writer expressed it this way,

My sin—not in part but in whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it not more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!    (H.G. Spafford, It Is Well With My Soul)

Not in part but in whole … nothing partial; “saved to the uttermost” as Wesley would say. Wesley believed that the Bible clearly taught that God had wedded holy living and salvation by faith alone into one inseparable whole. The dual emphasis on what God does “for us” through Christ, and what Christ does “in us” through the Holy Spirit is one of Wesley’s greatest contribution to the Christian Church.

Even before God revealed himself so clearly in Jesus Christ, the Psalmist knew there had to be a “double cure.”

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. (Psalm 103:2-5 NIV)

So the hymn writer is on target when he talks about the Rock of Ages providing a double cure. We can “hide” ourselves in him because he forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases; he saves from wrath and makes us pure. This is as it should be, and as it must be. Charles H. Spurgeon made the case in this fashion,

“To be washed, and yet to lie in the mire; to be pronounced clean, and yet to have the leprosy white on one’s brow, would be the veriest mockery of mercy. What is it to bring the man out of his sepulcher if you leave him dead? Why lead him into the light if he is still blind?” (All of Grace, p. 95)

So we pray, “Be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure”




NOTE: We Methodist/Wesleyans like to say, “We sing our faith.” And we do. Ellsworth Kalas is a person who has reflected a great deal on the richness of our Wesleyan Accent in song. This week, we will begin a regular posting of Kalas’ reflections on a Wesleyan hymn. Don’t miss it.

Kevin Watson ~ Christianity with a Wesleyan Accent: Wesleyan Doctrine

Though Wesleyans are most committed to offering Christ, not to being distinct from other Christian traditions, there are differences in Christian traditions because various parts of the body of Christ articulate their faith with differing emphases or nuances. And although Wesley was primary focused on offering Christ, he was not indifferent to Christian beliefs or practice. The next three posts, then, will seek to understand Wesley’s call to “hold fast” to “the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” (John Wesley, “Thoughts upon Methodism,” Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, 9:527)

As a reminder, my first post concluded as follows:

In short, Wesleyans believe that God wants to make us holy, now, in this life. This conviction is at the heart of Wesleyan doctrine, it infused the spirit of early Methodism, and a practical approach to becoming holy was traced out in early Methodist discipline. We do not have a monopoly on holiness within Christianity. But Wesleyans are sometimes so passionate about it that we sound almost as different to outsiders as an Irishman does in Oklahoma.

The goal of this post, then, is to describe the key ways that John Wesley articulated Christian doctrine with a particular accent. In 1746, Wesley used the image of a house to describe the “main doctrines” of Methodists. He wrote, “Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three, that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness. The first of these we account, as it were, the porch of religion; the next, the door; the third is religion itself.” (Wesley, “The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained”; in Works 9:227)

In other words, repentance brings someone to the threshold of a relationship with the living God. Faith brings them across the threshold into a new relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And holiness is the way that a person, after beginning a relationship with God, is enabled to move all of their life into God’s house.

Wesley begins with repentance because he believed that we are lost and we can only be found by Christ. For Wesleyans, all are in need of rescue, and we cannot rescue ourselves. Repentance is important because often, consciously or not, we are trying to save ourselves by our own efforts. As Wesley put it, “none can trust in the merits of Christ till he has utterly renounced his own.” (Wesley, “Salvation by Faith”; in Works 1:127) When we have stopped looking at ourselves and attempt to turn our eyes to Christ, we find that we are, by God’s amazing grace, standing on the front porch of God’s house.

When Wesley proclaimed the gospel, faith in Christ was at the center of his message. Wesley defined faith as “a divine evidence and conviction, not only that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’, but also that Christ ‘loved me, and gave himself for me’.” (Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation”; in Works 2: 161) Wesley believed that the two major moves in the Christian life, justification (pardon or forgiveness) and sanctification (being made like Christ), were both the result of faith. Indeed, he firmly stated that “faith is the condition, and the only condition, of justification.” And when he turned his attention to sanctification he repeated the emphasis on faith, stating that it “is the condition, and the only condition of sanctification, exactly as it is of justification.”

Wesleyans, then, are passionate that all people need to repent of their sins, their separation from God, and their tendency to rely on themselves instead of on God. The call for repentance is so that people can be offered Christ and invited to faith in Christ, which brings forgiveness of past sins, reconciles our relationship with God, and enables us to look to Christ as the source of our transformation. Faith, then, enables people to cross the threshold of God’s house.

To be fair, for the most part, what has been said so far really just represents basic affirmations of the Protestant Reformation. However, when Wesleyans speak about holiness, and the extent to which we can move all of our lives into God’s house in this life, our accent begins to become more pronounced.

In a letter Wesley wrote a year before his death, he described entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, as “the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up.” In other words, at the end of his life as Wesley looked back on the Methodist movement, he saw the doctrine of entire sanctification as the major reason God raised up the people called Methodists. So what is entire sanctification?

For Wesley, entire sanctification is the result of taking the possibilities of being made holy that are offered to us in Christ to its logical conclusion. How holy can we become in this life? Completely holy.

What is complete holiness? Here, I will let Wesley speak for himself: “Entire sanctification [is] a full salvation from all our sins, from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief, or, as the Apostle expresses it, ‘Go on to perfection.’ But what is perfection? . . . Here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul.” (John Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” in Works, 2:160)

Full salvation from all our sins comes through faith in Christ. The ability to love to the exclusion of sin is also given through faith. Of course, much more could (and probably should) be said about Wesleyan doctrine. (Also, the next two posts will discuss the way in which the spirit and discipline of early Methodism were essential to bringing Methodist doctrine to life.) On Wesley’s own terms, however, one should not say less when discussing the doctrine that Wesley believed gave early Methodism the form and power of godliness.

When Wesleyans proclaim Christ they do so in a way that acknowledges the reality of the human condition and the extent of our separation from God, as well as the ways that we harm each other. But above all else, we proclaim salvation that brings not only forgiveness, but that also brings healing. In the words of Charles Wesley’s well-worn hymn, Jesus “breaks the power of canceled sin.” When we turn away from ourselves and put our faith in Christ, we are given forgiveness, a new start, and the power to live for Christ.

Praise the Lord!

Andrew C. Thompson ~ Salvation: The Church’s First Mission

H. Richard Niebuhr summed up the mainline Protestant view on the coming kingdom of God with the statement: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Sharp words. Niebuhr was writing in the 1930s. But it might as well have been yesterday. Many Christians in our culture still get queasy about the stark biblical picture of salvation, preferring to focus on things like human betterment and societal progress.

Methodists in America have long bought into the “progress” approach that Niebuhr lamented, not only ignoring the fact that such progress is a myth but also watching their churches decay as a result.

My own denomination is the United Methodist Church, but it is only one of many Wesleyan or Methodist churches in our society. Alongside the UMC are the Nazarenes, the Free Methodists, the Wesleyan Church, the AME, the CME, and the AMEZ Churches, along with many others. For any of them that want to have a real and vibrant future, I would say this: Take heed of Niebuhr’s criticism and take a long look in the mirror.

I’m suggesting that the path to renewal is theological and doctrinal. And I think it will require a lot of repentance on the part of ourselves and our churches. This won’t be easy. But here’s the good news: We already have the resources in our tradition to do it.

Once upon a time, the mission of Methodism was about salvation. When John Wesley was giving advice to his junior preachers, he told them, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.”

It’s a wonderful statement. But for it to mean anything, you have to first believe that people have souls that need saving.

Wesley also believed that the reason the Methodist movement had been raised up by God in the first place was “to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.” Spreading scriptural holiness is what salvation looks like when it is embodied in local congregations. Through lives transformed by the power of God’s grace, whole communities can begin to look and act differently.

Again, a wonderful idea. But for it to mean anything, you have to believe that the church is full of broken people who need to be healed.

We now live in a society marked by two great forces: our economic system of consumer capitalism and our political system of liberal democracy. The former focuses on meeting the “felt needs” of individual consumers; the latter centers on the rights and liberties of individual citizens.

Put together, the result is a culture that lionizes the individual. And the influence of that on the life of the church cannot be overstated.

In a society where the individual reigns supreme, the one thing to avoid at all costs is calling an individual’s choices, values and “needs” into question. That means personal sin is out, because sin manifests itself first in the lives and actions of individuals. So the idea of a necessary transformation of the person through grace is taboo.

What does missional outreach look like in such a culture?

Not what it used to. Take the individual out of the picture and you’re left with trying to mimic the best of what is going on in the larger society.

In my own denomination, that mimicry is found in the slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” It says to anyone who will listen that our church will never threaten you. You can come and worship with us without fear that you’re risking anything in the process. We’ve made tolerance into the supreme virtue, so don’t worry about anyone pressuring you to deny yourself and take up your cross.

It’s a brilliant marketing ploy in a society defined by consumer individualism. There’s nothing scriptural about it, of course. But in a secular society where everyone’s worth hinges on being accepted as is, the church that defines itself by its “openness” sounds like it’s on the cutting edge.

Social activism then becomes the flip side of the church’s refusal to engage in calling individual sinners to repentance. We know we should be doing something for Jesus, so we look to what enlightened people in society at large are doing and focus our attention there. That usually results in a list consisting of ending poverty, stopping genocide, fighting AIDS and reversing global warming. So we join in, usually from the comfort of our living room by writing a check and joining a Facebook group.

Nowadays everybody wants to “make Methodism a movement again.” Nice thought, but it isn’t going anywhere until we come to grips with what we’ve lost. Circuit riders once held convictions about sin and salvation so dearly that they braved any risk to preach the gospel to isolated communities that others couldn’t reach. They often died as young men from their labors.

And yet, what they knew firsthand has been largely forgotten by us.

Relearning it means reclaiming the first task of the church as proclaiming salvation—a salvation that is about an inward change of the heart and that results in an outwardly changed life.

To receive that salvation, we must by God’s grace recognize our utter sinfulness and repent. The humility that comes through such contrition opens our hearts to receive God’s saving grace. And through the reality of the new birth we can start on the path of sanctification.

Thereafter, our participation in the means of grace God has provided us will so transform us that we will naturally show our faith through our works. Holiness will increase throughout our lives, as we move toward perfection in Christ.

Wesley called this journey the “Scripture way of salvation.” Though experienced by individuals, it is not individualistic. It’s always social and always occurs in the community we call church.

Moreover, the kind of social action that Methodists get excited about will also follow. But it will be something other than a psychological salve, because it will be personally engaged by a sanctified people and will be rooted in their own local communities. That’s the only real way scriptural holiness ever spreads.

God doesn’t need another lumbering denomination with an identity crisis. But what God could use is a people who understand that their first calling remains their sole reason for existence: to proclaim the evangelical gospel of God’s saving grace to needy sinners, so that they might be transformed in holiness and led to share the good news with a broken and hurting world.



(This essay originally appeared in a different form in the United Methodist Reporter. Used by permission.)

Kimberly Reisman ~ Aha Moments and the Kingdom of God

I’m excited about what’s unfolding at A Wesleyan Accent. We’ve got a group of younger voices in the Methodist/Wesleyan world who have a great deal to offer those of us seeking to live out the Christian life “with a Wesleyan accent” in the Kingdom of God. One of those is Phil Tallon. Recently, Phil wrote a piece on teaching youth about justification that really struck a chord in me. I believe he’s spot on to connect it with allegiance to a new kingdom.

Justification (or more formally – justification by grace through faith) is that aha moment when you see things in a new light. Like that moment when instead of seeing the wine glass, you suddenly see the two silhouettes. Or when you’ve struggled to get a concept in math for what seems like forever, but then things click and you suddenly just get it.

In Christian tradition, especially when spoken with a Wesleyan accent, we associate that moment with a realization of sin and the need for pardon and forgiveness – our need and Christ’s self-giving on the cross intersect and we suddenly just get it. That’s an amazing moment, but it’s usually a moment that’s taken a while to arrive.

The challenge Phil points out in dealing with youth, I think is the same challenge we face in the context of our wider culture – we don’t feel sufficiently guilty about our sin to feel the weight and impact of pardon. It’s not that we aren’t guilty, or that we might not eventually come to the realization of our need – as I said, that aha moment usually takes a bit of time to arrive. But to start there no longer makes sense in our self-esteem worshiping, everyone-gets-a-trophy culture.

As my mentor Billy Abraham has said, some things may need to be said before other things can be said.

One of the things that may need to be said before other things can be said involves trust. At its core, in the Kingdom of God, faith is about trust. So the question for everyone is who do you trust? Where does your ultimate trust lie? Is it in God or something/someone else? Is it in God’s authority over your life or something/someone else’s authority over your life?

A few weeks ago I was in Budapest, Hungary for a United Methodist meeting. While there I was able spend time with folks from the Methodist Church of Hungary as well as other Hungarians in the Methodist/Wesleyan family. They know all too well the importance of choosing who and what will hold your ultimate trust and allegiance.

Hungary has an amazing history – over 1,000 years – with much of it spent under the rule of outsiders. Most recently, Hungary suffered under the totalitarian authority first of the Nazis and then the Soviets. Only since 1989 have they been free to govern themselves. During those years of oppression, Hungarians faced a daily choice: where and with whom would they place their ultimate trust and allegiance? Would they trust the Nazis? Would they trust the Communists? Or would they trust in the authority of God? Would their ultimate allegiance be to the Kingdom of God, even as it lay hidden from their sight?

In the U.S. it’s easy to assume that our choice isn’t as significant because our government isn’t oppressive in the ways that the Nazis or Communists were. But that assumption is deeply flawed. Placing our ultimate trust and allegiance in any government or political system is a dangerous mistake. Even a quick review of U.S. history (which, among other things, includes slavery, Jim Crow, and the forced sterilization of people with disabilities) makes that fact painfully obvious.

So we’re back to the question of trust. Where does your ultimate trust lie? To what authority will you be most fundamentally accountable?

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6.10-12, NLT)