Our Wesleyan Theology – Engaging the Word (XI)

One of the great movements of God’s Spirit in the Church Era was the First Evangelical Awakening in the middle of the 18th century. It moved through England and the United States and brought many people to faith in Christ. Two key British leaders in this revival were John and Charles Wesley.

God was able to work powerfully through the preaching of John Wesley because of both where and what he preached. He went out to the highways and byways of society to preach in the open air. He went out to where people lived and connected with many working people as they were going to their jobs. Many of these folks felt cut off from the upper middle class churches of the English cities. Many of these existing churches were very formal and moralistic and were anything but spiritually alive.

“While We Were Yet Sinners, Christ Died For Us”

Wesley’s message of God’s love and His acceptance of any person who repented of their sin and trusted Jesus , resonated with the lower classes. Many eagerly accepted the message of being adopted into God’s family through faith and receiving the full rights of heirs to God’s blessings. This healing message countered the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution on the working class. The working conditions of the large factories and mines were brutal and workers were many times treated as mere cogs in a big machine.

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Wesley not only strongly preached God’s acceptance of repentant sinners, but also had a robust teaching of how Christians could be set free from life-sapping bondages and grow in holiness of heart. Wesley clearly taught that when a person trusts the crucified Christ for the forgiveness of sins, he/she becomes regenerated by the Holy Spirit and is made a new creation in Christ. This new life in the Spirit makes it possible to live in victory over sinful habits.

As a Christian learns to yield to the indwelling Spirit of God, the Lord is able to circumcise or cut away from our hearts those self-centered tendencies which sabotage our devotion to the Lord and our love of others. Wesley was fully convinced that there was provision in the Gospel to set us free from anything that defiles God’s image in us. In the new Adam, Jesus, our new self can be recreated to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24).

Heart Holiness……………Relational Holiness

Wesley had a strong relational emphasis in teaching what the goal of the Christian faith should be. It is not so much as following an impersonal list of dos and don’ts, as it is learning to love God with a pure heart and loving others as yourself. This is in agreement with Jesus’ teaching. On one occasion, he was asked what is the greatest commandment in the Law by a scribe. He responded this way in Mathew 22:37-40:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

In other words, holiness is primarily a relational concept. It begins in our hearts as we allow God’s Spirit to purify us and empower us. The fruit of this inner work of the Spirit is then evidenced in our relationships with the Lord and other people.Wesley didn’t stop there. He showed his wisdom by developing a structure among his new converts which promoted this ongoing work of sanctification in his people’s lives.

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Wesley created small groups of believers who met weekly to encourage one another, to pray for one another, and to hold each other accountable to live a holy life. This was his “method” of teaching Christian discipleship to new believers which became enshrined in the name “Methodists”.  Eventually, to the surprise of John Wesley, Methodists became a Christian denomination which continues to this day.

The Church of the Nazarene is a denomination that arose out of the Holiness Revival in the late 1800s. Many of the first members of the Church of the Nazarene were revived Methodists. These historical roots explains to a large degree why Wesley’s teaching continues to exert a strong influence on Nazarene churches to this day. Wesley has not only influenced Nazarenes, but many parts of the worldwide Church. His teaching is very balanced and his focus on heart holiness and relational holiness aligns with the focus of Jesus’ teaching in the New Covenant.

QOTD: How is heart holiness in our lives related to our relational holiness?