Charles Wesley struggled to escape the gloomy cloud of condemnation that threatened to engulf him. He knew intellectually that Jesus had died for his salvation, but how could that dry theory be converted into a living hope. His failings were always before him, mocking him in his pitiful attempts to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Was salvation even possible when he fell so often?
Charles had once been more secure in his faith. Following the Methodist mantra of twenty-two questions of self-examination meant that salvation was something that was wrestled with daily. There was no doubt that there was a battle to be won. If anyone could save himself by his good works, Charles Wesley was doing his utmost.
While on his way to the new colonies of America, Charles became aware that his faith was more perilous than he realised. Perhaps he didn’t even know God at all. Sheer terror engulfed him as towering waves, and howling winds threatened to send the ship and all in her to their permanent rest on the bottom of the ocean. The palpable peace displayed by his Moravian travelling companions filled him with awe and amazement.
While in America, he had other experiences that demonstrated how little he knew of people and the world and how lacking he was in prudence and discernment. Returning to England a year later, his struggle continued. He had lost his faith. Was he ever to find it again?
Martin Luther had struggled with the same dilemma. He felt he had to do something to earn his salvation, but all his efforts came to naught. His epiphany occurred when the words “The just shall live by faith” resounded in his ears while making his way up the stone steps of the Scala Sancta on his hands and knees. He stood up and walked down those same stairs a different man.
Seven years later, Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. Unwittingly this launched the first whispers of the Protestant Reformation, which eventually became loud shouts of protest against the church’s long defended maxims and traditions.
As Charles Wesley read the preface to Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, the words exploded in his head like fireworks. “Why, do we then nothing? Do we work nothing for the obtaining of this righteousness? I answer: Nothing at all.”
The idea of needing to do nothing to obtain righteousness was both freeing…and frightening. Nothing? Could this really be? Was there really a way of securing peace of mind that was the complete antithesis to the methodical and meticulous scrutiny he constantly undertook of every thought, action and motive?
Jesus had done everything, and there was nothing more he had to do. The thought of God’s love for him and Jesus’s sacrifice for him filled Wesley’s heart to the brim with joy. In the following week, he wrote two hymns. One he titled Free Grace, but today we know it as: And Can it Be.
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused his pain;
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That you, my God, should die for me?
Salvation is not something that can be reduced to two opposing stances that we often simplistically label as truth and error. Instead, salvation is an issue of the heart. We are not saved because we know the correct facts. We are saved because we know our God. But what does it mean to know God?
We often describe God by three almost incomprehensible elements of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. But do these big words really tell us who God is? If we start off thinking of God as all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing, it is easy to conclude that He is controlling. After all, if He can do anything, be everywhere and knows everything, is He, in fact, watching me constantly to see if I am “naughty or nice?”
Amazingly, controlling is the exact opposite of what God actually is. God loves us enough to give us complete freedom to either choose to follow Him or choose to reject Him outright. Instead, we need to think of God in words that may sound less powerful but are actually more powerful – lovingkindness, tenderness, grace, and mercy.
He left his Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite his grace
Emptied himself in all His love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
What mercy this, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!
Jesus came to earth to show us the Father. As Jesus said to Phillip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:9 Jesus showed us the love of God for every person – male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. Most of all, Jesus showed us the humility of God, “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7.
As we see the love of God, it changes us. When we know that we are of infinite value in God’s eyes, we no longer drown in our feelings of worthlessness and shame. We no longer struggle in our feeble efforts to be worthy of salvation. There is nothing we have to do except accept it and then live out that love in our lives by loving others in the same way.
Jesus did not count heaven a place to be desired while we were lost. He left the heavenly courts for a life of reproach and insult, and a death of shame. He who was rich in heaven’s priceless treasure, became poor, that through His poverty we might be rich. We are to follow in the path He trod…He who is a child of God should henceforth look upon himself as a link in the chain let down to save the world, one with Christ in His plan of mercy, going forth with Him to seek and save the lost. (The Desire of Ages – Ellen G White – page 417)
Bound in Sin
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was new;
I rose, went out and followed You!
We may think that if we can do whatever we like, it will make us happy, but each successive sin causes us to spiral further down into the depths of misery. We not only hurt others. We also hurt ourselves as we search for more but instead get less and less. Nothing we can do of ourselves can free us. To escape the shame of our actions, we either use our addictions to make ourselves feel better or become blind to the person we really are. With both of these, we live a lie.
It is only by surrendering ourselves to God that we become truly free. God takes our stony hearts and gives us back a heart of flesh, a heart that can truly love him and love every human being we encounter. When we are connected to Jesus, we are fully alive and fully human. “Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36 When we see how we have been forgiven, it gives us a heart to forgive and accept others.
Every soul that refuses to give himself to God is under the control of another power. He is not his own. He may talk of freedom, but he is in the most abject slavery. He is not allowed to see the beauty of truth, for his mind is under the control of Satan. While he flatters himself that he is following the dictates of his own judgment, he obeys the will of the prince of darkness. Christ came to break the shackles of sin-slavery from the soul. (The Desire of Ages – Ellen G White – page 466)
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.
The woman caught in adultery huddled at the feet of Jesus, waiting with fear and trembling for the first hard rocks to strike. But they did not. She looked up, and amazingly, her accusers had gone. Jesus bent down, lifted her to her feet, and said, “Go and sin no more”. The feelings of shame and condemnation left her. Jesus knew who she really was, but despite that, He still loved her. It was the love of Jesus that changed her. She was now free to escape her past and become the person Jesus knew she already was.
“There is nothing more healing to the sinful heart than to be fully known and yet fully loved.” (See with New Eyes – Ty Gibson – page 55) The love of God changes us. We go from desperately trying to earn and deserve our salivation to resting in the salvation that God has freely given us. We are no longer driven by our attempts to remove the feeling of condemnation from our hearts. Instead, the love of God sustains and surrounds us. This is not cheap grace, where we are free to do what we want. This is costly discipleship, where we are willing to die to ourselves because of our love for God. We are now capable of being the person God knows we really are.
While the Christian’s life will be characterised by humility, it should not be marked with sadness and self-depreciation. It is the privilege of everyone so to live that God will approve and bless him. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should be ever under condemnation and darkness…We may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame and remorse. (The Great Controversy – Ellen G White – page 477)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1 NKJV