It has come to my attention that in my desire to properly describe theological concepts, I have lost folks in translation. The terminology plus my understanding of how salvation works can and should be better described. The following is my attempt to explain the process of salvation as understood by John Wesley, Methodism as a school of thought, and myself.
Salvation is not a momentous event or one that “happens” and can be looked back on. No, rather salvation is a process, a journey! Salvation can be summed up somewhat in the following illustration of “God’s house”:
First, we start with Prevenient Grace, illustrated by the sidewalk leading up to the house. This is the grace that lives in all of us, even before we accept Christ into our lives. It is the prompting of the Spirit of God, a nudging and an urging within us from our being created in God’s image. It shows that God loves us so much that He is willing to take the first step to reconcile us to Him. However, even though He takes this first step we have the choice to accept it or not, that is our free will. We cannot initiate the process of salvation, which is why all men are condemned to an eternal separation from God.
Once you have reached the house, you climb to the porch. The porch of the house represents Repentance. Without sincere repentance and a desire to reconcile with God, one cannot enter God’s house.“Know that corruption of thy inmost nature, whereby thou are very far gone from original righteousness,” Wesley wrote. “Know that thou are corrupted in every power, in every faculty of the soul, that thou art totally corrupted in every one of these, all the foundations being out of course.” This self-knowledge is what allows us to begin the reconciliation between Sinner and Redeemer. In more legalistic terms, this is where the second party concedes to the terms of the “contract”, that is, Redemption from Sin and Death.
Now comes the sticky part for many Christians. Figure 1 in the diagram above, as crude as it is, shows the doorway into God’s house. This “doorway” into the a relationship with Christ is a two-parter. First comes Justification. Among many Baptist and other Christian denominations, this part of God’s saving grace is the beginning and the end of the entire salvation process. In a legalistic tradition it is viewed as a contract that is signed and agreed upon. However, in most groups of Christian intelligentsia and scholars, the process in which a human is lifted up from Sin is a process, not a singular transaction. Justification, or justifying grace, is the kicking-off point for the New Birth; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17 ESV). The New Birth, as John Wesley understood it, is that moment in which you are given new Life. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (Eph 2:4-5 ESV) The issue now is recognizing that Justification, what one might call “being saved”, does not necessarily occur at the same time as the New Birth. In fact, I would argue that in more cases than not the sinner is justified and sometime later experiences the New Birth, that is, regeneration through the giving of new Life by the Holy Spirit. Justification, being not self-justifying works but rather the forgiveness of sins, must necessarily occur before a fundamental change happens to the soul of the newly Redeemed.
Whew! So we have opened the door and are standing at the precipice of God’s house. “But haven’t I been redeemed, rescued from Sin and Death?” you might ask. Short answer is Yes… but. The sinner has indeed been redeemed, rescued if you will, from the clutches of the Sin of this world, Satan and Death, but is that all the sinner should aspire to? Is that all of God’s promise for them? Absolutely not.
To enter God’s house is to experience Transformative Grace, or Sanctification. This is sometimes misapplied to strictly “works”. John Wesley believed that “when the re-creative spirit is at work real changes occur. Not only are we granted a new status in Christ through Justification, but God does not leave us where we were; God inaugurates a new creation, restoring the relation to which we are called”. This transformation process is the Holy Spirit working in us to move us closer to God, to move our relationship closer to God, and to “mirror God to the world”. Works, or the bearing of good fruits, is part of this process. However, they are merely fruit, the outward and “seed” planting aspect of this transformation. This simple explanation of the sanctifying process is like ignoring the fact that the fruit is attached to the tree! The transformative nature of Christ indwelling within us changes who we are on a fundamental level not just in our behavior and actions, but also in our very being. We become a new creation, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:19)
We are brought to God through a yearning for him in our souls (Prevenient Grace), which we then recognize our need for his Love and Forgiveness (Repentance), which allows us to receive that forgiveness and reconciliation (Justification), from which we are then fundamentally changed and regenerated into new creations (The New Birth), who may then go on to “Christian Perfection” (I’ll touch on this in the future) through the transformative nature of Christ living through us as the Body of Christ (Sanctification).