*Building by Prayer and Faith
It is with your heart that you believe and are justified.
Romans 10:10 NIV
Friend, come up higher! Do not be content with good works: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the fatherless and widowed in their affliction, or the sick and those in prison, and the stranger. Do you preach the truth of Jesus in the name of Christ? Do the influence of the Holy Spirit and the power of God enable you to bring sinners from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God?
Then go and learn what you have taught: By grace you are saved through faith…not by our works of righteousness…but of His own mercy He saves us (see Ephesians 2:8, Titus 3:5).
Learn to hang naked upon the cross of Christ, counting all you have done just so much dross and dung. Apply to Him just in the spirit of the dying thief and the harlot with her seven devils! Lord, save or I perish! Else you are still on the sand: and after saving others, you will lose your own soul.
If you now believe, pray, Lord, increase my faith. Or, if you have not faith, pray, Give me this faith, though it be as a grain of mustard seed. For only saving faith, the faith that builds upon a rock, stands firm when the floods rise and the winds blow. And this true saving faith will indeed be manifested in good works of righteousness.
*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
Wesley, in this nineteenth lesson on prayer, makes a clear distinction between relying on our works of righteousness to bring us righteousness and relying on the mercy of God to give us saving faith that will manifest in good works. In between the two positions, Wesley pleads with us to, “Learn to hang naked upon the cross of Christ, counting all you have done just so much dross and dung. Apply to Him just in the spirit of the dying thief and the harlot with her seven devils! Lord, save or I perish! Else you are still on the sand: and after saving others, you will lose your own soul.”
If anyone was aware of the trap of relying on works of righteousness as a means of gaining salvation, it was Wesley. For many years, even though he had graduated from Oxford, been ordained, traveled as a missionary to America, and was known for his life of service to others, Wesley was not saved. But Wesley knew he wasn’t saved and was in distress because of it. It was only after returning from America, at perhaps one of the lowest points in his life, that he attended a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street in London, and recounted the story in a journal entry dated May 24, 1738:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley found the truth of God’s great love for us, as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NASB). In his letter to Titus, chapter 3, verse 5, Paul also writes, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
Until we are saved by grace through faith, good works are simply that. Good works. They are not bad in themselves and are often helpful to those in need. The fact is though, until we recognize our need for God alone to save us, human beings deceive themselves in thinking those good works merit our right to boast about our own goodness. If we can get good on our own, we make God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit a liar. God inspired Isaiah the prophet to set humanity strait, millenniums ago, in writing, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”