As Wesleyan pastors, we all know the scriptural truth that loving God and loving others is the central hallmark of the Christian spiritual life. But do we truly embrace this as the ultimate outcome of what it means to be Spirit-filled? As David Benner states, “If God is love, he cannot be truly known apart from love” (Surrender to Love, p. 28).
Christians in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition have often focused on the “purity and power” as a central experience of our full consecration to God. However, Joe Dongell, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, scoured the complete works of John Wesley and found himself “stunned” by what he read about love (Dongell, p. 9). Dongell concluded that love played the most prominent role in Wesley’s thinking about the transformative aspects of our life with God (“love rushed through all 14 volumes like a tsunami,” p. 10). Here are five points about Wesley’s understanding of God’s love taken and adapted from Dongell’s short work, Sola Sancta Caritas (Holy Love Alone):
- Scriptural Love is to love as Jesus loved. We often think of love as something derived from our culture or intuition. For Wesley, we look to Jesus to learn what love is: we are to love as Jesus loved (John 13 and 15). When you think of love, what comes to your mind?
- Love is something prior to good actions. Love is not simply good actions that help others. Rather, love is a matter of the heart and is the motive for loving actions. I can act helpfully toward others, but it may spring from motives other than authentic love (See 1 Cor. 13). Love is always a matter of the heart first. Do you agree that good actions may not stem from a heart of love? Will you take a few moments and examine the state of your own heart in relation to your good deeds?
- Love’s origin is God himself. The epistle of 1 John tells us clearly that “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7, 8). Whatever true love we express is only the love we have first received from God. Whatever love we express to others “is always and only the love we have already received from God” (p. 18). How does the knowledge that God is love and cannot be known apart from love change the way you think about your experience with God?
- Love is a gift from God. We should seek to receive love from God since love does not originate in us, but is a gift (p. 19). This is the very love we are then commanded to express to God and others. Just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean they have experienced “the deeper reception of God’s love” (p. 19). Is it possible to have “right beliefs” and not be transformed by God’s love?
- Love poured out is a mighty force. “Love poured out by God through the Spirit is a mighty force set loose in the deepest chambers of the heart and community” (p.19). God’s love has both internal and external effects: “infused love expels sin from the heart” (there is no room for sin in a heart filled with love). It also produces outward holiness: expressing the same passion and mission toward others as God himself (p. 20).
Joseph Dongell. (2015). Sola Sancta Caritas. Franklin, TN: Seedbed.
To obtain a copy of Dongell’s work, Sola Sancta Caritas, visit Seedbed, a twenty-first century movement and media platform whose mission is to gather, connect, and resource the people of God to sow for a great awakening.
Other works about Wesley’s understanding of love in the Christian life:
Mildred Bangs Wynkoop. (1974, 2015). A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press. Nazarene Publishing House.
Kenneth Collins. (2007). The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Steven Maskar, Diana Hynson, and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki. (2004).
A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” Discipleship Resources.