The Wesleyan Church believes that four things happen when we put our faith in Jesus Christ:
- we experience forgiveness, which the church calls justification,
- we begin traveling down a new path, which the church calls regeneration,
- we become a part of the family of God, which the church calls adoption, and
- we have a certainty that we have been saved, which the church calls assurance.
All of these have their beginning in the moment we put our trust in Jesus Christ, recognize our need for forgiveness, make a commitment to put aside harmful actions and attitudes, and pursue good actions and attitudes.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God forgives our sin. The word the church uses for this offer of forgiveness is justification. This is a legal term. God declares a person is forgiven. It is like the defendant who hears “not guilty” at the end of the trial with one potential difference. When we experience the forgiveness of God, we realize we really are guilty, and it’s only because of the life and death of Jesus Christ that the verdict can be “not guilty.”
What do we need to do to experience this forgiveness? First, we must accept we are guilty: that we have done harmful things to others and ourselves (and also left undone things we know they should do). Second, we must feel a sorrow and a desire to change. Third, we need to accept that the only way we can be forgiven is to believe that in the life and death of Jesus Christ as a way to be reunited with God. It is a free gift and there is nothing we can do to earn it.
Traveling down a new path (regeneration)
In the very moment we accept the forgiveness of God, we begin traveling down a new path. As we travel the path, we become more and more like Jesus Christ. The only way we can do this is to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do it in our own strength.
Learning to recognize the Sprit’s voice takes time. He often works through internal nudges, encouraging us to do something we know is right or warning us about something we should avoid. Often God uses others to help us grow in our recognition of the work of the Spirit.
Another way to think about being set on a new path is being healed. Sometimes it takes time for healing to take place and other times it almost seems immediate. The hurts a person has experienced are healed as a person continues on the path and experiences the love of not only God, but also the people of God because they are now part of a new family.
A new family, the family of God (adoption)
One of the benefits of believing in Jesus Christ is that we become a part of God’s family, a child of God. This has both advantages and responsibilities. Because we are a part of the family we now have a support system that walks with us as we experience the love of God. This love moves us to gratitude and love, both of God and the people in our lives. But like any good family, we have to agree on how we will live together. “Rules” guide us and hopefully create paths for us to live out and learn more about the Christian faith. All of this is possible because of the life and death of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The Holy Spirit’s presence (assurance)
One of the promises Jesus made was that he would send “the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you” (John 14:16, CEV). Learning to hear the Spirit’s voice takes time, but he is constantly whispering: “you are loved, you are forgiven, you are God’s child.” He reminds us of the ways we are becoming like Jesus, how we are more loving and joyful. As we learn to listen, we sense this more and more. This witness of the Holy Spirit is called assurance.
When we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven and begin to travel down a new path. Our growth and progress normally come from being a part of a local church where we can experience life in the family of God. And as we grow, we become more and more aware of the presence of God, reminding us we are his children (Romans 8:16).
Dr. Patrick Eby is a professor of historical theology and Wesley studies at Wesley Seminary, Marion, Indiana, where he also directs the Doctor of Ministry program.
Questions for reflection and conversation
- The Wesleyan Church believes that first of four things to happen when a person places his or her faith in Jesus is known as justification. Justification is a legal term. Define justification in simple terms and what is means to you as a believer in Christ.
- After justification we believe that regeneration is the next natural step of a new believer’s journey. It means to become more like Christ. This is not something we can accomplish in our own strength. How can all believers, new and old, participate in the work of regeneration?
- One of the benefits of believing in Jesus Christ is that we are adopted into God’s family. As believers we are called children of God. Knowing that you have come broken and sinful before God and have been loved, forgiven, and adopted how does that adjust your view of yourself before God?
- One of the promises Jesus made before he ascended to heaven what that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us (John 14:16). We must all learn to listen for the Spirit to reveal to us what God wants us to know. What are some ways that you feel the Holy Spirit has moved in your life? What are some ways that you can become more adept at listening for him?
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.