A reader sent me a famous sermon by John Wesley entitled, “The Scripture Way of Salvation.” You can read the sermon here. It is well worth reading.
I was thrilled when I found a fantastic statement by Wesley on justification by faith alone. He wrote:
Faith is the condition, and the only condition, of justification. It is the condition: none is justified but he that believes: without faith no man is justified. And it is the only condition: this alone is sufficient for justification. Every one that believes is justified, whatever else he has or has not. In other words: no man is justified till he believes; every man when he believes is justified.
But the very next paragraph was confusing and frustrating:
God does undoubtedly command us both to repent, and to bring forth fruits meet [worthy of] for repentance; which if we willingly neglect, we cannot reasonably expect to be justified at all: therefore both repentance, and fruits meet for repentance, are, in some sense, necessary to justification. But they are not necessary in the same sense with faith, nor in the same degree…Repentance and its fruits are only remotely necessary; necessary in order to faith; whereas faith is immediately necessary to justification. It remains, that faith is the only condition, which is immediately and proximately necessary to justification.
What does Wesley mean?
I think he is saying that repentance and its fruits are necessary precursors to faith in Christ. In other words, I think he is saying that no one can or will believe in Christ unless he has first turned from his sins and begun to produce works worthy of repentance. While I strongly disagree that turning from sins and bringing forth fruit worthy of repentance are necessary pre-conditions or co-conditions to faith, I do agree that there are three necessary pre-conditions to faith in Christ. Shawn and I have been kicking this around for a few months. So, I’ll let you judge if it makes sense that there are indeed a few pre-conditions to faith in Christ.
First, one must be alive when he believes in order to be justified: “He who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26). There is no post-mortem salvation. If people can come to believe the promise of life after they die, which I think they can, they cannot be justified because it will be too late. (Many if not all will eventually come to believe that if they had believed in Christ when they were still alive, then they would not be in torment.)
Second, one must be intelligent enough to be able to understand the gospel and the promise of life. I’m not sure how that equates with IQ. Is an IQ of 75 needed to understand and believe in Christ? I think the number is lower. But I leave that to those who work with mentally challenged people. (It is even possible that people with very low IQs can believe and be saved.) My point is that if a person cannot understand the promise of everlasting life, then he cannot believe either. (In my view people who can’t understand and believe are like children who die before the age of accountability. They will be in the kingdom during the Millennium, either in natural bodies with full mental and physical abilities [and thus able to believe and be born again at that time], or in glorified bodies.)
Third, one must hear the Word of God (Rom 10:17). A living human being who is mentally able to believe will not believe, and cannot believe, unless and until he hears the Word of God proclaimed. Of course, God matches up people who are responsive to what they know about Him with those who will bring them the message of life (Acts 16:9).
But saying that those three things are co-conditions with faith in Christ is not at all like saying that one must turn from his sins to believe in Christ. The former is based on Scripture and is consistent with justification by faith alone. The latter is not.
The idea that you must be alive and be reasonably intelligent to hear the saving message and believe is logical. The idea that you must turn from your sins in order to hear the saving message and believe is illogical and inconsistent with justification by faith alone.