The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, [shall] cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Hebrews 9:14 NASB
Settle this in your heart, that the mere work done profits nothing. There is no power to save but in the Spirit of God, no merit but in the blood of Christ. Consequently, even what God ordains conveys no grace to the soul if you do not trust in Him alone. On the other hand, he that does truly trust in Him cannot fall short of the grace of God, even though he were cut off from every outward ordinance, or shut up in the center of the earth.
In using all means, seek God alone. In and through every outward thing, look only to the power of His Spirit, and the merits of His Son. Beware you do not get stuck in the work itself; if you do, it is all lost labor. Nothing short of God can satisfy your soul. Therefore, fix on Him in all, through all, and above all. For all the power, and all the merit rest in Him alone.
Remember also to use all means as means—as ordained, not for their own sake, but for the renewal of your soul in righteousness and true holiness. If, therefore, they actually tend to this, that is well; but if not, they are dung and dross.
*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
Wesley, in this ninth lesson on prayer, draws a distinction between graceless works, those works done outside a true trust in God, and grace-full works that come from a heart totally yielded and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit and the merits of Christ Jesus. He warns us not to get mired down in the work itself, thinking the work, as a means of grace, is a pathway to God’s favor and blessing on its own.
In Ephesians 2:8-10 the apostle Paul writes, “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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (NASB). It is truly clear in this passage that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, that we should walk in them, not that works are the basis of our being a new creation in Christ. Grace through faith in the merits of Jesus alone, on our behalf, brings us to a saving relationship with the Father. That is why Wesley is confident in saying, “…he that does truly trust in Him cannot fall short of the grace of God, even though he were cut off from every outward ordinance, or shut up in the center of the earth.” This is true whether we speak in terms of prevenient grace, salvific grace, or sanctifying grace. They are all gifts from above.
The apostle James in James 2:14-26, lays out a case for works that may seem, at first, to be contradictory to what Paul has said:
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘ Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘ AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (NASB).
James is pointing out here that those who say they have faith, and it is true faith, will certainly walk out the proof of that faith in good works, which God prepared beforehand so that they would walk in them. This is why Wesley can also say, “use all means as means—as ordained, not for their own sake, but for the renewal of your soul in righteousness and true holiness. If, therefore, they actually tend to this, that is well; but if not, they are dung and dross.”