If I…do not have love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3 NASB
Some men and women build their hope of salvation upon their innocence. Are you one of these? Do you build upon your doing no harm—not wrongdoing or hurting anyone? You are just in all your dealings. You are downright honest, paying everyone what is due. You neither cheat nor extort; you act fairly with all. And you have a conscience toward God; you do not live in any known sin.
That is all well so far, but still it is not salvation. You may go thus far and yet never come to heaven. When all this harmlessness flows from a right principle, it is the least part of the religion of Christ. But if it does not flow from a right principle, it is no part at all of religion. So that in grounding your hope of salvation on this alone, you are still building upon the sand.
Do you go further yet? Do you add to your doing no harm? Observe all the means of grace? At all opportunities, observe the lord’s Supper, use public and private prayer, fast as often as you can, hear and search the scriptures and meditate on them?
True, these things ought to be done. Yet these also are nothing if they are without faith, mercy, and the love of God; holiness of heart; heaven opened in the soul. If you have not these, you have still built upon the sand.
*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
In this fifty-fifth lesson on prayer, Wesley undercuts the outward signs of “goodness” that lead many to think they have gained salvation. But therein lies the problem. One cannot gain salvation, by good works or any other human endeavor. It is an act of God’s grace initiated by faith, and this too is an act of God.
In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul says in chapter 1, verses 6-10:
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (NASB)
So often, we are the ones preaching a false gospel to ourselves, thinking we can attain to eternal truths through our earthly efforts.
Later, in Galatians 3:1-14, the apostle Paul sets us straight:
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain– if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ” ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ” CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ” THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ” HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, ” CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”– 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NASB).
It is not that good works are useless; they are simply useless for our salvation. Wesley ends with, “True, these things ought to be done. Yet these also are nothing if they are without faith, mercy, and the love of God; holiness of heart; heaven opened in the soul. If you have not these, you have still built upon the sand.”