A Wesleyan Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis)

A Wesleyan Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis)

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What follows is a Wesleyan account of the place of tradition in Christian faith and doctrine. It is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024).

Salvation—The Image Restored

109. The fall marred the Image of God in humanity. Rather than reflecting God as intended at creation, humanity’s corruption marred the Image. Salvation is the restoration that God has initiated in Christ to heal humanity—and even creation itself—so that it might once more reflect his Image.

The Way or Order of Salvation

110. The process by which the Image of God and communion with God is restored is called a way or order of salvation. It is a way of describing the effects that the grace of God has in human life. Or to put it differently, it is the way to describe what salvation looks like and the process that believers go through as they move from a sinful life, one turned away from God, to a life turned toward God, a life of freedom, wholeness, and Christlikeness.


111. The redemption of humanity, the restoration of the Image, can be understood as gaining freedom: freedom from, on the one hand, and freedom to, on the other hand. The first is freedom from the power of actual sins and freedom from the guilt of sin. Later in the Christian journey, this freedom includes freedom from the being of sin, a being or nature set against the things of God. Simply put, freedom from is liberty from both sinful acts and from sinful being. Our need is twofold and corresponds to two works of grace expressed in Wesley’s sermon, “The Scripture Way of Salvation”: justification (and regeneration) on the one hand and entire sanctification on the other.

112. Salvation also embraces freedom to, that is, the freedom to love God and neighbor. This is what Charles Wesley pointed to when he wrote: “My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee (“And Can It Be that I Should Gain”). Freed from the chains of sin, we are free to love as we ought, and as we have been created to do. This, too, is what salvation is about; it is a movement of restoration, a redemption whose origin is from the Father, rooted in the atoning work of Christ, and administered by the Holy Spirit.


113. Grace enables people to walk in the ways of God. It is the salvific strength of the Almighty mediated to believers by nothing less than the presence of the Holy Spirit. Grace is universal. It also entails a relation to the Most High, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28a). At its heart, a Wesleyan believes that grace is dynamic and transformative. Grace is not static; it is inherently active. Wesley described grace as the “power of the Holy Spirit” (“The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption”).

114. We can distinguish the characteristics of grace from the categories of grace (God’s calling to us, convicting us, pardoning us, and sanctifying us) and finally from the nature of grace itself (the gifts of peace and power). Wesley’s own breakthrough in terms of his understanding of grace came in March 1738 when he was convinced that grace must be understood in terms of both happiness (peace) and holiness (power).

115. The way or order of salvation can be understood in terms of how the presence of the Holy Spirit is manifested in both peace and power in the lives of believers. In other words, those who trust in Jesus Christ will be transformed in being over time, from grace to grace, with purity of heart as the goal when the Holy Spirit reigns in believers’ hearts without a rival.

Prevenient Grace

116. The Wesleyan tradition affirms the doctrine of original sin, even a doctrine of total depravity (humanity after the fall is “totally corrupted”). Given the broad and devastating consequences of sin, God must take the first step and restore basic human capacities so that we might hear his call. The grace that makes this possible is prevenient grace, “the grace that goes before.” It is God’s initiative.

117. Prevenient grace comes in two forms: both free and cooperant grace. By free grace, God of his own power restores four faculties making humanity responsible and, therefore, redeemable. These restored faculties include: (1) conscience, (2) a measure of freedom to receive the ongoing grace of God, (3) knowledge of the moral law, and (4) knowledge of the basic attributes of God. This is a universal benefit that everyone receives. Prevenient grace invokes our cooperation and is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through these four restored faculties. These overtures are expressed in the form of convincing grace when the Holy Spirit uses the moral law, and our failure to live by it, to lead us to repentance. This convincing grace can be rejected.

118. Prevenient grace is the beginning of salvation and everyone is to a certain degree on the path of redemption, but prevenient grace is just the beginning of the restoration of the Image of God in humanity. On its own, prevenient grace is not redemptive; it is the Father’s call—and his enabling us to respond—to enter into that saving relationship with him.


119. Repentance is at the heart of the Wesleyan message: calling sinners to turn from sin and brokenness to wholeness in Christ. In 1777 when Wesley recounted the beginnings of the Methodist revival, he observed: “two or three Clergymen of the Church of England began vehemently to call sinners to repentance” (“On Laying the Foundation of the New Chapel”). So important was repentance that Wesley referred to it as one of the three main doctrines of Methodism along with faith and holiness. He called repentance the “porch of religion.”

120. Beyond this, an examination of the three basic rules of the early Methodist societies (doing no harm, doing good, and employing the means of grace) reveals the fruits of genuine repentance. It also reveals the very purpose of Methodism, its core identity, so to speak. Put another way, Methodism has always been about repentance, transformation, turning around, openness to new life, that in the end can lead to an embrace of the gospel. Those who remain stubbornly opposed to personal change, making their own experience the center of all values, will never embrace such wisdom.

121. Because the need of sinners is twofold, repentance is also twofold. We are called to repent of sinful acts and the reality of a corrupted nature. The first repentance, termed “legal,” is among other things the conviction and repentance of the sins that we have committed. The second repentance, called “evangelical,” is a conviction and repentance of the sin that lingers, the inbred sin that remains even in believers. This second repentance highlights the importance of a second work of grace for all who have been born of God. Redemption is not accomplished in one grand stroke.

Justifying Grace and Assurance

122. Justification—God’s pardon—is the work that God does for us after repentance. He forgives all our past sins. This pardon is a change in relation: once alienated, we are now friends. The foundation of our pardon is nothing less than the person and work of Christ, especially his atoning death on the cross. Saint Paul wrote that, in Christ, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (Eph. 1:7–8a). Jesus Christ, and he alone, can heal the divine and human relationship disrupted by sin. He of all human beings is also divine. Only he is sinless (e.g., Heb. 1:3). In other words, unlike all other human beings, who are steeped in sin, Christ is not a part of the problem. In his death and resurrection all the persons of the Trinity are involved: the Father gives the gift of his Son who is received through the work of the Holy Spirit.

123. This gift of forgiveness shows us that God pardons not the godly but the ungodly. We do not have to clean ourselves up first before we can be forgiven. We can receive this gracious gift now. Indeed, it is not by human effort or by works of the law that sinners are justified. It is by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8). Justification is a sheer gift and is, therefore, a manifestation of free grace. It is nothing less than freedom from the guilt of sin.

124. Often, this work of pardon is followed by the direct witness of the Holy Spirit in assuring grace, a conviction that we can be certain—not just mentally, but experientially—of God’s pardon and acceptance. We can know that God’s pardon has been granted to us and his renewal work has begun in our hearts. We call this assurance. It is illustrated in Wesley’s own language: “an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine” (Journal, May 24, 1738). And also, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).

Initial Sanctifying Grace (The New Birth) and Assurance

125. Justification is the work that God does for us; the new birth or initial sanctification is the work that God does in us. The God of holy love who is merciful to forgive us our sins is also good and powerful enough to transform our natures, even the dispositions of the heart. The new birth, as Wesley expressed it, is the gateway to the life of holiness and the beginning of the restoration of the Image of God. It’s the beginning of sanctification. In the new birth, believers are transformed by God’s grace to become holy. Saint Paul spoke about this new life in terms of a new creation when he wrote that, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Those found in Christ begin to love God and their neighbors as they ought. The gift of the new birth is received by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

126. Through the grace of the new birth, the Holy Spirit awakens the spiritual senses so that we discern the invisible, eternal world, and rejoice in the love of God that is now found in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit bears a direct witness to our forgiveness, the Holy Spirit bears a direct witness to believers that they are the very children of God. The work of restoration is made plain in this gift of assurance.

The Process of Sanctification

127. The Methodist tradition describes sanctification as three distinct movements of grace: (1) initial sanctification or the new birth, (2) the process of sanctification, and (3) entire sanctification. This process characterizes the life of serious Christian discipleship as believers grow in grace, with changes in degree along the way. In this process believers become more patient, more kind, more peaceful, more holy. In other words, believers become more and more like Jesus. Scripture speaks of this when it says that we are called to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). This process is energized by a rich divine and human cooperation. As Wesley put it: “God works; therefore you can work . . . God works; therefore you must work” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation”).

128. The new birth and entire sanctification can be distinguished from the process of sanctification. They are not progressive changes, but something new. In the new birth, this qualitative change is the transition from a life of sin to initial holiness. In entire sanctification it is the transition from impurity of heart to perfect love.

129. The process of sanctification is an example of cooperant grace, of God and humanity working together with God by grace. However, both the new birth and entire sanctification are wonderful examples of free grace—God’s work—gifts to be received by grace through faith alone. Wesley expressed this basic truth in his pithy observation: “Exactly as we are justified by faith, so are we sanctified by faith. Faith is the condition, and the only condition of sanctification, exactly as it is of justification” (“The Scripture Way of Salvation”).

Entirely Sanctifying Grace

130. When Wesley wanted to clarify an important doctrine, he often stated what that doctrine is not. In his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, he argued that entire sanctification or Christian perfection does not mean freedom from: (a) ignorance, (b) mistaken judgment, (c) infirmities (bodily limitations that characterize the human condition), or (d) temptation. There is no state of grace in this life from which believers cannot fall. Beyond this, Wesley taught that there is always a need to grow in grace, in the knowledge and love of God, in particular, but that an entirely sanctified heart will continue to grow since the knowledge and the love of God are ever inexhaustible.

131. Wesley’s positive statements about entire sanctification can be seen in the freedoms discussed earlier: freedom from and freedom to. Perfect love is freedom from the being of sin. Justification is freedom from the guilt of sin, the new birth is freedom from the power or dominion of sin, and entire sanctification is nothing less than freedom from the being of sin. Entire sanctification is freedom to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29–31).

132. Entire sanctification is the restoration of the Image of God in us, in which our lives reflect the Image of the one who is love. The fullness of entire sanctification can be seen in Saint Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonian believers, including his understanding that this completed work is the act of God: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1 Thess. 5:23–24).

133. In terms of how and when entire sanctification is received Wesley wrote:

And by this token may you surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works. If by works, you want something to be done first, before you are sanctified. You think, “I must first be or do thus or thus.” Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it by faith, you may expect it as you are: and if as you are, then expect it now. (“The Scripture Way of Salvation”)

Perfect love is a gift of God. As a gift, it can be received now. Early Wesleyans knew, however, that this restoration of the moral Image of God is often found in “waiting” (i.e., using the means of grace and the works of piety and mercy).

Glorifying Grace

134. Because the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all our needs in this life and the cleansing of sin, no purification takes place beyond the grave. In death, believers enter into paradise, an intermediate state, in which they are in the presence of the glorified Christ. Scripture states: “away from the body . . . [is to be] at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). As death brings about the end of this life, so, too, will the second coming of Christ bring about the end of the intermediate state of believers with the full inauguration of the new creation.

This is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024). Included are 213 articles of faith centered around:

  1. Section I
    God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  2. Section II
    Creation—Image Given and Marred
  3. Section III
    Revelation—The Image Revealed
  4. Section IV
    Salvation—The Image Restored
  5. Section V
    The Church—Life in the Image
  6. Section VI
    The Fullness of Time—The Glorified Image

An appendix in the back offers discussion/reflection questions for each section. Get it from our store here.


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