One of Wesley’s later sermons was “On God’s Vineyard” which was written in 1779. This sermon reads like a reflection of how God has worked through Wesley’s life and some observations Wesley made. One such observation was about the new birth.
Wesley was a man who wasn’t satisfied with ‘outward’ religion. Wesley believed that in order to be a “real” Christian, one needed to be changed inwardly. He writes:
“They know, the new birth implies as great a change in the soul, in him that is “born of the Spirit,” as was wrought in his body when he was born of a woman: Not an outward change only, as from drunkenness to sobriety, from robbery or theft to honesty; (this is the poor, dry, miserable conceit of those that know nothing of real religion;) but an inward change from all unholy, to all holy tempers, — from pride to humility, from passionateness to meekness, from peevishness and discontent to patience and resignation; in a word, from an earthly, sensual, devilish mind, to the mind that was in Christ Jesus.”
Wesley compares the new birth to spiritual birth and at the same time contrasts it with merely an outward change (i.e. drunkenness to sobriety). Wesley’s point is that the “great change” is also a real change, not content with outward behavior only but a real transformation of one’s inner life (or world). Going from “pride to humility,” “passionateness to meekness” and “from peevishness and discontent to patience and resignation” is no small feat. It is such a great change that Wesley describes it as being changed from a “devilish mind” to the “mind that was in Christ.”
I find this a point to stop and reflect. In the UMC are we still preaching and teaching about this ‘inner’ change and this “mind of Christ” that the new birth bring? Do we really understand what Wesley is talking about here. He is not using figurative language it seems. In Wesley’s mind there is a real, complete, and substantial change in the individual. So substantial that he compares it to physical birth. This change is so real that it’s outflow is a life that is changed, not manufactured change, but real change; from pride to humility, etc.
I wonder if I am too content with manufactured changes; changes that look wonderful on the outside, but leave the inside unaffected. Wesley wasn’t satisfied with outward changes only. He was preaching for an inner transformational change. Should we be satisfied with less?