John Wesley, Justification by Faith

I have been so encouraged by the number of readers who have emailed me directly about this series. I am delighted to see the interest in engaging the Wesleyan doctrinal heritage! Here is sermon #6 “The Righteousness of Faith.”


Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“The Righteousness of Faith” is the sixth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. The sermon is a rich unpacking of the doctrine of justification by faith and is connected to the previous sermon, “Justification by Faith.”

This sermon is another foundational sermon for Wesleyan/Methodist doctrine.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Righteousness of Faith.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.

Key quote: 

What is the difference then between the ‘righteousness which is of the law’ and the ‘righteousness which is of faith’? Between the first covenant, or the covenant of works, and the second, the covenant of grace? The essential, unchangeable difference is this: the one supposes him to whom it is given to be already holy and happy, created in the image and enjoying the favour of God; and prescribes the condition whereon he may continue therein, in love and joy, life and immortality. The other supposes him to whom it is given to be now unholy and unhappy; fallen short of the glorious image of God, having the wrath of God abiding on him, and hastening through sin, whereby his soul is dead, to bodily death and death everlasting. And to man in this state it prescribes the condition whereon he may regain the pearl he has lost; may recover the favour, and the image of God, may retrieve the life of God in his soul, and be restored to the knowledge and the love of God, which is the beginning of life eternal. [I.11]

One sentence summary:  

In contrast to seeking righteousness through perfect obedience to the law, the righteousness of faith (which brings forgiveness and reconciliation with God) comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” – Romans 10: 5-8 (KJV)

Concise outline of “The Righteousness of Faith”

  1. Paul opposes the covenant of grace to the covenant of works, not Moses to Christ.
  2. Paul was speaking affectionately to the Jews earlier in this chapter.
  3. They were ignorant that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes.
  4. And how many are equally ignorant now?

I. Discussion of the Righteousness of the Law

1. The righteousness of the law requires perfect obedience in order to continue in the holiness and happiness wherein people were created.
2. It required that people should fulfill all righteousness, inward and outward; negative and positive.
3. It farther required that this inward and outward holiness be perfect in degree.
4. It also must be perfectly uninterrupted.
5. A summary of the righteousness of the law.
6. The righteousness of faith is the new covenant which God has established with sinful people through Christ.
7. By righteousness of faith is meant the condition of justification which was given by God to fallen people through the merits and mediation of his only begotten Son.
8. The covenant does not say to sinful people, perform unsinning obedience and live.
9. The covenant says: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
10. This condition of life is plain, easy, always at hand.
11. The difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is that the former supposes people are already holy and happy and the latter supposes people are unholy and unhappy.
12. In order to continue in favor with God, the covenant of works requires people maintain perfect uninterrupted obedience. The covenant of grace requires only faith.
13. In the covenant of grace, we have nothing to pay, God frankly forgives us all.
14. The first covenant required what is now far off from us all, unsinning obedience.

II. The Folly of Trusting the Righteousness of the Law and the Wisdom of Submitting to the Righteousness of Faith

1. The first step of those who trust in the law is a mistake because they are not in the state in which the covenant was made.
2. Neither do they consider that the law requires perfect and entire obedience.
3. Neither do they recognize that obedience to the law must be perfect in degree.
4. The law condemns all who do not perform uninterrupted and perfect obedience.
5. It is the height of foolishness for sinful people to seek acceptance by their own righteousness.
6. Disclaiming our own righteousness is wise because it is acting according to the truth.
7. It is further wise because it is submitting to the way God has made.
8. It is mere grace, free love, undeserved mercy that God has given sinful people any means of reconciliation with himself.
9. It is wisdom to aim at the best end by the best means. The best end is happiness in God. The only means to that end is submitting to the righteousness of faith.

III. How to Be Forgiven and Reconciled to the Favor of God

1. Do not say I must first do this. First believe.
2. Do not say I can’t be accepted because I am not good enough.
3. Do not say I am not contrite enough.
4. Do not say I must do something before I come to Christ.
5. Do not wait for more sincerity.
6. This is it: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”


Read “The Righteousness of Faith” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first five Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.