John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 14th sermon in this series. You can expect to see a new post in this series by 10am EST on Tuesday mornings. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon linked below, or jump right in with us!


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 Marks of the New Birth” is the fourteenth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. In this sermon, Wesley identifies the marks that one who has experienced justification by faith and the new birth will have. When people experience the new birth, what should we expect their lives to be like? This sermon addresses that question. The answer of faith, hope, and love may initially seem simple. But the way that Wesley fleshes this out is rich and raises deep questions about the Christian life and our expectations for life in Christ.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Marks of the New Birth.” 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: 

This it is, in the judgment of the Spirit of God, to be a son or a child of God. It is so to believe in God through Christ as ‘not to commit sin’, and to enjoy, at all times and in all places, that ‘peace of God which passeth all understanding’. It is so to hope in God through the Son of his love as to have not only the ‘testimony of a good conscience’, but also ‘the Spirit of God bearing witness with your spirits that ye are the children of God’: whence cannot but spring the ‘rejoicing evermore in him through whom ye have received the atonement’. It is so to love God, who hath thus loved you, as you never did love any creature: so that ye are constrained to love all men as yourselves; with a love not only ever burning in your hearts, but flaming out in all your actions and conversations, and making your whole life one ‘labour of love’, one continued obedience to those commands, ‘Be ye merciful, as God is merciful;’ ‘Be ye holy, as I the Lord am holy;’ ‘Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ [IV.1]

One sentence summary:  

The marks of the new birth are faith, hope, and love.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“So is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Concise outline of “The Marks of the New Birth”

1. How is everyone born again, born of God? What is implied in being a son or child of God? What is the new birth?
2. I propose to lay down the marks, just as I find them in Scripture.

I. The First Mark of the New Birth Is Faith

1. The first mark of the new birth is faith.
2. It is not a barely notional or speculative faith.
3. True living faith is not only an assent, but a disposition which God has wrought in a person’s heart.
4. An immediate and constant fruit of this faith is power over sin.
5. Power over outward sin is affirmed in John.
6. Whosoever is born of God does not sin (more engagement with John).
7. Another fruit of this living faith is peace.

II. The Second Mark of the New Birth Is Hope

1. A second mark of those who are born of God is hope.
2. This hope implies (1) testimony of our own spirit. We walk in sincerity and (2) the witness of the Spirit.
3. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.
4. All who have received this one Spirit cry “Abba Father” together.
5. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

III. The Third Mark of the New Birth Is Love

1. A third scriptural mark, the greatest of all, is love.
2. He is so joined unto the Lord as to be “one spirit.”
3. The necessary fruit of this love for God is love for our neighbor.
4. Love of God and neighbor will lead to keeping the rest of the commandments.
5. A second fruit of the love of God is universal obedience to him we love, and conformity to his will, being zealous of good works.

IV. Summary

1. A summary of what has been said so far.
2. The question is not what you were – what are you now?
3. Don’t say: I was once baptized; therefore I am now a child of God.
4. To say you cannot be born again but in baptism is to seal yourself under damnation.
5. Verily, verily, I say unto you, you must also be born again.
6. May all who prepare their hearts yet again to seek God’s face receive again that Spirit of adoption and cry out, Abba, Father!


Read “The Marks of the New Birth” in its entirety.

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

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

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.