John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 15th 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 Great Privilege of Those that Are Born of God” is the fifteenth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. In this sermon, Wesley describes 1 John 3:9 as the “great privilege of those that are born of God.” Are those who have faith in Christ and have experienced the new birth really able to stop sinning? How is that possible? And if so, how is it that people who are born again fall back into sin? Wesley engages these questions in this bold sermon.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Great Privilege of Those that Are Born of God.” 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: 

You see the unquestionable progress from grace to sin. Thus it goes on, from step to step. (1). The divine seed of loving, conquering faith remains in him that is ‘born of God’. ‘He keepeth himself’, by the grace of God, and ‘cannot commit’ sin; (2). A temptation arises, whether from the world, the flesh, or the devil, it matters not; (3). The Spirit of God gives him warning that sin is near, and bids him more abundantly watch unto prayer; (4). He gives way in some degree to the temptation, which now begins to grow pleasing to him; (5). The Holy Spirit is grieved; his faith is weakened, and his love of God grows cold; (6). The Spirit reproves him more sharply, and saith, ‘This is the way; walk thou in it.’ (7). He turns away from the painful voice of God and listens to the pleasing voice of the tempter; (8). Evil desire begins and spreads in his soul, till faith and love vanish away; (9). He is then capable of committing outward sin, the power of the Lord being departed from him. [II.9]

One sentence summary:  

It is the great privilege of all who are born of God to resist voluntary transgressions of the law.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” – 1 John 3:9

Concise outline of “The Great Privilege of Those that Are Born of God”

1. It has frequently been supposed that being born of God was the same thing as being justified.
2. Though in time they are indistinguishable, they are not the same. Justification is a relative change. The new birth is a real change.
3. Not discerning the difference has caused great confusion.
4. We need to consider ‘whosoever is born of God’ and then in what sense ‘he doth not commit sin.’

I. The meaning of the expression “Whosoever is born of God.”

1. Being born of God is not merely being baptized, but a vast inward change.
2. The natural birth is the easiest way to understand the spiritual.
3. The unborn child has little knowledge of the visible world.
4. He that is not yet born cannot sense the spiritual world because his senses aren’t opened up and there is a thick veil.
5. As soon as a child is born, his senses are opened.
6. So it is with him that is born of God.
7. He has scarce any knowledge of the invisible world.
8. When he is born of God, his whole existence is changed. Wesley uses the image of spiritual respiration.
9. The eyes of his understanding are opened, he clearly sees the love of God and his promises.
10. His ears are opened and the voice of God no longer calls in vain.

II. In what sense does the one born of God not sin?

1. In what sense does the one born again ‘not commit sin?’ The one who receives love from God every moment gives back love and praise.
2. Wesley defines sin as a voluntary transgression of the law.
3. But it is a plain fact that people born of God have sinned.
4. David was born of God and committed the horrid sins of adultery and murder.
5. There are examples even after the sending of the Holy Spirit. Ex. Barnabas
6. An example from Galatians 2:12-14.
7. Wesley seeks to reconcile the previous examples with the assertion of John that “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” He answers: So long as “he that is born of God keepers himself, the wicked one toucheth him not.” (1 John 5:18) Wesley outlines how someone falls back into sin.
8. Wesley illustrates this with the example of David’s sin.
9. The progress from grace to sin (see the steps in the key quote above)
10. Wesley illustrates this using Peter as an example.

III. Does sin precede or follow the loss of faith?

1. The loss of faith must precede the recommitting outward sin.
2. The life of God in a believer continually requires the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
3. God does not continue to act upon the soul unless it re-acts upon God.
4. Let us fear sin more than death or hell. Watch always that you may always hear the voice of God.
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.


Read “The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first fourteen 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

The Marks of the New Birth

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!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.

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.