Posts Tagged ‘John Wesley’

Sermon 01-14-18: “Prayer Is Supposed to Be Easy”

January 24, 2018

As I argue in this sermon, we make prayer more complicated than it needs to be. The message of Jesus’ words in today’s scripture is that prayer isn’t that complicated. 

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:6-13

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Recently, I was listening to a sermon by a favorite pastor of mine whose church is very large and whose sermons are more intellectually demanding than my own. Unlike me, this preacher seems happily indifferent to using humor, or trying to be “relevant,” or entertaining his audience in any way in his sermons—he just dives right into scripture week after week. So, rightly or wrongly, I perceive that his church must be more advanced in the ways of prayer and in Bible study than the typical Methodist churches of which I’ve been part.

I was surprised, then, when he said that his church had recently conducted a survey on prayer in his congregation. Over half the congregation, he said, admitted that they did not pray regularly—his theologically rich sermons on the subject notwithstanding.

The pastor said that when he read the results of the survey, he was tempted to resign on the spot. Had he been wasting his breath all these years about the power and importance of prayer? Why wasn’t the message getting through?

I’m sympathetic with this pastor. But at the same time, I know from painful personal experience that prayer often seems hard to me. And I’ll bet you’ve experienced prayer as something that’s often difficult.

Actual alert message sent to smartphones throughout Hawaii

Not always, of course. In fact, prayer is the easiest thing in the world sometimes… When is it easy? When we are in a crisis. Prayer becomes very easy in those situations. I’m reminded of a hilarious Richard Pryor comedy routine from 1978 about his experience having a heart attack. He describes how that pain in his chest brought him to his knees, and he describes literally speaking to the heart attack, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me, don’t kill me!” But his next words were directed to God: “God, please don’t let this thing kill me!” And then his heart attack spoke back to him, “Were you talking to God behind my back?” And the pain, he said, just got worse!

I’ve never had a heart attack, but “heart attack” prayers come very easily, I’m sure.

You know another time when prayer comes easily? When you believe that the island you live on is about to be attacked by ballistic missiles! Did you see that terrible false alarm on people’s smartphones in Hawaii yesterday? “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” No, it was not a drill, but it was a false alarm!

Don’t you know that literally tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people in Hawaii were praying yesterday who hadn’t prayed in days, or weeks, or months before yesterday? Why? Because prayer is very easy when you fear you might die in a ballistic missile attack! People say, “Why did this false alarm happen?” I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting technological reasons. But I believe that another, overarching reason that this disaster happened was in order for people to turn to God in prayer! In other words, I’m sure that God used this crisis to get people’s attention. If it takes the fear of death to get people to turn to God, God will use it! It’s very merciful of God to use a disaster to bring people to him, while they still have to time to repent of their sins and turn to God. Because there is a far greater disaster coming upon our world—Judgment Day—and at that point, people won’t be able to repent and turn to God. It will be too late! Read the rest of this entry »

The most frightening words Wesley ever preached

February 18, 2017

wesley01In my sermon tomorrow, I’m preaching on forgiveness—namely the petition from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” and Jesus’ commentary on it in vv. 14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And no sermon on these words would be complete without at least glancing over to the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:23-35.

I feel like tomorrow’s sermon needs to be a do-over. While I’ve preached on forgiveness before, I’ve never felt the weight of Jesus’ plain words: If we are unwilling or unable to forgive others, our souls are in jeopardy. The connection between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness we receive is unmistakable.

Could it be clearer?

Yes, I know that we interpret scripture with scripture—and believe me, I want to flee to Romans and Galatians to find reassuring words about justification by faith alone. But Jesus’ words in the gospels are hardly less inspired than Paul’s! (While I sympathize with our Dispensationalist brothers and sisters who teach that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t really apply to the time in which we currently live, I know they’re wrong.)

But if I can’t find refuge in Paul, maybe my commentaries will offer me wiggle room? No luck. Modern commentaries only underscore how difficult Jesus’ words are. Worse, in one of John Wesley’s “Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount,” I may have found the most frightening words he ever wrote or preached:

“As we forgive them that trespass against us.” In these words our Lord clearly declares both on what condition, and in what degree or manner, we may look to be forgiven of God. All our trespasses and sins are forgiven us, if we forgive, and as we forgive, others. First, God forgives us if we forgive others. This is a point of the utmost importance. And our blessed Lord is so jealous lest at any time we should let it slip out of our thoughts, that he not only inserts it in the body of his prayer, but presently after repeats it twice over. “If,” saith he, “ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14, 15.) Secondly, God forgives us as we forgive others. So that if any malice or bitterness, if any taint of unkindness or anger remains, if we do not clearly, fully, and from the heart, forgive all men their trespasses, we far cut short the forgiveness of our own: God cannot clearly and fully forgive us: He may show us some degree of mercy; but we will not suffer him to blot out all our sins, and forgive all our iniquities.

In the mean time, while we do not from our hearts forgive our neighbour his trespasses, what manner of prayer are we offering to God whenever we utter these words? We are indeed setting God at open defiance: we are daring him to do his worst. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us!” That is, in plain terms, “Do not thou forgive us at all; we desire no favour at thy hands. We pray that thou wilt keep our sins in remembrance, and that thy wrath may abide upon us.” But can you seriously offer such a prayer to God? And hath he not yet cast you quick into hell? O tempt him no longer! Now, even now, by his grace, forgive as you would be forgiven! Now have compassion on thy fellow-servant, as God hath had and will have pity on thee!

What do we make of this challenge? How do we reconcile it with the doctrine of justification by faith alone?

[†] John Wesley, Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2014), 129-30.

Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, Part 1: “The chief end of man”

November 8, 2016

jwc_the_shorter_catechism_front_cvr_smWhile I was in Chicago last month at the inaugural Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting, I browsed a vendor’s table set up by Seedbed, the publishing arm of Asbury Seminary, Methodism’s premier orthodox, evangelical seminary. An attractive series of paperbacks caught my eye: “The John Wesley Collection.” They include essential writings of John Wesley, alongside Wesley’s revisions of other writings that he believed would edify fellow Methodists.

One of these books, which I purchased, was Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, literally a revision of the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648. As far as I knew from my unorthodox, un-evangelical mainline Protestant seminary education, the Westminster Catechism wasn’t for us Wesleyan Arminians; it was for the Reformed—Presbyterians and the like.

I never knew, prior to purchasing this book, that Wesley had any use for it.

In fact, after revising or omitting articles dealing with the “decrees of God,” sanctification, and the Calvinist understanding of predestination, Wesley recommended its use for Methodist catechumens. (Please note: in spite of his revisions, he left the vast majority of its articles unchanged.)

The book contains not only the catechism with Wesley’s revisions and scripture proof-texts, but also James A. Macdonald’s century-old commentary on it. Without this commentary, of course, the revision would hardly be book-length!

All that to say, starting today, I’m going to begin a new series of blog posts on this book. So let me begin at the beginning:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Wesley’s proof-texts in the margin are 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 11:36, and Psalm 73:25-28.

Out of the gate, these words challenge and convict me. Not only are we to glorify God, this is the main thing that we human beings are supposed to do. God has created us to give him glory.

We can glorify God whether we think about doing so or not, which is good because—in my experience as a Methodist—most of us spend little time thinking about it. Why?

I wonder if it’s not because of a “stumbling block” to the doctrine that C.S. Lewis discusses in his book Reflections on the Psalms:

We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way—”Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.” (And why, incidentally, did praising God so often consist in telling other people to praise Him?…)[1]

You get the idea: If God were as “virtuous” as we are, he wouldn’t need us to glorify him. And thus—as we too often do with doctrines related to God’s wrath, blood atonement, and hell—we allow ourselves to feel, however faintly, morally superior to the biblical authors.

Of course, unlike any tin-pot dictator, God is the one object that perfectly deserves all of our praise all the time. He doesn’t need it, but we need to do it—for the same reason, Lewis says, that we need to praise a great work of art, only infinitely more so:

The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is rather like this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that if paid, admiration will not be “thrown away,” and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something… He is that Object to admire which (or, if you like, to appreciate which) is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all…

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.[2]

Nothing brings us greater delight than to praise what we enjoy. To praise is to “complete” the enjoyment; it is, Lewis writes, “its appointed consummation.”

If this is true of everything that is less than God, how much more true is it of God? Lewis even refers to the catechism:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.[3]

Not being an expert on or “fanboy” of John Piper (although I admire him, Calvinist or not, as one of his generation’s most gifted preachers), I suspect this idea is at the heart of his famous maxim, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

If the first article of the Shorter Catechism is true, so is Piper’s maxim. Here’s one Methodist pastor who isn’t ashamed to say so.

James Macdonald’s commentary also relates our Wesleyan understanding of sanctification and perfection to this article. I’ll say more about that in a future post.

In the meantime, ask yourself these questions: “Do I enjoy God? If so, when? Is the enjoyment of God a priority in my life? Why or why not?”

1. C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms” in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1986), 177.

2. Ibid., 178-9.

3. Ibid., 180.

Happy Reformation Day! Luther on the “first duty” of the preacher

October 31, 2016


The following is from Luther’s “Preface to the Book of Romans,” to which John Wesley was listening at a meeting on Aldersgate Street when he found his heart “strangely warmed.”

The first duty of the preacher of the gospel is, through his revealing of the law and of sin, to rebuke and to turn into sin everything in life that does not have the Spirit and faith in Christ as its base. Thereby, he will lead people to a recognition of their miserable condition, and thus they will become humble and yearn for help.[1]

1. Martin Luther, Preface to the Book of Romans (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2016), 18.

Happy Reformation Day! Luther on faith and works

October 31, 2016


The following is from Luther’s “Preface to the Book of Romans,” to which John Wesley was listening at a meeting on Aldersgate Street when he found his heart “strangely warmed.”

Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. Therefore, be on guard against your own false ideas and against the chatterers who think they are clever enough to make judgments about faith and good works but who are in reality the biggest fools. Ask God to work faith in you; otherwise you will remain eternally without faith, not matter what you try to do or fabricate.[1]

1. Martin Luther, Preface to the Book of Romans (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2016), 14-15.

Sermon 07-14-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 6: Samson”

September 23, 2014

superhero graphic

This sermon is about “Samsonitis,” our sinful tendency to take for granted the gifts that God has given us and believe that we’re mostly responsible for our success. Do you suffer from it? How can you prevent it?

Sermon Text: Judges 13:1-5, 24-25; 16:4-6, 15-31

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes. 

Chapters 13 through 16 of the Book of Judges, of which we’ve only read a small part this morning, tell the story of Samson, the last “judge” of Israel before Israel became a monarchy, ruled by a king. In this period before the monarchy, Israel’s king was supposed to be God. They were supposed to love and serve him, be faithful to him, submit to his authority and his commandments. Then they wouldn’t need a human king. But the Book of Judges tells the story of how badly that worked out for Israel.

The sad, tragic refrain of Judges, is the following: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Usually this evil consisted of idolatry, worshiping and serving the gods of other nations who lived alongside them in the Promised Land. God would punish them, usually by sending them a foreign army to conquer and oppress them. Then the people would repent and cry out to God. And God would raise up someone from among them who would be what the Bible calls a “Judge,” not someone in a black gown who presides over a court of law—but a mighty military leader capable of leading Israel in victory over their enemies. Read the rest of this entry »

More on Wesley’s Georgia

June 24, 2014


A couple of years ago, I shared a couple of posts (here and here) about a Savannah vacation that became an unintentional Wesleyan mini-pilgrimage. Wesley, as many of you know, briefly ministered in the new British colony of Georgia (from February 6, 1736 to December 2, 1737), an experience that, by Wesley’s own account, was a failure. Like all such “failures” in God’s kingdom, however, God used it as an important formative experience from which Wesley learned and grew.

Last week my family and I vacationed at St. Simons Island, where John and his brother Charles also ministered. Charles established the St. James parish, which is now the Christ Episcopal Church parish. Both John and Charles preached at nearby Fort Frederica, the ruins of which you can see below. (Click on pictures to expand.)


While the Wesleys didn’t preach in the present sanctuary of Christ Episcopal Church, built in the 19th century, there is a stained-glass window in the church depicting John Wesley.


Stained glass in Christ Church depicting John Wesley.

The nave and sanctuary of Christ Church

The nave and sanctuary of Christ Church

Here are some more pictures around Christ Church and a nearby memorial garden.

What is that pesky “wedding garment” anyway?

June 13, 2014

wesley_bobbleheadThis Sunday I’m preaching on Jesus’ difficult Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-14. (There’s an entirely different wedding feast parable in Luke, which I’m preaching next week.) This parable challenges us modern Christians for a number of reasons: many reject the idea that God has wrath toward sin, that God punishes people because of sin, or, indeed, that God sends anyone to hell. (Verse 13: “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”)

And what does the mysterious “wedding garment” of verse 12 represent?

Resisting the modern Methodist tendency to blindly enlist Wesley into whatever cause we champion, I actually went back to his sermons, one of which concerns this very text, Sermon 120: “On the Wedding Garment.”

As usual, Wesley makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Apparently in his day, many Christians believed that partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner was what it meant to be found without proper wedding attire. Wesley, along with all serious commentators on this text today, rejects this interpretation out of hand.

But Wesley also rejects an interpretation of the “wedding garment” that is as popular in our day as it was in his: the wedding garment is Christ’s righteousness alone, the only means by which we’re made acceptable to God. According to this view, as one of my seminary professors said, “Jesus paid it all, and I don’t owe a dime!”

I definitely see the appeal: No need to worry about my own personal holiness if Jesus’ holiness is all that matters!

But doesn’t this seem like wishful thinking?

Wesley probably thought so. Regardless, he’ll have none of it. For Wesley, the wedding garment is our personal holiness—made possible by Christ’s righteousness alone.

The righteousness of Christ is doubtless necessary for any soul that enters into glory: But so is personal holiness too, for every child of man. But it is highly needful to be observed, that they are necessary in different respects. The former is necessary to entitle us to heaven; the latter to qualify us for it. Without the righteousness of Christ we could have no claim to glory; without holiness we could have no fitness for it. By the former we become members of Christ, children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. By the latter “we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Does Wesley’s emphasis on personal holiness detract from his belief, affirmed at Aldersgate 50 years earlier, that we’re justified by faith? Not at all, he says, although he’s aware of the criticism:

Indeed, some have supposed, that when I began to declare, “By grace ye are saved through faith,” I retracted what I had before maintained: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” But it is an entire mistake: These scriptures well consist with each other; the meaning of the former being plainly this, — By faith we are saved from sin, and made holy. The imagination that faith supersedes holiness, is the marrow of Antinomianism.

The sum of all is this: The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made. This he has proclaimed to them in his word, together with the terms of salvation, revealed by the Son of his love, who gave his own life that they that believe in him might have everlasting life. And for these he has prepared a kingdom, from the foundation of the world. But he will not force them to accept of it; he leaves them in the hands of their own counsel; he saith, “Behold, I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: Choose life, that ye may live.” Choose holiness, by my grace; which is the way, the only way, to everlasting life. He cries aloud, “Be holy, and be happy; happy in this world, and happy in the world to come.” “Holiness becometh his house for ever!” This is the wedding garment of all that are called to “the marriage of the Lamb.” Clothed in this, they will not be found naked: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” But as to all those who appear in the last day without the wedding garment, the Judge will say, “Cast them into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

For Wesley, being a Christian isn’t merely the decision we make to receive Christ as Savior and Lord, however necessary that decision is. Rather, it’s a lifelong series of decisions that we make—day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. We “choose holiness, by [God’s] grace; which is the way, the only way, to everlasting life.”

So… Personal holiness matters. No Christian can say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, so long as I accept Christ.”

A theologian friend (who isn’t Wesleyan) attempted to reconcile Wesley’s view with the popular Reformed view in one succinct text message: “A healthy reformed perspective would say that you cannot accept Christ and keep yourself from doing better. You can’t help but do better. If the spirit of Christ really is at work within you.”

That’s not bad.

As I preached during my sermon series on James, saving faith cannot be opposed to good works. We can’t have saving faith without them. Christ’s imputed righteousness and our personal holiness, therefore, are two sides of the same coin.

Tim Tennent on the need for “gospel clarity”

April 1, 2014

Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, doesn’t blog often enough, but when he does he usually makes it worth our while. In this post, he points out the potentially dangerous fact that most of our fellow Methodists possess at least a vague understanding of John Wesley’s “heart-warming” experience at Aldersgate on May 24, 1738.

I say “potentially dangerous” because if that’s all they possess then they risk divorcing Wesley’s experience from its scriptural foundation:

I don’t know of too many Methodists who have actually read Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans. The fact that the heart-felt experience of Wesley is far more known than the textual source of that experience is significant. We can all too easily forget that our experience of God’s work does not come untethered from the truth of God’s word. When Christian “experience” becomes disconnected from God’s Word it drifts into mere emotionalism.

It’s easy to imagine that we’ve succumbed to “mere emotionalism” when our marketing tagline is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

The phrase “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” says absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ or the glorious gospel. It only speaks of our hearts, our minds and our buildings. Is that really the best we can do? As I have said before, if there were public relations consultants in the 19th century, the phrase “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” could have just as easily emerged as a great tagline for a 19th century brothel.

This reminds of something a professor at UMC-affiliated (and theologically orthodox) United Theological Seminary said about the UMC’s website. If it’s true, as we say, that the UMC’s mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” then doesn’t it follow that our church’s official website ought to reflect that priority?

Perhaps the public website should take a more evangelistic approach. How about, right up front, a link to the testimonies of people who have accepted Christ and known his transforming power? How about a link to a video called something like, “Why Should I Choose Jesus?” Or perhaps a video, or at least a page, called something like, “Why Does Christ Make A Difference?” Perhaps one could have the option to chat or have a video call with a pastor. Maybe it would be helpful to have something on the basics of Christian belief.

Nevertheless, Tennent’s words in this next-to-last paragraph seem exactly right:

Brothers and sisters, we must find new ways to let the clarity of the gospel ring forth from our lives and from the ministries of the church. Wesley’s “heart-warming experience” must be wedded anew with the steadfast powerful message of the gospel as found exposited by Luther in his preface to the Romans. This is certainly how Wesley himself interpreted his heart warming experience. After May 24th he became crystal clear about the nature of the gospel, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Word of God. He became razor sharp in his passion to preach the gospel, evangelize the world, disciple believers and spread scriptural holiness throughout the world. We should remind ourselves every day that being a Methodist or a Presbyterian or “non-denominational” means nothing if it is not first and foremost an outgrowth of our more basic identity as Christians who have been transformed by and through Jesus Christ.

Methodists believe in the doctrine of election, too

January 9, 2013

I recently referred to Francis Chan’s “nearly Pelagian”—what I could rightly call semi-Pelagian—”disregard of the role of God’s grace in sanctification.” As if on cue, Arminian Baptist theologian Roger Olson has an evenhanded article about different evangelical perspectives on election (full article behind subscription firewall) in the most recent Christianity Today, which includes a discussion of semi-Pelagianism.

He helpfully describes it with an illustration:

Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that human beings take the initiative in their salvation and service to God. We decide whether to be saved or enter into God’s service completely by ourselves, without prevenient (or necessary) grace. (Prevenient grace is grace that convicts, calls, illumines, and enables. Christian theologians disagree about whether it is resistible or irresistible, but all evangelical theologians agree it is necessary for the first exercise of a good will toward God.) Some years ago, a popular television series featured angels in human disguise helping people in distress turn to God. In one episode, a beautiful young angel with a Scottish accent counseled a man to “reach up to God as far as you can, and then he’ll reach down and take you the rest of the way.” I call that “Touched by an Angel theology.” By itself, without careful biblical and theological clarification, it expresses semi-Pelagianism.

Moreover, he calls semi-Pelagianism “arguably the default view of both salvation and service among American Christians, especially younger Christians. But all branches of Christianity have condemned it as heresy, because it completely contradicts Scripture.”

Did you read that? All branches of Christianity condemn semi-Pelagianism, including us Methodists. I emphasize this because, as Arminians, Methodists are sometimes accused of being semi-Pelagian by our Reformed brothers and sisters because we affirm a limited but (we believe) necessary role for free will in the process of salvation. As Olson writes,

According to Wesley’s essay “On Predestination,” faithfully following Arminius, election (predestination) means that “God foreknew those in every nation, who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things.” He based this on Romans 8, especially verses 29 and 30. Like all Arminians (and many who do not use that label but agree with its essential doctrine of election), Wesley affirmed free will, enabled by grace, because otherwise, “[I]f man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, words, or actions.”

Free will, enabled by grace. Olson goes on to emphasize a point that can hardly be made loudly enough: “[W]hatever role humans play in their salvation, salvation is God’s work. Even Arminians, at their best and truest, believe sinners receive saving grace only because God enables them to receive it with the free response of faith.”