Wesley states that the marks of new birth are faith, hope, and love. In various places throughout the scriptures these three characteristics are mentioned as imperative characteristics for those who seek after God. It is important to uncover how he defines each of these terms and what it means to truly live a life marked by faith, hope, and love. As Wesley begins to talk about faith, he emphasizes that there is such a thing as “dead faith.” Dead faith is simply acceptance that Jesus is Christ and that all of Scripture, is inspired by God and is true. Again, Wesley references that even the “devils who were born of God” have this faith. When we simply think that faith is about beliefs, we miss out on all that our faith can do to transform us. We are to understand our faith in our heart, not just in our heads or on an intellectual level. Thus, faith is about our trust in a God who offers forgiveness for our sins and a realization that we can receive salvation through Christ and be reconciled with God. As we experience this faith in our hearts, we experience power of sin and a peace that comes from God. A faith like this leads us to new birth and calls us to live in a new way. What is the difference between dead faith and a faith as a mark of new birth?
The second mark of new birth is hope. Just as Wesley wanted people to be aware of dead faith, he also points out that it is possible to have “dead hope.” Dead hope is a hope that does not come from God, but instead comes from the enemy. It makes itself evident by the bad fruit that it bears as we cling to our will rather than God’s will, and it leads to pride in those who have dead hope. Yet, as we turn to God and find our hope there – we receive this hope as we realize the truth that we are children of God. By being children of God, we get to be witnesses to God’s greatness as we live as “ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” We are invited to come alongside God and bear witness to all that God has done and will do in our lives when we have a hope that is alive. What is the difference between dead hope and hope as a mark of new birth?
The scriptures tell us that “love is from God” and that “God is love” and that we love others because God first loved us (1 John 4). God propels us to love God, and the “fruit of this love of God is the love of neighbor.” We do not love only to fulfill commandments or to show off our obedience through works, but instead we love because love is written on our hearts. And we are called to do this because God’s love has been shed abroad in our hearts – we have no other option or desire but to show this love. Why do we love God and others, to fulfill the commandments or because it is a disposition of our transformed hearts?
As Christians, we often get caught defining what a true Christian is based on actions, disciplines, and sacraments people have done, practiced, or experienced. But, being baptized doesn’t mean you have been born of the spirit. Being baptized or practicing certain “Christian” disciplines doesn’t guarantee a relationship with God or an experience with God’s grace and mercy. Instead, deciding who is or isn’t Christian based on actions or disciplines or sacraments may lead to division between Christians. Rather we are called to realize that being Christian is about more than just being baptized. A Christian is one who is born of the Spirit and has new life in Christ, one who exhibits the marks of new birth: faith, hope and love and who experiences these characteristics deep in their heart, not in their head. How is being born of the spirit different from being baptized? Why did Wesley want people to note that there is a distinction between these two characterizations of a Christian?