To understand Wesley and the doctrines and theology that bear his name, one must keep in mind that in all things, John Wesley is a practical theologian. That is, he is concerned not with theology and the lofty scholastic ruminations that it often devolves into but rather, theology as it affects you and I in our daily life as followers of Christ. His order of salvation does not have the immediacy of the Calvinist perspective; it is a justification in which Christ’s righteousness is immediately imputed to the believer giving them a forensic status as ‘forgiven’ followed by a lifetime of sanctification, a full salvation measured by perfection of love and obedience. Faith, teaches Wesley, is not the cause of salvation but the condition of receiving it. Our faith does not save us, but we are saved only by Christ, in whom we have faith. (Wynkoop, Wesleyan-Arminian Theology)
To adhere to Wesleyan Christianity is to devote oneself to a life of obedience and ever increasing love for God and fellow man. To be sure, there will be moments in which both love and obedience falter, but the Spirit provides the impetus and strength to restore both and continue along the path of holiness. This continuance of the process of sanctification is rooted in continued faith in Christ. It is at those moments where one turns from the faith in Christ, that the believer is in danger of losing his or her salvation. It is important to note the logical connection between the conditional nature of the Wesleyan receipt of justification (when a human agent responds to God’s prevenient grace and accepts the gift of salvation) and its conditional security. If this same human agent should turn from this grace and reject the gift in favor of returning to their unregenerate life, the salvation status is lost. Wesley believed, given his high view of a merciful, grace-giving God, that people who found themselves in this state could remedy the situation by a return to repentance and belief.
In Wesley’s piece, ‘A Call to Backsliders’ he looks to the warning passages of Heb 6:4-6, 1 Tim 1:19-20, and 2 Pet 2:20 – 22 and sees that even these dire warnings could be repaired. They must return to the saving faith that they once held and produce the repentance of their sins to be restored. Does Wesley ever see a permanent loss of salvation? Certainly; men will turn away from Christ without any further desire to be restored. Apostasy is a very real possibility for the Wesleyan. Though humankind may fall from grace, we never fall beyond grace. The Spirit will not abandon the believer but may be silenced by an ever harder heart.
There is an expected similarity between the Arminian and Wesleyan positions as they both root in the conditional nature of salvation and the subsequent conditional nature of security. Where the classical Arminian and the Wesleyan depart ways on this topic is in the possibility of remediation when one has apostatized. The Arminian sees this condition as a ‘shipwrecked faith’, a condition in which there is no hope of reassembling the faith again and thus, all is lost. Wesley’s theology of love built around a God of mercy and grace saw this type of permanent apostasy as a possibility but also saw that the mercy of his God would allow time and time again for the sinner to return to the altar, seeking forgiveness and a restoration of his righteousness.