Entire Sanctification Questions and Answers
1 Thessalonians 5:23
1 John 2:1-2
Question: What is Entire Sanctification?
Answer: The Wesleyan Methodist Church believes that, after conversion, but before death, a believer's heart may be cleansed from all sin.
Question: Does that mean sanctified people cannot sin?
Answer: Sanctified people can sin, just like Adam and Eve could sin -- and did. However, believers who have moved to this level of Christian life and experience are more likely not to sin than believers who haven't. Before experiencing entire sanctification, believers often lose struggles against inborn tendencies toward sinning and selfishness. After the experience, they find themselves most often feeling a tendency toward righteousness.
Question: How perfect is "Christian Perfection"?
Answer: Christian Perfection doesn't mean perfect in the sense that many think. The Biblical word for perfect means that a person is as complete as he or she was designed to be at that moment. A seven-year-old piano player might be able to perform a one-handed version of a song perfectly. When the child does so, his or her piano teacher might exclaim: "Perfect!" However, as that little musician grows up and matures, the same teacher will expect a great deal more.
Question: Why teach entire sanctification?
Answer: Contrary to conventional wisdom, catchy bumper sticker phrases, and some interpretations of 1 John 1:8, Christians within the Wesleyan, Independent Methodist and Pentecostal Holiness theological tradition have insisted on teaching a transforming experiences they label "entire sanctification." Why do they do that?
Well, those in the Wesleyan, Independent Methodist and Pentecostal Church theological tradition teach and preach entire sanctification because the Bible does call us to love perfectly, to live with a pure heart, and to be free from slavery to sin. Those three ideas are integral to the biblical concept of entire sanctification.
The possibility of deliverance from all sin and of renewal in God's image permeates Holy Scripture. Take Bible prayers, for instance. Several contain clear yearnings for a holy relationship with God (Psalm 51; John 17:17-23); To the believers in Thessalonica Paul wrote that sanctification was his heart's desire for them: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through" (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
In addition to prayers for holiness, the Bible contains commands that we be holy. "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy" is one of several passages that call us to a high plane of living (Leviticus 19:2; see also Matthew 5:48 and Hebrews 6:1).
The Bible also has examples of people who lived in holy relationship with God. Noah was called "a righteous man, blameless" (Genesis 6:9). Job, it was said, was "blameless and upright" (Job 1:1). In his first letter, John remarks: "Love has been perfected among us" (1 John 4:17, NRSV).
Such Bible passages clearly point to holiness as a core message of God's revelation to us. At its heart, the Bible is not about the bad news of defeat and enslavement to sin or of the awfulness of humanity. Rather, woven through the whole fabric of Scripture is the vision of a people set apart into a holy relationship with our holy God.
Scripture sings out the optimistic Good News that God's grace can give us victory over sin and can move us into a holy, joyful relationship with our Creator -- a relationship we were created to have.
Question: Why is it so hard to understand?
Answer: One reason people may have difficulty understanding entire sanctification is that a wide variety of terms have been used to explain it -- words like perfect love, Christian perfection, and holiness.
At times, Holiness theologians seems to say that all these terms refer to exactly the same experience. At other times, they try to separate them a bit. That can be perplexing. We don't need a fight to break out in the church to help everyone understand entire sanctification. In fact, fights over holiness (which do happen) only complicate things. What we do need is a clear explanation that can be understood.
Here is what Wesleyan and Independent Methodist Christians believe (which many other Christians do not believe): After conversion, but before death, a believer's heart may be cleansed from all sin. Expressions like "entire sanctification," "perfect love," and "Christian perfection" are some of the terms Wesleyans use to describe this experience.
Two words -- "entire" and "perfect" -- have often led to a misunderstanding of this doctrine. To clarify these and other areas of misunderstanding, we'll try answering questions we think you'd like to ask.
Question: Why is the experience called entire sanctification?
Answer: The doctrine and experience are called sanctification because that's the biblical word for the act of being made holy -- something which begins at the new birth (conversion) and continues until death. The adjective entire comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where Paul prays that the God of peace will sanctify believers "entirely" (NRSV) or "wholly" (RSV).
In the 1700's the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, understood this. He often spoke of the experience of being sanctified "entirely" or "wholly."
Using those two adjectives can raise even further questions, however. Scripture clearly says that though sanctification begins in a moment, growth in becoming more like Christ happens throughout one's lifetime. Thus, one can legitimately ask: How can one point fairly early in that process be called entire if further sanctification comes after it?
Question: How did the word "perfect" get linked to this experience?
Answer: John Wesley himself said that the only reason he used this word the word "perfect" is because the Bible spoke of perfection. Wesley, however, did insist that the words perfect and perfection never be used by themselves to describe the experience. He urged his followers to always say Christian perfection rather than simply perfection and perfected in love rather than just perfected.
The original biblical words for perfect and perfection do not mean absolute perfection with no possibility for more improvement. The Hebrew and Greek words mean that a person or thing is as complete as it was designed or expected to be at that moment.
This can be illustrated by the marriage relationship. When two people decide to get married, they make commitments to each another. They decide that they will no longer live their lives separately. On their wedding day the marriage relationship is as complete as it can be that day. As the marriage continues, however, the couple can grow in the relationship.
Was this couple's relationship less complete on the wedding day than it was at an anniversary many years later? No. It was as complete as it could be at each moment.
That is what Christian perfection is like. We can -- and must -- grow each day in our relationship with God. We are perfect at each moment of growth, as a result of having a perfect God residing in us.
Remember the example of the piano player? A little girl would likely play a simple one-hand piece on the piano for her first recital. Her teacher may well exclaim, "That was perfect!" Years later when that girl has grown into an accomplished musician, she could not expect to play the same simple piece and have her teacher still be exclaiming: "That was perfect!" Much more would be expected of her.
Likewise, when a person comes to love God with an undivided heart, the Bible says this is perfect love. That does not mean that no further growth is possible. In fact, the contrary is true. Once we love perfectly, or completely, that's when growth becomes possible.
Question: What happens to sin when I am entirely sanctified?
Answer: Sin, in the sense of worshiping self instead of God, rules the life of an unbeliever. In conversion, the ruling power of sin is broken, but the results of that life of sin remain.
Wesley and other theologians have described this sin that crops up in the lives of believers as including things like pride, self-will, and inappropriate desires. These are not outward acts that clearly break the commands of Scripture for Wesley taught that such blatant sins stopped when a person was converted.
The sin remaining in believers, he said, reflects a disposition or tendency of the heart toward self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. Entire sanctification cleanses the heart of this self-centeredness, bringing victory over this sin that remains in the believer. To describe what happens here, Wesley used Paul's words in Romans 6:11-12: "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
Question: Does this mean that an entirely sanctified person cannot sin?
Answer: No, being entirely sanctified doesn't mean that a person will not sin again. Entire sanctification is not a Wesleyan or Independent Methodist Church form of eternal security, teaching that, once we're in, we're in for good.
The point of entire sanctification is to restore people to the kind of holiness that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall. They had a perfect relationship with God. Yet, inexplicably, they chose to sin.
Entire sanctification means that a person's tendency -- some call it "leaning" -- is toward righteousness rather than toward sinning. The goal and the reasonable expectation of the entirely sanctified life is to not sin, as 1 John 2:1 makes clear: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin." The expectation was that the believers would live as Christ lived and do His will. Sanctified people not only do the will of God but also want to do the will of God.
Question: What if I do sin?
Answer: First John 2:1-2 answers that question of what a believer should do when he or she sins:
Stop doing it
Accept Christ's atonement
So, those of us who talk about entire sanctification must resist the temptation to deny that we have sinned, if indeed we have. We should also refrain from giving sin less offensive names, such as "mistake," to downplay what we have done. (By the same token, we do not use the word "sin" for honest mistakes or even just plain poor judgment.) [ Susanna Wesley's definition of sin ]
Sins of unbelievers and Christians alike violate the law of God and need the atoning blood of Christ. When promptly confessed and forsaken, sins need not break the relationship between the believer and God.
Question: How does entire sanctification take place?
Answer: A believer with little or no "hunger and thirst for righteousness" -- as Jesus said in Matthew 5:6 -- is not a candidate for entire sanctification. The experience comes only after the new birth and growth in grace.
Total commitment -- sometimes called entire consecration -- is the necessary human preparation for entire sanctification.
Wesley himself cautioned against preaching this experience to believers who were not pressing on toward the goal of spiritual maturity mentioned in Philippians 3:14.
Entire sanctification builds on a certain measure of spiritual maturity, so in most believers there is a gradual leading up to it. However, since entire sanctification is also death to sin, there is a noticeable crisis or instant in which the experience takes place.
Some people say they can point to more than one occasion when this death occurred. However, Wesley compared death to sin with a physical death. A person may be dying for some time, but there is an instant when life ceases. Likewise, a person may be gradually dying to sin and becoming more Christ-like over a long period of time. Wesley and others would say there does come a point when death finally happens and the believer may be said to be dead to the power of sin.
Question: What's left after entire sanctification?
Answer: Entire sanctification is not the final goal of the Christian life. It's really just the beginning point -- a vital step in the lifelong process of being made more like Christ.
John Wesley put it this way: justification (forgiveness of sins) is the porch; entire sanctification is the door; but the house is full fellowship with God.
So, entire sanctification is the way we enter the fullness of the Christian life. The door is not where we're headed; we want to get inside the house so that we can enjoy full fellowship with God.
Maintaining full fellowship with God is something the apostle Paul said was his lifelong passion: "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12).
Question: What happens to me when I am entirely sanctified?
Answer: Wesley said that entire sanctification enables people to fulfill the Great Commandments enunciated by Jesus: Love God with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:30-31).
Wesley observed that a person who had entered the experience usually felt a great sense of joy and peace. However, he also noticed that most who had experienced entire sanctification did encounter fluctuations -- peaks and valleys -- in their sense of joy and peace.
So, though entire sanctification radically changes our desire and ability to show love, it rarely changes our basic personality. "Driven" sinners become "driven" Christians, and they may remain so through a lifetime of sanctification. Laid-back sinners become laid-back Christians who rarely show outward signs of excitement when they are entirely sanctified. "Some people are better by nature than others are by grace."
People tend to make their own experiences the standard for other people. Thus, the search for clear evidences of entire sanctification has led to some unpleasant results. Some people have given up hope of being entirely sanctified because they were fairly sure their personalities would not allow them to exactly match another person's experience. Recognizing the variety of ways the work of sanctification affects individuals may help us restore this hope.
Through the years, some people who believed they were entirely sanctified have shown unusual responses at that moment. Shouting, running, jumping, and weeping have all been described -- and in some cases promoted -- as evidences of entire sanctification. It is clear, however, that people who have exhibited dramatic physical demonstrations have had no better track record in growing in grace following entire sanctification than other people who have not experienced dramatic outward responses. Clearly, outward physical demonstrations are not a dependable confirmation of the inward work of sanctification.
Some Christians today teach that speaking in tongues is evidence of entire sanctification. That belief is not supported either in Scripture or by experience.
We human beings cannot precisely measure the real evidence of entire sanctification. That's because the evidence is an increasing Christ-likeness. The evidence is the image of God becoming increasingly visible in a believer's life.
Question: Will there be people in heaven who have not experienced entire sanctification?
Answer: Heaven is not reserved just for Wesleyans and Independent Methodist's or for those who use the phrase "entire sanctification." Plenty of devoted Christians outside the Wesleyan or the Independent Methodist Church movement have found this kind of relationship with Christ.. Sadly, in churches where entire sanctification is not preached and taught, such testimonies are too often the exception. That's why one reason the Wesleyan and Independent Methodist movement must clearly enunciate God's call to holiness as well as His provision for it.
Since Wesley taught there was usually a period of maturing that must occur between the moment of salvation and the work of sanctification, there may be some in heaven who were in this "in between" period when they died. Eternal life is promised to all those who believe.
However, for those who have been saved and have knowingly rejected the Holy Spirit's leading into entire sanctification, a heavenly destination may not be guaranteed. We are called to walk in all the light that has been revealed to us.
One popular theological tradition says that all believers sin every day in thought, word, and deed. That seems so much less than the victory over sin promised by the Bible. Across the years far too many Christians have settled for too little, emphasizing human frailties and the pervasiveness of sin. Caving into the argument that a person is doomed to stumble along in constant failure, they have lived defeated lives. Some have given up Christianity altogether. Not only did individuals suffer personal defeat, but the reputation of the Kingdom also suffered.
As human beings, we were created in the image of God to live in holy fellowship with Him. Much of that fellowship was lost to sin. The experience of heart holiness offers us a restoration that put us back on track to fulfilling God's original plan.
Because of this, genuine, wholehearted love for God, our neighbors, and the rest of His creation is possible for us again. The doctrine of entire sanctification is the door that leads us into glorious, full and perfect fellowship with God.
Question: What does sanctification mean?
Answer: The New Testament Greek word has two meanings. They are both given in any dictionary you check.
SANCTIFY: (1) to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious
In the Old Testament temple, for example, there were rooms that could
not be entered by anyone but the priest, there were vessels and
instruments dedicated for worship, and were not to be used for common
purposes. So we are to separated from the world order for Godís use
(2) to free from sin; purify.
The Bible teaches we are not only to do good works, we are to actually
be good, cleansed, purified, made free from sin. That cannot be done by
good works, sincere effort or a strong willpower. The sin nature must
be cleansed. Jesus died to accomplish our cleansing (Titus 2:11-14).
Question: Is sanctification progressive or instantaneous?
Answer: Both. There is the progressive work of sanctification which begins
when you are saved. From that moment on, as you walk in obedience to
God and His word and daily grow in grace, you become more perfect in
your obedience and more closely conformed to the image of Christ
There is also a crisis of ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION when you
present yourself totally (without any reserve clauses) to God. On your
part, this is called total commitment or consecration. The Holy Spirit fire baptism will cleanse your heart from all inbred sin (Acts 15:9).
This is followed by a lifelong growth in grace, as you develop a life of
godliness and true holiness by faith in the cleansing, sanctifying blood of
Jesus Christ (Colossian.2:6).
Question: Is sanctification required or optional?
Answer: It is an absolute requirement. It is the will of God for you to be
sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3). It is the reason Jesus died, "Where
Jesus also that He might sanctify the people with His own blood
suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12).
Question: Didnít I receive the Holy Spirit when I was saved?
Answer: Yes. No one can be saved apart from the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). But
the fullness of the spirit, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit, comes after
you have been saved and then make a complete commitment of your all
to God (Acts 19:2).
Question: Why must I be saved before I can be entirely sanctified?
Answer: Because until you are saved, you cannot present yourself a living
sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). You are dead in trespasses and sins
(Ephesians 2:1). Only after you have been made alive can you commit
that life to God.
Question: Do I need to speak unknown tongues as evidence that I have received the sanctifying fullness of the Holy Spirit?
Answer: No. The Scriptures teach that the evidence of the fullness of the Holy
Spirit is fruit, not gifts. According to 1 Corinthians 13, it is possible to
demonstrate the gifts and not have the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace,..." etc.. (Galatians 5:22).
Question: Can a sanctified person ever be tempted to sin?
Answer: Yes. There is no state of grace that removes the possibility of
temptation; even our Lord was tempted in all points like we are, yet
without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Question: Can a sanctified person sin?
Answer: Yes. Sin is always a possibility. "Let him who thinks he stands take
heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Question: Is it possible to live a holy life without sin?
Answer: Yes. A Christian does not continue the habit and practice of willful sin.
The Apostle Paul asked, "Should we continue in sin that grace may
abound?" He then answered his own question. "God forbid! How can
we that are dead to sin live any longer therein" (Romans 6:1, 2)?
Question: What happens if a sanctified person sins?
Answer: You must confess that sin and receive the cleansing of the blood of
Jesus (1 John 2:1,2).
Question: What must I do to be sanctified?
Answer: 1. Be sure your past sins are confess and forgiven, and that you are
walking in obedience to the light of Godís word.
2. Recognize that you need to be sanctified, that it is Godís will for your
life, and that He is waiting to do it now.
3. Commit every area of your life to the will of God.
4. Pray in faith, asking God to give you the fullness of His Holy Spirit. ".
. . how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to
those who ask Him" (Luke 11:13)?
5. Believe that God has kept His word and has done the work.
A suggested prayer: Lord, You said in Your Word that the will of
God is for me to be sanctified. I recognize the need in my life. I
offer You all that I am and ever will be, all that I have or ever will
have. I surrender every area of my life to Your absolute control.
Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart and give me power
to live a victorious, holy life. I pray in Jesusí name, with thanks.
I believe that you are very much like a great number of fellow Christians who genuinely want to live their lives to please God. I rejoice with you have found that the new birth enables you to live without committing sin. However, if you have not come to that place in your Christian experience I can empathize with you as one who has been there myself.
I believe that most Christians really would like to have victory over sin. Unfortunately, most are taught that it is not possible to live without committing sin in this life. We preachers have been taught that original sin has so corrupted human nature that it is impossible for people not to sin as long as they have their human bodies. We have been taught to preach to you that deliverance from sin is not possible until you die and that as long as you live in this world your sinful nature is going to rob you of victory over sin. God's salvation consists of the forgiveness of your sins and an infilling of the Holy Spirit that helps you to do your best, which, of course, will never be enough. While this teaching is offered in all sincerity, it seems that some Christians are never satisfied with the experience it produces. I was one of those people.
Jesus taught that people must be born again (John 3:7). The reason for this is that people are born into the world spiritually and morally depraved and it is inevitably that they sin. He said that which is born of the flesh is flesh (verse 6). The Apostle Paul enlarges on this statement to show us why are estranged from God and why they sin.
The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
In other words, as long as a person is in that natural man, or fleshly, condition, he cannot discern, or comprehend, the things of God. That is why Jesus said, "You must be born again." Jesus goes on to say in John 3:6 and 7, "And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" As long as people are in the "fleshly" condition they are spiritually dead in their sins and to escape that condition they must be born again of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit translates people from a fleshly life to a spiritual life.
Consider Romans 8:1-9 where Paul contrasts the fleshly life and the spiritual life. You can plainly see that these conditions cannot coexist in the same life; they are mutually exclusive. The new birth does not leave us in the fleshly, carnal condition, but it causes us to become spiritual and to walk according to the Spirit.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
The fleshly, carnal mind is enmity against God, that is, it "does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to [it]." The new birth is a miracle that actually changes people so that they "are not in the flesh but in the Spirit."
The Apostle John wrote that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9). He also wrote in verse 8 that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." We preachers have been taught to interpret this statement in the sense that we are cleansed from all sin: past, present and future sins. If the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin, how can it be that we continue to commit sin? Either we are cleansed from all sin or we are not. I know that verse 8 says that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." People who deny the fact of deliverance from sin like to turn this verse on those of us who understand this truth and accuse us of being deceived. However, verse 8 is addressed to people that deny their sinfulness and their need for salvation. It cannot mean that a sinless condition is not possible because verse 7 says that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. If a person has been cleansed from all sin, how much sin can he have?
Finally, there is the issue of temptation. Jesus lived a human life in a human body (without the native depravity) and He faced the same temptations as you and I, yet He endured and overcame the temptations without sin. He did not overcome temptation in the power of His "Godliness," He overcame as a human in the same way as you and I can overcome temptation: through yielding to the Holy Spirit that indwelt Him.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Yes, all of us are tempted, but the temptation is not sin. The sin comes when we give in to the temptation. We have the promise that we can come to Christ in those times of temptation and He will have mercy on us and give us grace to help us overcome the temptation.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God allows that temptation can be overcome if we will just submit to that "way of escape." So, see, it is a choice you get to make by virtue of the free will with which you were endowed by God. You choice is to allow the grace of God to strengthen you in the time of temptation so that you can go through and come out victorious. Thank God, it works.