Entire sanctification is my favorite doctrine in the Church of the Nazarene and it’s what attracted me to this denomination in the first place. It is a Work of God given to us by grace through faith and it comes after regeneration, that is when we are born again and pass from spiritual death to life. It is an experience at a crisis moment that cleanses our heart from original sin and empowers you to serve the Lord. But, we must consecrate ourselves and surrender ourselves to him(Romans 12:1) and we are brought to a state of total devotement to God. We move from being just a fan of Jesus to being a fully committed follower. We know we are entirely sanctified because the Holy Spirit bears witness and gives us assurance. The spiritual fruit produced by His presence is as natural as fruit on a natural tree. We are partakers of His divine nature. The presence of a holy God produces holiness of character and action. There can be no bitterness, resentment, ill will, or unforgiveness in the presence of a holy God who keeps the attitudes of the heart clean. As we walk in the light of His truth, we grow in likeness to Him. A lot of confusion of this doctrine may come up because of the several different terms that relate to it such as “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.” There is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. We need to purposefully nurture ourselves so this grace isn’t frustrated and lost.
Now to understand this doctrine of entire sanctification we need to have a grasp on other doctrines such as sin and atonement. We need to remember that salvation is both a process as well as an event. Through this process though we need to remember the cost as well as the call to reflect the image of God. I love what John Wesley says in his “Plain Account of Christian Perfection”. That it is impossible to be a half Christian and Wesley said “through His grace to be all devoted to God, to give Him all my soul, my body, and my substance.” He also said this of entire sanctification… “…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’ ( A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism p. 12).
Now at the beginning of salvation at our conversion and initial sanctification experience, it doesn’t happen by accident. The spirit enables us to come to Him by prevenient grace which is the grace that goes before and is the work of the Holy Spirit drawing near to everyone giving them a choice to receive the gift of salvation. It’s is God’s grace but, our choice. This is for everyone. God has not predestined some to go heaven and some to go to hell. There is a university of sin that prevents man to do good and attain salvation on their own without the redemptive power of God working. At conversion we are made right with God by faith in Christ and repentance from sin. We are made righteous by imputation and impartation of God’s righteousness. The great plan of salvation to restore a falling humanity to the image of God. I think Dunning says it best when he said…”The total process of sanctification from it’s beginning in the new birth, it’s “perfection in love” at entire sanctification and it’s progressive development toward final salvation has as its objective the restoring of man to his original destiny’ (Grace, Faith, & Holiness p. 478).
Wesley also believed that even though Christians will sin from time to time that they have the freedom from the dominion and power of sin when they are entirely sanctified. My favorite bible verse that supports entire sanctification is from 1 Thessalonians 5:23
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Although the sanctified believer can sin, they will have a desire not to as they are more inclined to righteousness then are to sin. This is why it’s important in our understanding of the theology of entire sanctification to distinguish what sin is. The Calvinist would say that we sin in word, thought, and deed everyday and that it is any deviation from the law of God. However, the more biblical and Wesleyan approach would say that sin is any transgression against the known law of God by any morally responsible person. Also, the Wesleyan has a twofold understanding of sin in that there is original and actual sin. Original sin is inherited from Adam when sin first entered the world and we inherit it by being a part of Adam’s race. This original sin is expelled from the believer when their heart is cleansed and they experience the crisis moment called entire sanctification, when they love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, strength, soul and love their neighbor as them self. Whereas personal sin or often called sins of the spirit which deal with the attitudes and intentions of the heart are actual and personal sins that even the sanctified believer can commit. We need to be careful though not to attest ignorance or short commings as sin but, opportunities for us to grow in grace.
Leo. JOHN WESLEY’S CONCEPT OF SIN (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Dunning, H. Ray. Grace, Faith, and Holiness. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press. 1988. Print.
Thorsen, Don. An Exploration of Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academics. 2008. Print.