Thursday, May 25, 2006

How Does a Person Experience Entire Sanctification?



If a person is convinced that there is a work of God that can set Christians free from willful sin and the nature of sin, orienting the heart in love, leading to the fulfillment of the two great commandments, then the question arises: how can a person experience entire sanctification? How does a person enter into this life of holiness? Just as there are different definitions of entire sanctification in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, there are different teachings about appropriating entire sanctification.

The primary purpose of this article is to explore the three dominant models on becoming entirely sanctified in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. Historically, each paradigm has been used by God to help people enter into the experience of entire sanctification. However, some are more theologically accurate while others are less so; some are more helpful, while others are less so. While the focus here is on describing the three means, the secondary goal is to set up a critique in the subsequent essay.


In the doctrine of salvation a distinction is made often between an ordo salutis and a via salutis, between an order of salvation and the way of salvation, between a nice, linear, logical understanding of salvation and the way salvation actually occurs in people’s lives. The two, while having overlap and similarities, can be quite different. The purpose of an ordo salutis is to help guide people in the via salutis. The three models presented below are ordines salutis of entire sanctification; they are theological articulations to help people enter into the experience of entire sanctification, but with any formal expression, the actual experience may not fit easily into any one of these. Thus, an experience of entire sanctification is not bound by them.

The three general paradigms of experiencing entire sanctification in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition are (A) entire sanctification now by consecration and faith - “the shorter way,” (B) entire sanctification by seeking until you receive – “the middle way,” and (C) entire sanctification by long process of growth – “the longer way.”

A. Entire Sanctification Now by Total Consecration and Faith – “The Shorter Way”

The most optimistic model, the teaching that believes entire sanctification is most easily accessible to people, states that Christians can experience entire sanctification now, in the present moment, through an act of entire consecration and faith, whereby believers surrender their lives to the lordship of Christ and trust God to purify and empower them. Entire sanctification is a simple synergism in which the work of consecration and faith by a Christian is met immediately with deliverance from the inner propensity to sin by the Holy Spirit.

What makes this position unique in the larger Wesleyan-Arminian tradition is its understanding of the ability Christians have to consecrate themselves and exercise faith. Every believer has an inherent power, either as a gift of prevenient grace, regenerating grace, or as an uncorrupted part of free will, to do the human work required in entire sanctification. From the moment of conversion any Christian has the ability to appropriate entire sanctification. Because the Holy Spirit is always ready to respond to a personal act of consecration and faith, only ignorance on the part of a believer, an unwillingness to surrender fully to the Lord or a lack of will to believe become the root causes for not experiencing entire sanctification.

Traditionally, this view has been termed the "shorter way" for its emphasis on the immediacy of the experience of entire sanctification, not having to wait any significant length of time to experience after conversion. Primarily associated with the teaching of Phoebe Palmer and the holiness movement, this position can be seen in Keith Drury's Holiness for Ordinary People, in Kenneth Grider’s A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, and is the most probable position expressed in the Articles of Religion of The Wesleyan Church. This model has been the most popular and dominant teaching in the American Holiness tradition.

B. Entire Sanctification by Seeking until You Receive – “The Middle Way”

The next paradigm for experiencing entire sanctification in the Wesleyan tradition affirms that through personal consecration and faith entire sanctification is realized in a Christian's life. However, unlike the “shorter way,” it does not believe that faith necessary to appropriate entire sanctification is a power inherent at any given moment in a believer's life. Rather, sanctifying faith is seen as a gift of grace, a grace with which a Christian can choose to cooperate or not. The grace capable of creating this faith often requires more grace than is made available at conversion.

John Wesley's teaching on levels or degrees of grace and faith is at the heart of this holiness teaching. Wesley taught that a person is totally dependent on God's grace for the work of salvation. At each stage or level of progression in the way of salvation more grace is needed to move forward. For example, Wesley taught that prevenient grace given to every person enables a person to respond to grace, but prevenient grace does not have within itself the power to generate faith to appropriate the new birth. To prevenient grace more grace has to be given to create the possibility of saving faith. This grace is communicated through the various means of grace, most notably through the preaching of the gospel, but also through other “instituted” and “prudential” means, such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, Holy Communion, and the General Rules of Methodist societies. Through participation in the means of grace, grace capable of creating saving faith can be communicated, with which a person can choose to cooperate or not. In the same way, to the grace made available at conversion, more grace must be given in order to make possible the creation of faith necessary to appropriate entire sanctification.

From this perspective Christians actively seek entire sanctification, availing themselves of the various means of grace, waiting for God's grace capable of creating faith to appropriate it. Thus, a person cannot be entirely sanctified at any given moment, but only in those times and places in which God's grace is being made available that can create such faith. There are moments, windows of opportunity for believers to experience entire sanctification, those moments when God makes grace available to create sanctifying faith. For example, while Wesley describes faith that sanctifies entirely as a trust that “God hath promised it in the Holy Scripture,” that “God is able to perform” it, that “He is able and willing to do it now,” and a “that He doeth it,” he makes clear that it is a “a divine evidence and conviction,” it is a faith that God creates and enables through the means of grace.

Among the various Wesleyan models, this teaching may be called the "middle way," sympathetic to the optimism and simplicity of the "shorter way," but recognizing the necessity of further grace and God’s timing in making grace available, while at the same time refusing to succumb to the arduous nature of the "longer way," addressed in the next position. The “middle way” is optimistic about the experience of entire sanctification being sooner, rather than later, not being an experience that has to be sought over the course of a lifetime. For the person earnestly seeking entire sanctification and placing herself in the means of grace, opportunities will arise. "The middle way" is seen in Steve DeNeff's Whatever Became of Holiness?, in some of John Wesley's more optimistic pieces like "The Scripture Way of Salvation," and can also be argued as a possible position taken in The Wesleyan Church’s Articles of Religion. Of the three models, this view has received the least attention, often remaining unnoticed in many scholarly discussions and practical teaching on entire sanctification.

C. Entire Sanctification by Long Process of Growth – “The Longer Way”

In contrast to the previous two positions, the third Wesleyan teaching on holiness emphasizes that entire sanctification is realized most often in a Christian's life after a long journey of dying to self, following many years of spiritual development. There will be some Christians who will realize entire sanctification in the present life, but most will not experience it until just before death or at the point of glorification. A belief in the persistence and stubbornness of original sin forms the heart of the doctrine, a recalcitrance that can be overcome only gradually through significant growth in grace, personal denial, and spiritual development.

The analogy of a slow death is one of the most well known descriptions of this view, an analogy which emphasizes the complementary nature of process with an instantaneous moment. In a slow death, there is a long process leading to the point of death, often a painful and arduous process. Nevertheless, there is a point in which a person dies. While this view does not deny the possibility of a short process and early death, or the exercise of personal faith in appropriating entire sanctification, its focus is on the long progression. While the moment in which a Christian dies completely to self is always the goal in the present life, the process leading to the goal takes preeminence.

The movement toward this state of perfection can only be brought about by growth in grace, knowledge, wisdom, experience, and the practice of spiritual disciplines. As such, entire sanctification is not really seen as a possibility for new converts, but only for those who have diligently followed Christ for many years.

In the Wesleyan tradition this view has been called the "longer way," because of its focus on an extended process in the realization of entire sanctification. The "longer way" is described and embraced in Thomas Oden's Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology Volume Three, in Randy Maddox’s Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology, and in John Wesley's more pessimistic writings, such as "Brief Thoughts on Christian Perfection." While not as popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the “shorter way,” and even the “middle way,” the “longer way” has more recently come to the fore in American Wesleyan-Arminian circles, particularly in academic arenas.


While all three models of entering into the experience of entire sanctification have their proponents in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and are legitimate Wesleyan holiness views, there differences are great, not easily reconcilable with each other. Depending on what model a person uses in pastoral practice or personal discipleship, will impact how ministry is done, what counsel is offered in guiding people in the way of salvation, and how entire sanctification is sought. Fundamentally, their differences arise over their respective understanding of the operation of God’s grace in salvation and sanctification. In the next entry, these differences will be explored and critiqued.


At 5:45 PM, Blogger Mike Cline said...

I'm most drawn to the Middle Way, but I struggle with all the views to a varying degree. The middle way seems logical to me, and the most representative of initial salvation's method (just applied to sanctification), but I've never understood why God would only open a window here or there. Or why God would wait. Is there anything more special about Him finally pouring out enough grace to "reach" sanctification on one day over another? What's He waiting for, a special holiday?

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


Good question. Two cursory responses: First, at the heart of your question is the issue of grace and the communication of grace to us - what is grace and how does God give us grace? (A question I will be exploring later this summer) Related to these is the question of how does God generally work in the world? We would like to believe that God serves us at our discretion, that God always responds immediately to our every cry. However, I believe Scripture shows on many occasions a God who waits, a God of "seasons," a God of timing. For example, why did the world have to wait for the coming of Christ - why such a long period between the Fall and the incarnation? Why did Jesus tell the Greeks seeking an audience with him that he would not meet with them because this was not their time? Why did not Pentecost immediateily happen after the ascension of Jesus, why did the disciples have to tarry in Jerusalem? Why does God choose to work through the Church to spread the Gospel, why not mass communicate it to all by divine fiat?

At the heart of the middle way is an understanding of grace that recognizes that God grace is most generally communicated through the means of grace - there are God appointed places and things - where God usually works, but there is no garentee that they are always used by God every moment as a means of grace. In the middle way, Christians place themselves in the means of grace until God moves through them. This certainly appears to be a biblical pattern in scripture.

Second, the middle way takes seriously that faith is what appropriates entire sanctification, but it is an incredible faith, a faith that can't be humanly generated. Think with me for a momont, especially in today's evagelicalism: how difficult is it to really "believe," have faith, that (as Wesley states it)God has promised it in scripture, that God is able to do it, that God wants to do it and that He does it even now. On an intellectual level we may come to this point, but in our hearts? It really does take divine grace to first intellectually convince us of the possibility of God doing this work in us in a moment and then a deeper work of grace to convince our hearts of this truth. How many times have we prayed, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Lord, I can believe it in my head, but I can't seem to get it in my heart." Ultimately, the faith that appropriuates the work of entire sanctification in the middle way is this heart level faith.

Your question, "What's He waiting for, a special holiday?" is a good question. It is my question as well. But, maybe,it is an inadequate question. Perhaps, a better question, or at least one that can helps us get at the heart of the issues is this - How does God generally work in this world? How does God generally work to save people and save people to the "uttermost"?

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


I said your question was "inadequate." That was a poor choice of words. Perhaps what I should have said is that there are more fundamental questions that must be explored and answered before your question, and mine as well, can be answered.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Do you think that one can be consistant and say that initial "salvation" is done through the shorter way, and then a "full salvation" is appropriated through the middle way?

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


On a pragmatic, experiential level I could say yes. That is: it could "appear" to be the "shorter way" in the experience of the new birth or entire sanctification or as you have said "the shorter way" in the new birth and the "middle way" in entire sanctification. However, from a theological perspective I do not believe you can hold to both models - the shorter and middle way. There are theologically incompatible - they have a fundamentally different understanding of how grace works in people's lives. They both come from different theological understandings of salvation - the "shorter way" being at worst a semi-Pelagian view of salvation and at best a soft semi-Augustinian view of salvation. The "middle way" is a solid or hard semi-Augustinan view of salvation. I believe you theological understanding of salvation (Pelagian, Semi-Pelagian, Semi-Augustinian, Augustianian) will be directly related to your view of appropriating entire sanctification.

I hope this helps.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Perhaps my problem is that I occasionally use the word "salvation" to only mean ticket to heaven. I think I am semi-pelagian in my understanding of "ticket to heaven" but when it comes to full salvation I am more semi-augustinian.

Oh and I didn't liek how you said "at worst" semi-pelagian as if that was a bad thing.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


The semi-Pelagian perspective is within the Tradition of the Church and is the generic Evangelical view of salvation. You are definitely within "your rights" to believe so. It is interesting that you would not be consistant in your thinking though. "At worst" was a poor choice of words.

Out of curosity, do you make a distinction between when justification (a ticket to heaven) takes place and the new birth or conversion takes place?


At 12:54 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

I don't know ... perhaps I might. I know that probably isn't within the bounds of tradition (no pun intended). I am struggling through this part of my theology and reading on it as much as I can. Any suggestions?

I think the reason I am not consistant with my thinking is that my belief system and what I have experienced don't always match up.

If one is reacting positively towards the grace that he/she has been givin, then have they recieved their "ticket to heaven"? Maybe. However most of us would be hard pressed to say that this particular person has been "converted" if they have not made a solid choice to do so.

Does the way of salvation and the order of salvation have to always look the same pragmatically?

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


In regard to your last question, I would answer, "No." That is the reason I make a distinction between an ordo salutis (order of salvation) and a via salutis (way of salvation, between our theological constructs and formal understanding of salvation and the actual experience of salvation. Although I believe they are related,even intimately so, they are often not the same - there can be differences between our formal theological understanding of salvation and the way salvation actual happens in our lives. The actual experience of salvation may not neatly follow our neat model of salvation.(This is an idea I want to develop in depth later.)

For example in the book of Acts, there is the ordo salutis in chapter 2 - repent, believe, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. However, as you read each account of the experience of salvation in Acts, while all these element are present, they do not always ooccur in that order. At times people recieve the Holy Spirit before baptism and sometimes after baptism. At times the reception of the Spirit happens immediately at coming to Christ, sometimes days (possibly longer)after coming to Christ.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Tim Sheets said...

Hello Dr. Bounds! Enjoyed your writing and was moved to thinking by it.

I was thinking of the implications (related to youth ministry) each view generates in the teaching/preaching of a youth pastor.

1.“The Shorter Way” – If you hold to this view there is nothing to hold you back from preaching/teaching entire sanctification to teenagers who are believers. You can assume that all who are believers can receive this gift right here and now, if they would just give their all to God.

The problems? Teenagers come forward, consecrate themselves to God, and expect He has done a special work in them. However, next week they stumble, give in, or mess up and begin questioning the legitimacy of God’s work in their life. After trip #2,377 to the altar to repeat the process of consecration/surrender, they begin doubting God and His sanctifying ability. They get frustrated with God for not doing His part. Soon they have lost all belief that God can entirely sanctify them. Also, other teens witnessing them going through this process of claiming to be entirely sanctified, messing up, seeking the work again and reclaiming it, may doubt God’s ability and power too.

2.“The Middle Way” – Holding to this view allows you to preach/teach entire sanctification in a reasonable way. There is a real balance here between our part and God’s part. Our job as youth pastors is to encourage them to continue seeking God because something special awaits them.

The problems? Might get hassled (from those who hold to the “Shorter Way”) for not teaching/preaching a right here and now entire sanctification. Might also frustrate impatient teenagers. They are very accustomed to getting things quickly. We live in an instant world. So, to tell them to seek and keep seeking may get them fired up for a week, but beyond that, they may give up seeking.

3.“The Longer Way” – It seems if you held this view as a youth pastor, you’re off the hook when it comes to teaching/preaching entire sanctification to teenagers. Maybe there are a few who would be close to it, but like this view says, “most will not experience it until just before death or glorification.” So why bother with it? A lot of youth pastors I’ve met hold to this view. They have told me, “Don’t confuse a teenager with the entire sanctification talk.” Or “I don’t think we should expect teens to be entirely sanctified.”

The problems? Could prevent teens from seeking and experiencing this gift of grace because they know that their chances of experiencing it (now) are slim to none. But, what if they’re spiritually hungry for something more and desire to truly seek after this work of grace? If they never hear that it is possible to experience this work sooner than later, holiness may become the impossible dream to them. It seems we also limit the Holy Spirit’s power.

I know the mind of a teenager is very delicate and impressionable. But, I don’t think aborting the truth of entire sanctification is necessary when it comes to youth ministry. I think I remember you saying you were a youth pastor once. How did you teach/preach entire sanctification to teenagers? I’m curious and have a heart for seeing teens experience this wonderful work of grace in their life.

At 5:19 AM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


Thank you for your comments and reflection. They are very helpful and insightful. You have a solid grasp on the strengths and weaknesses of the three models. I see a pastor-theologian at work in your comments:>)

I was a youth pastor for six years and I did teach entire sanctification (This was not the term I used. Instead I used "fullness of the Spirit" or "filled with the Holy Spirit.") and I have seen and have known youth experience entire sanctification, at least as the "low legitimate view" of entire sanctification, as defined in an earlier article. You have outlined well the strengths and weaknesses of the three ways in youth ministry. As you know from our class together, I am a middle way pastor. Because all of my ministry is in the United Methodist Church, where there was little or no teaching on Wesleyan holiness, I did not have to compete with other models, so there was no pressure there. While "seeking until you receive" can be frustrating, and we live in a culture of immediacy, this is an important concept for youth to begin to grasp in their discipleship.

Blessings on you and your ministry!

At 3:37 PM, Blogger Tom Rome said...

While I appreciate your column I need to tell you that sanctification is an instantaneous experience. The doctrine of men has twisted it into a 'gradual' life long process which is not biblical. I've met people (most from out of the country) that have experienced it. I could go on and on but I would encourage you and everyone to visit a site called enterhisrest dot org and research for themselves.


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