Friday, May 05, 2006

What is Entire Sanctification?



Recently, a group of Wesleyan holiness denominational leaders and scholars issued a Holiness Manifesto, contending for the necessity of a reminted statement and emphasis on sanctification in the twenty-first century. While they offered a helpful critique of contemporary evangelicalism and addressed the imperative of a socially driven, mission oriented expression of holiness, they were not able to offer any specifics as to what entire sanctification or holiness is, beyond the statement that “Holiness is Christ likeness.”

The Manifesto is indicative of the contemporary Wesleyan-Holiness tradition’s inability to articulate clearly, succinctly, and persuasively her understanding of holiness. One of the reasons behind her problem is that there are many different views of entire sanctification existing explicitly or implicitly in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, some legitimate and some illegitimate, making agreement on understanding difficult. Even in denominations that take their doctrine of entire sanctification seriously, like the Wesleyan and Nazarene Churches, both of which have clearly defined doctrinal articles on holiness, substantially different views exist among their “rank and file” adherents, laity and clergy, as well as members of their Boards of Ministerial Development.

The purpose of my article is to begin to identify the different definitions of entire sanctification that exist officially and unofficially in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. As such, my focus is not how a person enters into the holy life, the means by which entire sanctification is individually or corporately appropriated, rather my focus is upon how entire sanctification is defined or what holiness is. By beginning to “spell out” the various understandings of entire sanctification, hopefully, a basis for dialogue can be established in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, leading to the recognition and respect for legitimate differences, the discarding of inadequate views and a greater consensus as to what entire sanctification is.


While they may be nuanced differently in proclamation, education, and conversation, there are basically five different definitions of entire sanctification operating in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. All five views find their similarities and differences coalescing around the issues of willful sin, original sin (the sin nature), and the love of God and neighbor. I will begin with the lowest views, perspectives which may or may not “sell short” the work of sanctification, and work my way to the highest views, perspectives which may or may not overstate the doctrine of holiness. At this point my objective is not to critique but to define. In a subsequent article I will identify what I believe are legitimate Wesleyan-Holiness views and what are not.

A. Entire Sanctification as Simple Consecration (Not Free from Willful Sin or Sin Nature)

The first and lowest view of entire sanctification equates holiness with simple consecration. When Christians sincerely give themselves “entirely and completely” to Christ, when they have surrendered every part of who they are and all they have, when they have offered themselves on “God’s alter,” they are said to be entirely sanctified. To be entirely sanctified means to be fully surrendered to Christ.

Entirely sanctified Christians from this perspective earnestly desire to follow Christ, to love God and neighbor, but still may have strongholds or patterns of sin in their lives over which they have little or no control, may still succumb from time to time to ungodly manifestations of pride, anger, and selfishness, and may still “give in” to temptations in the moments, although this was not their intention. Their intentions are good, but there are times and places where they lack the power to follow through on their intentions. These are people who have genuinely surrendered everything to Christ, yet the power and hold of sin may not have been broken completely in their lives. However, because they have consecrated themselves entirely to God, these “struggles,” “infirmities,” “weaknesses” often are overlooked and they are said to be entirely sanctified.

In the first definition then, the focus is on entire consecration, not freedom from willful sin, not freedom from the sin nature, and not perfection in love.

B. Entire Sanctification as Freedom from Willful Sin (Not Free from Sin Nature)

The second view of entire sanctification equates holiness primarily with freedom from willful sin. When Christians have been set free from willful sin, when they have the power to refrain from deliberate sin, when they have been set free from all strongholds or patterns of sin, they are said to be entirely sanctified. To be entirely sanctified means empowerment to live a life of obedience to Christ.

Entirely sanctified Christians from this perspective can be free from willful sin, living lives of obedience to God, but cannot be completely delivered from original sin in the present life. Christians will persistently struggle with an inner attitude of rebellion, selfishness and pride. This is more than external temptation, but an internal bent to sinning that persists throughout mortal life. The believer can live above the sin nature, but can not be free from it, be victorious over it in any given temptation, but will continue to live with an internal struggle until glorification in death.

This perspective has often taught that willful sin is an exception rather than the norm of Christian life, embracing the Johannine teaching, “those who are born of God will not continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God,” while realizing that “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” While believers will have strongholds of sin broken, patterns of sin ended, because of the ongoing internal conflict, the possibility of willful sin and occasional sins remain. However, because willful sin has been overcome (at least for the most part), these Christians are entirely sanctified.

In this second definition then, the focus is on freedom from willful sin (or relative freedom), not freedom from the sin nature and not perfection in love.

C. Entire Sanctification as Freedom from Willful Sin and the Orientation to Sin (Not Free from Limitations in Love)

The third view of entire sanctification maintains that holiness entails not only liberation from willful sin, empowering Christians to live lives of obedience to Christ, but liberates Christians from the inner propensity to rebellion and disobedience as well, orienting their hearts in love for God and neighbor. To be entirely sanctified means to be set from willful sin and the sin nature, enabling believers to truly love God and neighbor. This perspective believes Christians are set from willful sin and an orientation to sin in order to be set free to love. However, love from this perspective is an orientation. The love of God and neighbor is the natural orientation of the heart. Loving God and neighbor, fulfilling the two great commandments, comes naturally to those entirely sanctified. However, loving God to the full extent to which Christians are capable of loving may not always be present.

The understanding of the sin nature is at the heart of the third view. The sin nature is defined as an orientation, inclination or proclivity to rebellion against and disobedience of God and an orientation, inclination or proclivity to selfishness. When believers are entirely sanctified and set free from the sin nature, their orientations and inclinations are transformed. Christian hearts are oriented in love. This is their natural orientation and inclination, but this does not necessarily bring about the complete realization of the love of God and neighbor at every moment in their lives. There are moments when the entirely sanctified love God and neighbor more fully than at other times. However, because willful sin and the orientation to sin have been overcome and the heart has been established in love, these Christians are said to be entirely sanctified.

In this third definition then, the focus is on freedom from willful sin, freedom from the sin nature, and an orientation in love, but not perfection in love, at least not initially.

D. Entire Sanctification as Perfection in Love (Not Free from Temptations)

The fourth view of entire sanctification, while equating holiness with freedom from willful sin and the sin nature, goes beyond the third view by defining holiness as perfection in love. Entire sanctification is more than an orientation in love, it is truly having the “mind of Christ,” loving God and neighbor “fully and completely,” without equivocation. This perfection in love is made manifest fully not only in attitude but in action as well. Christians who have been perfected in love continually love God and neighbor to the full extent to which they can be loved by Christians in the present life. The fruit of the Spirit is made manifest fully at all times in these Christian lives without diminution.

However, this state of perfect love is not immutable in the present life. Entirely sanctified Christians are not immune to temptations, even as Christ in his earthly life was not, and unlike Christ, they are capable of succumbing to temptation’s lure, even as Adam and Eve were capable in the Garden. Because of the limitations of the present human state, these Christians can defect from their first love.

In this fourth definition then, the focus is on freedom from willful sin, freedom from the sin nature, and perfection in love.

E. Entire Sanctification as Freedom from the Possibility of Sin

The fifth and highest view of entire sanctification surpasses all previous views by defining the state of entire sanctification as an immutable state. Entirely sanctified Christians are set free from all willful sin and the sin nature, set free to love God and neighbor perfectly, to the full extent to which God and neighbor can be humanly loved, and are set free from all possibility of willful sin. Love for God and neighbor is so complete or perfect, defection from this love is not possible, and at time this perspective has argued that even being tempted is impossible. The fruit of the Spirit is so perfected in the entirely sanctified, “works of the flesh” are no longer possible because of the perfection in love.

While different aspects of this position may be brought to the fore, sometimes emphasizing the impossibility of sin and at other times the impossibility of temptation, nevertheless the primary focus is the immutability of this state of Christian perfection. The entirely sanctified Christian can not fall into willful sin. As such, the human perfection and freedom seen in the humanity of Christ is seen as the example and possibility for every believer. Just as Jesus could not sin, even if temptation is granted as a possibility for Christ, so entirely sanctified Christians can not sin.

In this final definition, the focus is on the immutability of the entirely sanctified state, so that freedom from willful sin, freedom from the sin nature, and perfection in love makes Christians impervious to temptation.


In summary, I have outlined five basic definitions of entire sanctification, realizing that each of these may be nuanced in different ways as they have been taught, preached or explained in various venues. As the preceding discussion has demonstrated there are major differences that exist in these definitions of entire sanctification. As such, entire sanctification in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition can be understood in different ways, which in turn can lead to confusion in any discussion about the subject or detract from any consensus on the specifics of holiness, which may be behind the lack of specificity in the Holiness Manifesto.

For those of you who are from the Wesleyan holiness tradition, (1) which views have you been confronted with or what views have you been exposed to? For those who believe in entire sanctification, (2) which definition would be closest to your own?


At 10:57 AM, Blogger Ken Schenck said...

I just wanted to go on record as the first to post on your blog. I'm putting the link on now, so soon everyone will know!

Let the orthodoxy begin...

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

I just found out that you had a blog ... looking forward to more of this stuff!

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Oh and I have been exposed to pretty much all but the last one (although I've met a few that are close) ... I probably hold to the lower view experientially, but I'd really like to believe the higher view

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

How would you assign different denominations to each category of beliefs that you have described? Where would Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Nazarenes, etc. fit?

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I find the theology behind the last option to be the most convincing. Not that I make the claim of being there.
People like to compare these descriptions to people they know or don't know. If they can see a person like that, then they feel ok and can accept the thought. Does scripture prove man or does man prove scripture?
What would that person look like? They wouldn't be bragging about being sin free, they wouldn't even be focused on being sin free. To be there it's not about what YOU can do, but about what HE has done in you.
You would be that instrument for His righteousness you were saved and made to be. You'd be working your heinie off doing the works you were saved to do. They would be very rewarding to you, and wouldn't be works but just the way yo ulive your life. You'd be a very normal looking person, not a holy roller. You'd be ENGAGED in many Agapao focused relationships.

Thanks to the person who put this tag together, it helped me see where some misunderstandings occur when folx ask me about what I believe...

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Lulu52 said...

I have attended a Wesleyan church for some 20 years. What struck me about the congragation was the common link of changed lives, powerful spiritual battles, not always won, but the acknowledgement that holiness was wholly dependent on the grace of God through the salvation of Christ. Sanctification begins the hour we first believe and continues to work in our lives even as we pass through spiritually dark places and times.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger nosirraekim said...

It is the forth option! It certainly is not freedom from any possibility of sin. That would be a dangerous heresy. But the first one or two are valid too. It is possible that the, what we will call, fully surrendered believer, might have the revelation, but not have complete deliverance from besetting sins. But that doesn't mean that the matter is out of reach. It only means that their experience is incomplete.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger nosirraekim said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger nosirraekim said...

It is the forth option! It certainly is not freedom from any possibility of sin. That would be a dangerous heresy. But the first one or two are valid too. It is possible that the, what we will call, fully surrendered believer, might have the revelation, but not have complete deliverance from besetting sins. But that doesn't mean that the matter is out of reach. It only means that their experience is incomplete.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Why is it heresy? Changing the biblrs words to suit your own theology would be a heresy, but admitting it meant what it claimed, would hardly be a heresy. Here's another heresy. The Bible says god will change you. If he changes your heart and mind why could he not change it completely so your mind and heart were in step with his? To suggest he can't is heresy. ANY GOD CAN'T comment, I would argue is heresy. I would love for the author of this blog to have this comment in open forum to debate this topic with me. I would wager a candy bar against a bag of fertilizer that he will be aaddkmg and removing words from scripture to match his/her theology. In fact put my retirement against a can of coke. He has to deny certain vss to say it can't happen. Period. That's the heresy. Which is nnot a word I use often and even then only because someome else introduced it.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Nsir why did john show in 1 johm that believers who had christ as their mediator were not yet in fellowship with god? Because if you still sin you do not know him and haven't met him. Read the book.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I just have to say as I have been a Nazarene my whole life that Entire Sanctification is a process and therefore it has levels. We are not going to instantly reach the highest level. That level takes time and complete obedience and dedication to God. It is one step at a time and we may not reach it till we get to heaven.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger preacherman said...

Sanctification is both a process and a crisis. Sanctification as process is the maturing of the christian character and involves a lifetime of growth in grace. The process of sanctification or growth in grace begins at the moment of salvation and continues throughout the journey of the believer before and after entire sanctification.

Entire Sanctification comes in an instant preceded by consecration of the believer. Entire sanctification is a crisis that happens in an instant and results in a pure heart.

There is a distinct difference between a pure heart and mature character.

I must add there is no place in scripture that I am aware that leads us to believe anyone is ever free from temptation.

Adam and Eve were not free from temptation. Jesus Christ was not free from temptation. Temptation is not a sin! If temptation were a sin Jesus would not have qualified as "him who knew no sin."

At 7:11 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

There is also no place that says being tempted is bad. What is said is one fully sanctified will not sin. That means not give into temptations of the flesh.

You speak of temptation as a bad thing for bad people, and I have to say, my opinion of Christ is much higher than yours. His temptations were a contrast that defined how great he was.

Temptations are the contrast that defines our character. If there were no temptations, you would be snow hiding in snow, a white sheep in a white pasture, a shadow living in the darkness, as noticable as a person poi ting a flashlight towards earth with the sun at his back.

So, when one is finally matured in this life, pnil 3:15, there is nothing that says they won't. Be tempted. You presented a false dilemma.

At 12:52 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I find this post very helpful, trying to examine 'Holiness' from an Evangelical background (with some Charismatic influence). I find the idea that I might actually live a sinless life attractive and very challenging, but would want any doctrine and terminology to be compatible with a reasonable understanding of Scripture and what I know of God's work from personal experience.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior and Lord.... period. My (non-theologically trained brain) finds NOWHERE in the Bible that instructs me as to different levels of Holiness or sanctification and how to try to achieve it. I think this entire subject is man made denominal interpretation. I've never heard one preacher try this subject in a sermon. I've read it in denominational doctrine.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I spend almost 15 years in a Methodist Church and I never heard the phrases entire sanctification or holiness. But the theology was there. I truly have made people of the Nazarene tradition who are as holy as possible on this earth = thanks for the blog.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

david, "if" they are there would you want to see them, or would you want to poopoo them away??

why were both milk and meat believers Christian? why does Paul in eph 4 say we will be taken from little children to a spiritually mature as Jesus Christ was on Earth?? seems a process and diff levels there.

why did John write to some folks, who had Christ as theeir mediator, but were not yet in fellowship with God????John was in fellowship with God, the ones he wrote too were not. john WAS because he walked in the light as God does. those he wrote too, still had some darkness to be done away with. 2:8=====+

and in fellowship with Him there is no darkness in Him. those with the darkness to be washed away some more, were believers, but not yet as mature as john's group. seems different levels to me....

we could talk about those who were pervect, that is, mature, in Paul's letters and those who weren't. that is different levels......

At 6:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

John, I cam across entire sanctification without even knowing or believing it. I will tell you it is taught in the bible but for me I didn't see the call for holiness until God did a second work of grace in my heart. It has changed my view of God, sin, and life. Jesus said in Matthew 5, those who thirst for righteousness, shall be filled! That was me, I was sick of sinning and repenting constantly. Defeated, tired, and without hope. Then in an instant of desperation I asked God to change my heart. I was made pure and began a life of victory! A few weeks later having scales fall off my eyes I saw my need for the baptism of the Spirit and received that as well. Although, I have received gifts of the Spirit, to me a the grace of holiness is the most wonderful of all. I hope you don't give up and keep seeking He does reward them that diligently seek Him. I by no means have arrived, but press on to win Christ!


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