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.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Summary of Definitions of Entire Sanctification

Wednesday, May 10, 2006




While entire sanctification is defined in different ways by people in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, five basic understandings can be discerned. While these definitions are hardly exhaustive, providing only the most general of descriptions, they do provide a lens through which most teachings on entire sanctification can be seen. The five distinctive definitions of entire sanctification equate holiness with one of the following: (1) entire consecration, (2) freedom from willful sin, (3) freedom from willful sin and the sin nature, (4) perfection in love, and (5) freedom from the possibility of sin. Their differences center upon their respective understandings of willful sin, the sin nature and fulfillment of the two great commandments – love of God and neighbor.

The purpose of this article is to identify the legitimate definitions of entire sanctification, perspectives which capture the heart of the Wesleyan tradition of holiness and articulate the fullness of salvation made possible by Christ through the Holy Spirit, as well as identify illegitimate expressions, views which “sell short” ” the work of holiness or “promise too much.” I will begin with the inadequate definitions, ones that are not truly Wesleyan, and move to faithful expressions.


Of the five definitions of entire sanctification, three are illegitimate: (1) entire consecration, (2) freedom from willful sin, and (5) freedom from the possibility of sin. The first two definitions have “too low a view” of the work holiness in the present life, while the last has “too high a view.”

A. Entire Sanctification as Entire Consecration

The first view, entire sanctification as entire consecration, has its origins in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, being found prominently in John Wesley’s and Phoebe Palmer’s teaching on sanctification. Wesley assumed entire consecration on the part of Christians at or before the experience of conversion. Wesley did not believe a person could be born-again apart from entire consecration. Entire consecration was essential in becoming a Christian. Palmer, on the other hand, saw entire consecration as an act of a believer subsequent to conversion and an essential element in appropriating entire sanctification. Along with the exercise of faith, entire consecration was the means by which Christians entered into the life of holiness. For Wesley and Palmer consecration was a means to holiness, but not the equivalent of it.

In the American holiness tradition, a transition took place, particularly at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the early twentieth century, making entire consecration synonymous with entire sanctification. The rationale: if people relinquished control of their lives and surrendered everything to the Holy Spirit, then of course the Holy Spirit would take complete control and exercise dominion in their lives. The Spirit always receives and takes control of what people freely give to Him. At the moment Christians fully surrender to Christ, the Holy Spirit performs the work of entire sanctification. Therefore, when people entirely consecrate their lives to Christ, they are said to be entirely sanctified, whether they have had a deeper cleansing work of the Holy Spirit or not. Over time as entire consecration rose to the fore as an equivalent to entire sanctification and the power and hold of sin was not broken, remaining patterns of sin and obvious sin were classified as “struggles,” “infirmities,” and “weaknesses.” They were overlooked or explained away. An emphasis upon freedom from sin and perfection in love receded to the background.

At this point, it may be helpful to clarify that while entire consecration is essential to the realization of entire sanctification, it is not the equivalent of it. A truly Wesleyan definition of holiness has affirmed that it is possible for a Christian to be fully surrendered to the Lord and not be entirely sanctified. To entire consecration faith must be added in the appropriation of entire sanctification. If this is not affirmed, then many Christians will settle for an experience that “falls short” of the salvation made available thorough Jesus Christ, living in the bondage of sin or being forced to live a lie – claiming to be free from sin, when in fact they are not.

In short, entire consecration as entire sanctification as presently expressed falls short of a truly Wesleyan-Holiness definition because it too easily settles for a life characterized by servitude to sin, too quickly glosses over willful and original sin, and misses the role of sanctifying faith in the appropriation of entire sanctification. Entire sanctification entails far more than entire consecration.

B. Entire Sanctification as Freedom from Willful Sin

The next illegitimate definition, entire sanctification as freedom from willful sin, has often been called the Keswick view of holiness, and historically has had a close relationship with the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition at least on two levels. First, like a truly Wesleyan Holiness view, the Keswick understanding believes Christians can be set free from willful sin, often in a second work of grace subsequent to conversion, enabling lives of obedience and surrender to Christ. Like the Wesleyans, freedom from willful sin is emphasized. Second, the Keswick view through the preaching of D.L. Moody and teaching of Hannah Whitehall Smith became intimately entwined with the Holiness movement in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. At times they became virtually indistinguishable, often working in conjunction with one another, allowing much cross pollination of ideas, so that, often Wesleyan Holiness preachers and evangelists preached the Keswick teaching.

The strength of the Keswick teaching is its Christian realism. There is power to live in obedience to Christ, to live as a Christian and truly be a Christian. Yet, the pull of temptation, the desire to serve self, the divided heart, and a strong carnal passion are acknowledged in believers. Christians do not have to give in to the “flesh,” “the carnal nature,” and/or “the law of sin” in them, but they will never be free from this internal bent. The Keswick teaching describes what many people believe is realistically possible in the present life, what they believe they can live in this life. As such, and because of the Keswick’s historic relationship with the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, the Keswick view is a popular definition for entire sanctification among many leaders in Wesleyan circles.

However, the Keswick definition “falls short” of describing the holiness possible in the present life, because it does not take seriously deliverance from nature of sin. There have been a number of expressions used by Wesleyans to describe the inward freedom from the power of original sin. Negatively, "eradication of the sin nature," "overcoming the sin principle, "cleansing from original sin," and "deliverance from inward rebellion" have been some of the popular ways this work of sanctification has been described. Positively, "baptism of the Holy Spirit, "infilling of the Spirit, "perfect love," and "full salvation," have been some of the expressions used to define this work of sanctification. Regardless of the language used, all of these expressions covey a redemption from that part of human existence that sets itself up against the rule of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, a liberation from the "old man" that cries out "I won't" and/or "I can't" to the call of discipleship. Because the Keswick definition fails to recognize the depth of entire sanctification, it is not a legitimate Wesleyan Holiness view.

Stated more concisely, entire sanctification as freedom from willful sin falls short of a truly Wesleyan Holiness view, because it does not take seriously the possibility that Christians can be set free from the “bent toward sinning” or the sin nature. Christians can overcome willful sin, live in obedience, but that obedience often is “hard fought,” because of the “flesh.”

C. Entire Sanctification as Freedom from the Possibility of Sin

The final illegitimate view, entire sanctification as freedom from the possibility of sin, is the highest view of entire sanctification. Like the other illegitimate views, there is a history with and relationship to the Wesleyan Holiness movement. From the time of John Wesley’s ministry to the nineteenth century holiness movement, through the twentieth century, there have been Wesleyan groups who have so emphasized the power of God’s grace of God and fullness of salvation, they have taught that entire sanctification sets a person free from the possibility of sin. Generally, this optimism has been expressed either as freedom from all temptations, freedom from the possibility of sin, or a combination of both teachings. As a result of entire sanctification a person no longer experiences temptation, and thus has no possibility of really sinning, or they are rendered incapable of sinning, being made immutable in their holiness.

John Wesley encountered this view of Christian perfection in the 1760’s in London. Two Methodist preachers, Maxfield and Bell were teaching that once people were entirely sanctified they were free from every temptation and could not sin. Wesley vigorously denied and refuted such a high view of Christian perfection. The Holiness movement in the nineteenth century had people like G.D. Watson and followers who argued for immutable perfection. Holiness camp meetings in the twentieth centuries have had a long history of people testifying to being freed from all temptation. However, Wesleyan Holiness theologians and leaders have continually rejected this highest view of sanctification.

As a definition of entire sanctification, this view overstates the possibilities of holiness in the present life. While orthodox holiness teaching has affirmed, that a person by grace can have the nature of sin removed, this state of holiness does not place believers in a state of perfection higher than Adam and Eve had in the garden. Even though they did not have the sin nature, they were subject to temptation and capable of succumbing to sin. As such, entire sanctification has not historically been viewed as a state of perfection equal to or superior to the perfection Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall. Entire sanctification is not an immutable form of Christian perfection.

In short, entire sanctification as freedom from the possibility of sin promises too much to Christians in the present life. From a true Wesleyan-Holiness perspective, there is no state of perfection in the present life that makes Christians impervious to temptation and/or the possibility of sinning.


In order for a definition of entire sanctification to be a truly Wesleyan-Holiness definition, that definition must address positively freedom from willful sin, freedom from the sin nature (original sin), and freedom to love God and neighbor. This threefold liberation, two of which are negative and one positive, forms the heart of the Wesleyan-Holiness teaching on entire sanctification. Of the five definitions given, two meet these criteria: (3) freedom from willful sin and the sin nature and (4) perfection in love.

A. Entire Sanctification as Freedom from Willful Sin and the Sin Nature

The first legitimate Wesleyan-Holiness definition of holiness, entire sanctification as freedom from willful sin and the sin nature, satisfies the three criteria for Wesleyan holiness teaching – freedom from willful sin, freedom from the nature of sin (original sin), and a heart oriented in love for God and humanity. From this perspective, when the Spirit takes residence in human lives, he begins the process of transforming their attitudes, interests, and actions, while confronting them with an internal principle of selfishness and sin, persisting stubbornly in them. This is often called “initial” and “progressive” sanctification. While it may be described in different ways, this view believes the Spirit can conquer this principle and enable believers to more fully love God, to live in complete obedience to His revealed will and to serve others in love.

Entire sanctification sets people free from sin in order to set them free to love. However, this definition, primarily found in the later American Holiness tradition, recognizes their may be limitations to the expression and experience of this love. People who have been entirely sanctified may have their hearts oriented in love, love may be the natural disposition of their hearts, and yet love may not always be fully expressed or actualized in their lives. They may not always love God with “all of” their “heart, soul and mind” and may not always love their neighbors to the full extent to which they should be loved. These limitations may be a result of ignorance (lack of self awareness of cultural bias), physical limitations (lack of sleep, food), emotional trauma (due to poor modeling of love), etc.

Therefore this view strongly affirms that in entire sanctification Christians are redeemed from self-focused living, and their hearts are renewed, restoring the capacity to fully love God, humanity, and self. However, this view recognizes that this love may be limited in experience and expression, arising from deficiencies created during life or related to our physical limits as human beings. At this point, they may distinguish between the sin nature humanity inherits from birth from which Christians are delivered in entire sanctification and the prejudices, lies, and misconceptions acquired from environment. A Christian’s ability by grace to fully love God and humanity is made possible by the cleansing of the sin nature, but may be limited in expression by other factors. However, as these areas are addressed by the Holy Spirit, this view believes Christians can experience greater depths and expressions of love.

For some in the Wesleyan holiness tradition this would be an expression of a “lower” view of Christian perfection because fully loving God and humanity is made possible by the cleansing of the sin nature, the heart is oriented in love, is naturally disposed to love, but may be limited in experience and expression by other factors.

B. Entire Sanctification as Perfection in Love

The highest legitimate definition of holiness, entire sanctification as perfection in love, primarily found in John Wesley and associated with the American Methodist tradition, differs from the previous view, only in regard to the issue of love. Entire sanctification means freedom from sin and the sin nature, but goes beyond a simple heart oriented in love, more than a restoration of the capacity to fully love God and neighbor. Entire sanctification ultimately entails the actual loving of God continually with all “heart, soul, mind, and strength” and continually loving neighbor as self. In these higher expressions of entire sanctification, this view sees Christian perfection as loving as Jesus loved, being just like Christ, “Christlike” in love of the Father and in love of humanity, which is the fullest expression of human love.

In the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition this is the higher view of Christian perfection. Entire sanctification is not only freedom from willful sin, freedom from the sin nature, but ultimately is perfect love, always loving God and neighbor to the full extent of Christians are capable of doing.


In summary, I have identified three illegitimate definitions of entire sanctification, illegitimate not because they are without history in or relationship with the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, but because they do not meet the three essential criteria of Wesleyan Holiness teaching – freedom from willful sin, freedom from the sin nature, and love of God and neighbor. I have also identified two legitimate definitions, with the difference between them being their respective understandings of fulfillment of the two great commandments. One see entire sanctification as an orientation in love while the others sees love as fully expressed and experienced in the lives of the entirely sanctified. Both understandings have strengths and weaknesses which I will explore later.

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?