Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification
In this post, I will be covering the Church of the Nazarene's tenth Article of Faith. This Article articulates the denomination's understanding of Christian holiness and the doctrine of Entire Sanctification, or Christian Perfection. It states:
"We believe that sanctification is the work of God which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ. It is wrought by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit in initial sanctification, or regeneration (simultaneous with justification), entire sanctification, and the continued perfecting work of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification. In glorification we are fully conformed to the image of the Son. We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by grace through faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness. This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart unity,” “the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.” We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace. We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the divine impulse to grow in grace as a Christlike disciple. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christlikeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavor, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost. Participating in the means of grace, especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church, believers grow in grace and in wholehearted love to God and neighbor."Sanctification
Sanctification is the process through which the Holy Spirit transforms us from looking like ourselves to looking like Christ. In other words, sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer where He molds us into the image of Christ. Sanctification is a gradual process. No one becomes a Christian, then wakes up the next morning looking like Jesus. Sanctification can be understood at different "points".
Initial sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit that is simultaneous with Justification, in which God judicially declares a person's full pardon from sin. It is sometimes called Regeneration, or being "born again."
Entire sanctification refers to the moment when a person's heart is perfected in love by the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is sometimes called "Christian Perfection." This is what is referred to in Matthew 5:48. Entire sanctification is received by faith, and is simultaneous with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is recognized as the moment in which the Holy Spirit cleanses a person's heart so that he or she has perfect love for God and perfect love for others. Entire sanctification comes after initial sanctification.
Glorification is the last point. When we experience glorification, we will be completely conformed to the image of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This will happen when our mortal physical bodies are transformed into eternal physical bodies. It will happen in the twinkling of an eye, when we are resurrected.
This is the distinctive doctrine of Wesleyanism. Virtually every denomination holds to some view of initial sanctification and glorification. However, not everyone agrees with the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. While it is clear that this concept is spoken of throughout the New Testament, one passage in particular highlights this doctrine. This passage is Matthew 5:43-48.
In this passage, Jesus is speaking about loving our enemies. Jesus explains that the statement "Love your neighbor, hate your enemy,"is wrong, and tells His disciples that God sends rain on both the just and the unjust. Because God loves this way, we are to love this way. Jesus then makes the statement that we are to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." In this passage, Jesus encapsulates the doctrine of Christian Perfection. We should note three things about this.
First, we should note that Jesus is commanding His disciples to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. This is important to understand, because some have looked at this passage and written it off as an ideal that will never actually be attained. The difficulty with this is that it is something that Christ has commanded of His disciples. I do not believe that Christ would have commanded His disciples to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect if it were not possible. The natural question that arises from this is "What does it mean to be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect?" This brings me to my next two points.
The second thing we should note is that Jesus uses a specific word when stating that we are to be perfect. This word is τέλος, and it refers to the end for which something was made. This means that, in short, we are to be perfect in regards to the end that we are here for. In that regard, we can be perfect just like our heavenly Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The third thing we should notice is that Jesus says this in the context of a discussion of how we should love. We are told elsewhere in Scripture that God is love (1 John 4:8), so it makes sense that if we are to be anything like God, we must imitate His love. This is essentially what Jesus is saying here. Christian Perfection involves a perfect love for God and love for others. It does not mean that we will be perfect in knowledge, or that we will be free from error, or any other number of things. Entire Sanctification refers to the moment when a Christian's heart is cleansed and he or she experiences a perfect love for God and a perfect love for others.
One final thing should be mentioned. Sanctification is not the same thing as Christian maturity. Even a person who has experienced Entire Sanctification will continue to mature as a believer. The experience of Entire Sanctification does not mean that a person has "arrived" at a mature character. A person will continue to mature as he or she continues to grow in Christ.
Recommended Resource: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Annotated