"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

John Wesley on the Process of Being Made Holy

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I was trying to describe Wesley’s idea of entire sanctification the other day, and wrote this (poor) summary from my notes from a course I took several years ago on Wesley’s theology.

Wesley established the process of conversion of a human from first belief until union with God, this way:

1. Once a believer accepts God, they are justified and saved. (what Wesley called being ‘born again’ or ‘new birth’)

2. The moment after justification, the process of sanctification begins. (sanctify = to make holy, so literally, the process of making one holy).

3. Gradual sanctification continues throughout your life. (the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer from the point of justification)

4. After a process of maturation in Christ, some believers will achieve entire sanctification. (a full salvation from all our sins, perfect love)

5. The believer is glorified after death, when brought into total union with God.

Wesley suggested that entire sanctification should be the goal for all believers. After this point sin no longer dwells in the heart, although a person may still sin. What changes is that the believer is no longer ruled by sin (as with the unbelievers), but is now inclined more towards righteousness. The ‘default’ setting for a believer after entire sanctification is not sin, but righteousness.

By his description, Wesley would consider most mature Christians to be in the state of entire sanctification. The transition was typically marked by a moment of intense clarity and communion with God, sometimes a sense of joy and peace or total forgiveness. (Wesley’s description was that his heart was strangely warmed, and he knew for certain that God would even save him). It is not a state of sinless perfection, but rather one of being made perfect in love.

A believer who does not obtain entire sanctification in life will be totally sanctified after death, just prior to obtaining glory. Some chosen by God may be glorified prior to death (Moses’ face coming down off the mountain).

The Methodist articles of religion include this entry: Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.

Most of the troubles with Wesley’s work are around the concept of ‘entire sanctification’ as it was often interpreted as meaning a believer had been made perfect, that is, had become sinless. That’s not the case. I would mark the state as when a believer knows (more often than not) that they are saved. Wesley noted there are peaks and valleys even in the state of entire sanctification, so it is not a state of bliss or eternal happiness.

I included this portion of the process leading to entire sanctification, as I’m not convinced that Wesley saw a singular moment early in a believer’s life when they could be said to be ‘entirely sanctified’. Some Wesley scholars would disagree with that approach. In my limited study I saw the idea of ‘progressive sanctification’ as closer to Wesley’s thought. This is to some degree caught up in the way we understand sanctification. I would also suggest that a believer’s life is marked by many moments of ‘entire sanctification’, that time when one is completely assured that they have been completely forgiven and are fully in the love of God (I’ve lost track how many times I’ve been through that type of doorway).


Written by sameo416

May 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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