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What Is Entire Sanctification?

I was a young religion student when I asked a professor for some clarity on the doctrine of entire sanctification. I have, over the years, heard a great deal of hesitant and unsatisfactory answers. I’d like to offer a brief answer to that question.

1. Salvation is more than conversion.

The New Testament is a testimony to this fact. It was written, under the inspiration of the Spirit by Christians for Christians, and provides the essential apostolic witness to the meaning of the Gospel and how that Gospel transforms our lives and world. We are called to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us!” (Romans 8:37). Why would anyone urge people to expect to be less than conquerors?

Sanctification takes place after justification in our lives. We sometimes refer to justification as initial sanctification. There is widespread agreement across denominational lines that sanctification follows justification. Justification is a legal state in which we are declared not guilty on the merits of the atonement. Sanctification is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in which He makes a reality in our lives what Christ did for us on the cross. This theology we share with most denominations. The question is not if sanctification matters, but to what extent does it matter, and what is its highest potential fulfillment in the life of a disciple?

2. There are two major types of sin. Both are dealt with in the atonement.

We have all committed sins personally that need to be forgiven, but we are also born with a sinful nature. It is out of this inborn sinfulness that we have all committed sins. We are not responsible for being born sinful; we inherited that from our parents going all the way back to the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. Since we are born with a sinful nature—or inherited depravity—we have a bent or propensity to acts of sin that continue even after we are converted. This is a problem! Christians of every stripe believe that while our sins are forgiven completely, the sinful nature that we are born with remains after conversion. It is an inborn spirit of rebellion that continues to try to assert itself in our lives as Christians.

The question then becomes: are we to struggle against this inner remaining depravity the rest of our Christian lives with its corrupt influence still causing us to fall into sin?

This is where the point of departure is for those of us who believe in entire sanctification. We believe God has enough overcoming grace available to drive out the remaining inner rebellion of inbred sinfulness and give us a pure heart that is empowered for Christlikeness and service. The question is not: do I have enough power to overcome inner sinfulness? I most emphatically do not! The real question is: does God have enough power to overcome my inner sinfulness? We say most emphatically He does! And that it is His will to do something about it!

3. Entire Sanctification is a second work of grace.

It is second because it occurs after conversion. It is a work of grace because God does something in response to our remaining sin problem that we cannot do and was not done at conversion. We call this entire sanctification (I Thessalonians 5:23-24) because sanctification began at conversion, but it becomes complete when the inner rebellion of our hearts is defeated and the entire sin problem is dealt with decisively. Entire sanctification purifies the heart from all remaining sin.

This immediately will draw protests from some who insist that sinful nature is permanently attached to the human heart for life. Where does that come from, and why would we argue that God is unable or unwilling to vanquish this inner foe? This is a point at which the language of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is helpful. The Holy Spirit’s distinctive work is as the sanctifying Spirit (I Peter 1:1-2; I Thessalonians 4:3-8; Acts 15:8-9). When the Holy Spirit fills the heart, where is there room for a contrary spirit of rebellion?

The question might then be asked: can a human heart be made pure? Apparently so because Jesus said “blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). God can make a pure heart if He wants to (Acts 15:9), and all indications are that He wants to do exactly that! If a heart is purified, on what grounds do we insist on allowing sin to pollute our nature and lives?

4. Entire sanctification is received by faith in God. And because it is received by faith it can be received in a moment.

The question is often asked: is entire sanctification a result of growth or an instantaneous crisis? The answer is “Yes!” There is growth before entire sanctification. We do not even begin to have heart cleansing on our radar until after we have been converted. It is the struggle with inbred sin that causes the heart of a Christian to cry out for a remedy to the inner rebellion of the sinful nature.

Additionally, it is instantaneous because of the power of God’s word. God’s word has creative power. He speaks and light appears; He speaks and planets are spun into orbit. If He says be holy, what force will prevent that from happening in a willing heart in a moment?

Certainly, a God who can speak worlds into creation will have little trouble purifying a consecrated heart.

A few clarifications in conclusion:

What Entire Sanctification Does Not Do For Us

1. It does not eliminate temptation. It is the power to cope with temptation. Jesus had no sinful nature and He was still tempted.

2. It does not make it impossible to sin or place us in a static sinless state. The sanctified expectation is that we will not sin, but if we do sin, we have an advocate and remedy provided by Jesus (I John 2:1).

3. It does not heal all scars and wounds from the past. It does not bring about instant maturity. It does not bring automatic mental and social well being. It does not end the need for growth. Our entire sanctification is the door to greater growth!

4. It does not make our judgement or our understanding superior. It should humble us to consider others before ourselves.

5. It is not unimprovable. As our capacity for understanding, maturity and growth increases, our experience will deepen and broaden.

What Entire Sanctification Does Do For Us

1. It manifests itself most clearly in Christlike love.

2. It is an establishing grace. We are more stable and less prone to failure.

3. It is empowerment for service. Ultimately, we are sanctified that the world may know the Lord (John 17:17-23; Acts 1:8).

4. It is the reign of God in our lives giving us victory.


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