This paper has been written by me in the course of my theological studies at European Nazarene College (www.eunc.edu). You may use this text as a part of your work provided that you give credits to its author – Petar Neychev. If you have questions – please, leave a comment or contact me through the Contact Us page.
Much can be said about living life. Even more can be said on that topic from a Christian perspective – about living life in the way that God has called us to do it. Living holy lives is what God has called us to and as interesting as it may be, everyone has more or less their own opinion on how that call may be answered. One of the generally accepted views mentions entire sanctification as a crucial part of that type of life. This view is what some call today Wesleyan theology. It is also what I would like to discuss in this paper. I will present to the reader a view on entire sanctification as a part of God’s desire for our lives which can be addressed both doctrinally and practically. As an example I would like to share with the reader my personal attitude towards the topic, which will also serve as a conclusion for the paper.
The doctrine of entire sanctification may sound extremely complicated to some and yet not enough encompassing to others. Personally I see a very simple but still profound reason for sanctification as a part of the Christian life. Sanctification is necessary because God has called us to it. The Bible mentions twice, in Leviticus 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:16 – “Be holy, because I am holy” (GNB). If the goal before us is to become more like God, transformed in His image, then we need holiness. It is difficult to narrow down holiness and put it in words because this is God’s very essence – what is most high of Him, and at the same time derived from Him. This is also the reason why He swears by it in Amos 4:2. God’s faithfulness is higher than any other and it must be sworn by something even higher – His holiness.
Sanctification, in my understanding, is a point of the Christian life which opens broader opportunities for our service in God’s name, to which we are called explicitly by Jesus. The time of reaching entire sanctification is one of many cleansing experiences which removes original sin from our nature. Still, in and of itself it is not enough for the removal of original sin. Entire sanctification is rather marking the end of the process of cleansing, completing it.
Entire sanctification is not reachable by man alone. It is in each and every aspect initiated by God. It is first made possible through God’s prevenient grace, which enables us to start the process of repentance. Then God helps us with His love, correction, and work through the Holy Spirit after we have repented and believed in Him, to continue our journey of getting to know Him better, and at the same time removing what is sinful from our nature. All these steps, however, are not accomplished without our participation. We ourselves are the ones to make an active choice of going through that painful process. When we make that choice and remain faithful to it we will be able to see, interpret correctly, and imitate the example of love and righteousness we are given by God. Thus, I would conclude that entire sanctification is made possible by God, initiated by Him, but cannot be reached without our own choice for it. Moreover, in our desire for this sanctification the focus must always be God, but not a personal perfection or pride. I believe we must desire sanctification for God’s, but not our own sake.
Because of that goal of entire sanctification the fruits that it produces are also for the Kingdom of God. Entire sanctification enables the Christian to completely be used by God without their restraining selfishness, desire for sin, and hesitation in working within God’s will at all costs.
This doctrine itself surely does not embrace all aspects of the entire sanctification in fullness, and this is why sometimes it may be difficult to explain it to Christians in simple, non-theological words. I would like to share a few aspects of the approach I would choose if I am to do that today.
First of all, I would be hesitant to use many people as an example of entire sanctification. It happens very often that a person, especially when they are still alive, is presented as an example and after that automatically taken as a role model. This is a very dangerous step in my opinion because people may be tempted to focus on the role model more than on God. What happens then if a non-pleasant truth about this role model is revealed? Personally, I have the tendency to explain the ideas I deal with in a very straight-forwarded way. I see myself explaining the doctrine with simpler words, and using biblical examples for the different aspects of it. For instance, I would use apostle Peter to show that there are many sanctifying moments in our lives, which are usually surrounded by correction from God’s side, an opening of our eyes so that we can see what we have done wrong. Peter experienced a sanctifying moment, in my opinion, after he denied Jesus in the court yard. Paul experienced a sanctifying moment when his eyes were opened again after the Damascus experience with Jesus.
In general, I believe that different examples must be used to show different aspect of the doctrine. If one decided to use one single example, then there will always me something missing in it, and therefore restraining the meaning of sanctification. I may as well use hypothetical situations from the life of the person I am talking to – how would they have reacted in a situation from the past if they were entirely sanctified.
When it comes to communicating the message of holiness and the doctrine of entire sanctification to a congregation it becomes a bit more complicated. In this case one would have to be careful with using examples from the lives of people from the congregation, so other, more general approaches must be chosen.
One way of teaching a youth group about holiness I see is through games and made up situations. This is a more of a hands-on experience, and this is why I think it is also easier to memorize. Playing a game which involves separation of the people in two groups which encourage one group to show compassion, love, and support at very high costs may be a good choice. Concerning the older members of the congregation, besides preaching, I think that involvement in real compassionate ministry projects, or mission trips to poorer areas might help. I have the tendency to think that people almost always need to experience personally what they have heard being preached, so that they can strongly apply it in their lives as Christians, but not forget about it on Tuesday. I would also encourage a strong loving interaction within the congregation, especially when it comes to solving problems between individuals or leaders. Yet, one very difficult issue for me remains in the picture: how is a pastor supposed to teach about entire sanctification if they themselves have not experienced it? Yes, it may have a positive side – the congregation gets to experience it together with the pastor. On the other side, what I personally recognize as an obstacle (or at least at the time being I consider it such) is the fact that when one does not have experience in a certain area, it is very difficult to teach the others about it. I suppose now the strive for it is what is crucial to both the pastor and the congregation. There must be a mutual encouragement towards taking the tough road of changing yourself and drawing closer to the time when sin is not a part of your nature.
All what was said so far and my new understanding about it has impacted me strongly in two ways: first, I am even more convinced that entire sanctification is possible, reachable. I also established some sort of a general idea in my mind of what holy living is in practice – discipleship, complete submission to God, having a sinless nature. Living out love with increasingly less conditions. On the other hand, entire sanctification has become a goal in itself. A goal that everyone tells me, in one way or another, is unreachable at the stage of life I am in today. This has automatically created a certain negative feeling (which I would hesitate to call “hate”, although it has some similar characteristics) about the doctrine of entire sanctification and its complicity. I have gained knowledge about holiness principles of living and applying them in my life, but my problem at this very moment is that I am not encouraged to work towards entire sanctification. It is this major issue for me of not being able to reach it any time soon, and therefore, why do it. Although Fowler was trying to convince me that his stages are not ordered vertically, I do think they are in many ways, and I don’t like that. The interesting thing is that I do not have problems talking to other people about this very same doctrine and stage-oriented existence. It is sort of unpleasant when it comes down to me. What am I going to do with that understanding? I guess I need more time to assimilate it, try it out multiple times in practice… For now, I do not have an answer to that question, although it is a major one for me.