Christian Perfection – 23: Sanctification

Christian Perfection – 23: Sanctification

Lamb of God

Lamb of God

By: Frank L. Hoffman
Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is  perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)
(Wesley’s writings are in bold)

In this Chapter, we will be looking at the discussions that  took place at the Methodist Annual Conferences of 1745 and 1746.    These discussions are summarized in the 17th part of A Plain Account Of  Christian Perfection, and address the subject of, and the inward condition  of, a person’s sanctification.

Our second Conference began August 1, 1745.  The next morning   we spoke of sanctification as follows: 

Question.  When does inward sanctification begin?

Answer.  In the moment a man is justified. (Yet sin   remains in him, yea, the seed of all sin, till he is sanctified   throughout.)  From that time a believer gradually dies to sin, and   grows in grace.

I don’t believe that Wesley’s answer fully addresses the fact that for  sanctification to begin, the person must be willing to have herself or himself  “set apart” (the meaning of sanctification) from the evil of this world.    Furthermore, such a person must be willing to be “set apart” for a sacred or  holy purpose, which means that he or she can no longer be passive by avoiding  evil, but he or she must be willing to take a stand against such evil.

Let’s look at an example of this passive and active condition of a  “believer”.  We can be extremely thirsty and absolutely and fervently  believe that a glass of water can quench our thirst (which is the truth).   We may even tell others.  However, if we don’t take the step of faith to  actually drink the water, we will remain thirsty; and if we persist, we could  actually die in our thirst.

Our knowledge and belief “justified” us to understand that our thirst  was caused by a lack of water, and that the water could quench our thirst.   This is not a one time occurrence, but a lifelong condition.  Our “thirst”  is an example of the awareness of the evil around us and the sin in our lives,  and our dissatisfaction with it.  The water is an example of the cleansing  power of the Holy Spirit.

For sanctification to truly and fully take place in our lives, we must  feel a “thirst” for holiness and righteousness, and a desire to eliminate the  “dryness” of the evil of this world and the sin in our lives.  We also must  desire to fully partake of the cleansing and refreshing “water” of the Holy  Spirit.

Let’s look at the second question of the conference.

“Q.  Is this ordinarily given till a little before death?

“A.  It is not, to those who expect it no sooner.

By giving this answer in this particular way, Wesley seems to be  countering the old and false belief that a person was “safer” to be saved just  before death, so that they could not “lose” their salvation.  This was a  way of living in our sins until just before our death, and then confessing them  and expecting God to forgive us, even though we knowingly and willfully sinned  against the Lord, and knowingly rejected the unction of the Holy Spirit up until  that time.

If we are truly saved, then we should also desire to do the will of the  Lord our God, immediately.  In other words, we expect to be “justified” at  the moment of our confession of faith; and we also should expect the  “sanctification” process to begin immediately with the infilling of the Holy  Spirit, to whom we also desire to listen.  A person who is saved should  desire to be “set apart” from the sins and corruption of this world, and to live  as an example of God’s heavenly will upon this earth.

It is this inward struggle with our willingness to avoid evil and remove  the sin from our lives, and to be conformed back into the image of God, that is  the point being addressed in the next question.

“Q.  But may we expect it sooner?

“A.  Why not? For, although we grant…

(1) that the generality of believers, whom we have hitherto known, were not so sanctified till near death,

(2) that few of those to whom Saint Paul wrote his epistles were so at that time, nor

(3) he himself at the time of writing his former epistles, yet all this does not prove that we may not be so today.

I believe that the problem is really one of faith without works as  opposed to faith with works, as James addresses it:

James 2:14-20

14.  What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but   he has no works? Can that faith save him?

15.  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of   daily food,

16.  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be   filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what   use is that?

17.  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

18.  But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works;   show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my   works.”

19.  You believe that God is one.  You do well; the demons   also believe, and shudder.

20.  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that   faith without works is useless?   NAS

Just because someone else doesn’t desire to achieve Christian  perfection, does not mean that we shouldn’t either.  Evil always wants  company and seeks to degrade another person’s righteousness, as well as the  God-given rights and wellbeing of all the animals.  Thus, we are  to separate ourselves from such influence, and then work to counter its desire  from ourselves and others, which brings us to the next Conference question.

“Q.  In what manner should we preach sanctification?

“A.  Scarce at all to those who are not pressing forward;   to those who are, always by way of promise; always drawing, rather than   driving.”

I believe this answer is telling us that it is almost unnecessary to  preach sanctification to those who are truly seeking to become conformed back  into the image of God, and to become perfect as He is perfect.  The  preaching and teaching of sanctification is mostly for those who are the  “takers” of this world, for those who want to go along with the ebb and flow of  worldly ways of society, and for those who say they believe, but show little or no evidence in  their lives of being conformed back into the image of God.

Wesley continues:

Our third Conference began Tuesday, May 26, 1746.

In this we carefully read over the minutes of the two preceding   Conferences, to observe whether anything contained therein might be retrenched   or altered on more mature consideration.  But we did not see cause to   alter in any respect what we had agreed upon before.

It all really boils down to a simple question.  Do we truly desire  to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, or are we trying to find  excuses why we are not?

If we truly desire to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,  then God is actively sanctifying us.  But if we are still trying to find  excuses, then the sanctification process is not operating within us.  The  sanctification process should make all who have it work to bring about the  Peaceable Kingdom in the here and now.   Christian perfection is  living in the heavenly will of our Father even while we are still upon this  earth: it is a seeking to eliminate all pain and suffering and death of both  humans and non-humans.

Go on to: Christian Perfection – 24: Entire Sanctification – Part 1

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