John Wesley's concept of Christian Perfection and Sanctification appears to be centered in the fact that from the moment of our re-birth, we should (must?) be moving closer and closer to being perfected in God's love, which is also the time when we are entirely sanctified. It is the time when our entire being is cleansed from all unrighteousness. However, since our bodies are part of this corrupted world, entire sanctification can only occur at the moment of our death when we become free of our earthly bodies.
This makes a lot of sense, and explains the Biblical/doctrinal arguments about our being both sinful and sanctified at the same time, i.e.:
21. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22. even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24. being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25. whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
26 for the demonstration, I say, of His
righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the
justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
We are saved by faith, but does this mean that it is faith without obedience? Definitely not! For we are told in James 2:17-20,
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?
If we say we believe in God, in Jesus Christ, and deliberately disobey His word by continuing to live in ungodly ways with no remorse or attempt to be conformed back into the image of God (Jesus Christ), is that the faith that leads to salvation? I believe it is not, for it is no different than the belief of the demons.
As an example, the pain, suffering, and death that over 100 billion land and sea animals are subjected to every year to satisfy the human lust to eat them, is against the loving and compassionate teachings of Jesus, and the perfection of our heavenly Father that we are make a part of our lives. Therefore, if we deliberately participate in any aspect of these atrocities, we are being disobedient to God's word, and have thus turned our backs on even trying to achieve Christian perfection.
The whole concept of being born again is that moment in time when we come to believe in Jesus Christ as both our Savior and Lord. It is a moment of intense remorse for our sinful ways. It is a moment when we have willingly turned our lives over to the Lord with a true desire to live as He wants us to live. This is summed up in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (2:8-10):
8. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9. not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. NASU
Far too many people (believers) want to stop their faith at verse 9, which is not the faith that leads to salvation. The faith that leads to salvation is the faith that also includes the desire to serve the Lord and be obedient as we are told in verse 10. Both Paul and James are really telling us the same thing.
With this in mind, let's look at the fourth Conference discussion from part 17 of Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.
Our fourth Conference began on Tuesday, June 16, 1747. As several persons were present who did not believe the doctrine of perfection, we agreed to examine it from the foundation.
In order to [do] this it was asked:
"QUESTION. How much is allowed by our brethren who differ from us with regard to entire sanctification?
"ANSWER. They grant:
(1) that everyone must be entirely sanctified in the article of death;
This is saying that a person's faith must be leading them in a maturing manner toward being perfected in God's love, so that at the moment of death the final imperfections are stripped away. Without our willingness to be perfected in our lifetime, we may have too much sinful "baggage" left at the moment of our death, which leads us into the second part of the Conference's answer to this question.
(2) that till then a believer daily grows in grace, comes nearer and nearer to perfection;
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:7:
7. Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,
for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn
in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me -- to keep me from exalting
Some people believe that this was a physical malady, but I believe it was the remnant of Paul's sinful state of being before his Damascus Road experience. It was a thorn of conviction that he was not yet wholly perfected or entirely sanctified. He retained that inner nagging of the flesh for some past indulgence, that he would continually press forward as we are told in part 3 of the Conference's answer.
(3) that we ought to be continually pressing after it, and to exhort all others so to do.
If we are openly living in some imperfect manner and trying to justify it or excuse it away, then we are being hypocritical, and others will recognize it. We have encountered people who, having similar spiritual defects, come together to form a "ministry", and to encourage others to join them. This is not continually pressing after perfection. I believe that "Christian Bow Hunters" fall into this category, for they continually encourage the taking of pleasure in the death and suffering of other living beings. This type of living was not in Eden and it will not be in heaven; therefore, it is a state of imperfection, a sinful state of our corrupted world. Living in such a state would thus be counter to answers (2) and (3) above.
Any one of us can have some unresolved imperfection in our state of being as a Christian. Using the example above, such a person could still have the desire to take pleasure in "the hunt" and to kill. Pressing on to perfection would require such a person to eliminate this imperfection from their lives. First, they no longer participate in it, and then they pray to have the desire removed. I believe that making such an imperfect state of being into a "ministry" is blasphemous, and to encourage others to participate in it is the work of the devil.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and similar groups are organizations (ministries) which have the goal of eliminating the imperfection and helping and exhorting others to do the same. One of the first things that Wesley's Holy Club members did was help people eliminate their drinking, and as a result, their lives began to improve. The Holy Club was a true ministry.
But even as individuals, we can press on to perfection and encourage others to do the same by the examples we set before them, and then through the encouragement we give them. Together, we can help and encourage each other on our journey toward Christian Perfection and Entire Sanctification.
Because of the complexity of this subject we have broken the questions and answers of this fourth Conference into several parts. The next question is found in Chapter 17-D.