Christian PerfectionChristian Perfection
A Christian Living Book Series from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christian Perfection
Chapter - 19P – Is Our Death to Sin Gradual or Instantaneous?

A commentary on John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
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 address another question that was presented at the conference, as discussed by John Wesley in the nineteenth part of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. I believe that all true believers know that once we come to that point in our lives when we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord our God, and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we also repent of our sinful ways. As if by a miracle, many of these sinful ways seem to leave instantaneously, but others seem to linger on, as Paul discusses about himself in Romans Chapter 7. But for now, let’s just look at verses 22-25:

22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,

23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. NASB

If the man who penned a large portion of the New Testament can admit to having these problems, then we can see the problems we face on our journey toward Christian perfection. However, the important thing for us to remember is that Paul truly doesn’t want these sins to remain, and in the strength of the Lord, “wages war” against these things in his life.

With this in mind, let’s look at the question posed to John Wesley.

"Question. Is this death to sin, and renewal in love, gradual or instantaneous?

"Answer. A man may be dying for some time, yet he does not, properly speaking, die, till the instant the soul is separated from the body; and in that instant he lives the life of eternity. In like manner, he may be dying to sin for some time; yet he is not dead to sin, till sin is separated from his soul; and in that instant he lives the full life of love. And as the change undergone when the body dies is of a different kind, and infinitely greater than any we had known before, yea, such as till then it is impossible to conceive, so the change wrought when the soul dies to sin is of a different kind, and infinitely greater than any before, and than any can conceive till he experiences it. Yet he still grows in grace, in the knowledge of Christ, in the love and image of God, and will do so not only till death but to all eternity.

Wesley is talking about our rebirth when he says, “such as till then it is impossible to conceive.” We are talking about spiritual matters in a physical world and more specifically in our own physical bodies. This is also what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:12:

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. NASB

An example of this conflict in Paul’s life is seen in Acts 28:3-5.

3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand.

4 And when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live."

5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm.

Paul accidentally put the snake in the fire along with the bundle of sticks. The snake was not being evil when it bit Paul. It was just trying to protect itself from being burned in the fire. Instead of just setting the snake free, as Paul should have done, he takes his anger and vengeance out on the snake by deliberately burning the snake alive in the fire. What is even worse, he expresses no signs of remorse. The love, compassion, and forgiveness of God are still at “war” with Paul’s carnal nature. Such vengeance belongs only to God (Deuteronomy 32:35).

The more we take a stand against the sins of our former way of life, the easier we will find it to overcome them while going about our daily lives. The key is that we really want to get rid of them. We can’t keep “stroking” these sinful ways and expect them to leave, for they will not, and could very likely intensify. We can not serve two masters.

If we truly want God’s love to be perfected in us, then we must focus our entire life and being upon the Lord our God and constantly desire and strive to have His heavenly will be done in our lives here on earth. We need to look beyond the problems of this world that trigger our sinful ways, and look heavenward for our strength.

Go on to: Chapter 19Q – How Are We to Wait for This Change of Heart?
Return to: Christian Perfection Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents

Peaceable Kingdom
The prophet Isaiah reached out in the Spirit of God and saw the perfection of God reestablished in the Peaceable Kingdom, and he wrote (Isaiah 11:6-9 NASV):

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze;
Their young will lie down together;
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.