Article of Faith #10 – Entire Sanctification
Date: Sunday, August 8, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
Four-hundred-and-fifty years before Christ walked the earth there lived a philosopher by the name of Zeno. Zeno was best known for his mathematical paradoxes…situations that appear to be impossible or self-contradictory. One of his most famous paradoxes could be stated this way:
Let us suppose that we had a turtle in the back of the church who wished to come up to the pulpit to preach. Given that we would allow the turtle to take the pulpit, he must first walk from the back of the church to the front of the church. Now, in order for him to cover the distance from the back to the front, he must first go half-way–the distance from the back to the center (where Ken is sitting). And then, he must go halfway between Ken and the pulpit, and then halfway between that point and the pulpit, and halfway again between that point and the pulpit. Stated another way, in order for him to go the entire distance, he must first go half of the distance, half the remaining distance, half the still-remaining distance, and so on into infinity.
As you can see, our poor turtle is now betwixt and bewildered, not knowing how he will ever come to this pulpit to preach the word of God to the people, for he must first cover an infinite number of half-distances before he can arrive.
In other words he will get infinitely close to the pulpit, but never quite reach the pulpit, for he will always have half the distance to traverse before he can arrive.
Now we recognize that this is a foolish argument, for in actuality the turtle does reach his destination, and the sum of the infinite halves never exceeds the total distance from start to finish. But, in some ways, our life on this earth is not unlike our poor turtle trapped in Zeno’s Paradox who can never quite reach the pulpit. We know that we are destined for something greater than this earth has to offer. We know that the day will come when the Image of God will be completely restored within us, but that day is not this day, and it’s probably not the next day either. We know that we get closer and closer to the day when we are made fully perfect, released from our human imperfections, and remade in the Image of God. But we know that in this life we will not reach that goal. We may get infinitely close to it, but the goal of Glorification is reserved for the life to come.
I say this to point out the following: Entire Sanctification is important. Indeed it is our primary doctrinal distinction. But…it is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is our final salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven . Our ultimate goal is eternal life in right relationship with the Triune God. Our ultimate goal is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Our ultimate goal is for the Image of God to be entirely restored within us…completely perfected.
It is important to mention this, because many people often confuse the doctrine of Entire Sanctification with that of Final Sanctification (or Glorification). Entire Sanctification is not the final goal, but is part of the process by which we reach that goal. Many people hear that Nazarene’s believe in Entire Sanctification, and because they have confused that with Glorification believe that we believe that you can be perfect. We don’t exactly mean that the Entirely Sanctified is perfect, but that he is being perfected, and that his heart is pure and he has been freed from the bondage of Original Sin. Perfection is reserved for God, and for those who have been released from their mortal bodies into life everlasting. Our doctrine this morning is not about the ultimate goal (reaching the pulpit, or being perfected into a glorified heavenly state), but about the purification of our heart and the baptism of the Holy Spirit which frees us from the power of sin, though not necessarily its presence. While Glorification is a final state for the saints who have died, Sanctification is a progressive state for the believers who are still alive.
We might say it this way: Entire Sanctification is not so much a state that we attain, but a process in which we participate. Entire Sanctification is more about the Turtle being invited to preach, responding to that invitation, and making his way toward the pulpit then it is about him actually reaching the pulpit. Even if the turtle never makes it to the pulpit in this lifetime, we see him responding to the invitation and moving in that direction.
Paul states this goal for us in Philippians 3, starting in verse 10:
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
The goal, at least according to Paul, seems to be tied up in “becoming Christlike and attaining to the resurrection of the dead.” He speaks about “pressing on” to the goal, even though we recognize that the goal of “resurrection of the dead,” obviously cannot occur in this lifetime. And so, like the turtle, it is important to continue moving toward Glorification, heaven, and eternal life, even if we will never receive them in this lifetime.
Now, having said all of that, this message today is not about “Glorification,” it is about “Entire Sanctification.” Entire Sanctification is known by many names, including: baptism of the Holy Spirit, Christian perfection, heart purity, heart holiness, fullness of the blessing, and Christian holiness. Simply put, Entire Sanctification is the continual filling of the Holy Spirit, and we believe that is certainly attainable in this lifetime.
New Testament scriptures continually exhort the believers to “Be Holy as God is Holy,” or to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” We see the first mass outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the believers were filled and empowered with the very presence of God. The example and the commands exist for us to follow in those footsteps, seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit, to be consecrated and set apart for God’s purposes.
I think that the following image may help us understand Entire Sanctification. While any analogy, if taken to an extreme, has a tendency to break down, this picture may help us understand the process of salvation, and the ways in which our salvation and sanctification experiences are both instantaneous and process-related.
Some of you may remember the Drop-While-You-Shop activity that the children did back in the spring. They took plastic cups, lined them with newspaper and put soil inside the newspaper. Then they took different seeds and put them between the newspaper and the side of the cup, so you could see the seed. Then they watered the seed and put the cups on the window sill out in the coatroom.
Now, honestly…do you expect that those seeds would do anything? As I came in to do my regular routine at the church, I would look at those seeds. Days would go by with no change at all, the seeds would look just the same as they did the first day. You might have been tempted to believe that nothing would happen at all. If you had looked at them every morning for 5 mornings in a row, you might not have noticed any change at all. But the water continued to wash the nutrients in the soil through the paper to the seed, and the sun continued to beam down its rays of light. One day, I came in and there was a noticeable difference in the seed…it had sprouted a root.
You might say that this was a bit like a moment of salvation. Sometimes we pray for someone and witness to them and watch them. We give water, fertilizer, and plenty of sunlight in hopes that they will confess their sins and be justified. We watch and pray, and nothing seems to be happening. And yet, when the seed is ripe enough and enough sun and nutrients have reached it, the seed sprouts. It is an instantaneous moment. All the gradual work has gone unnoticed until the precise moment in time when the seed sprouts its roots.
If we took that same seed and put it inside the soil, we would no longer see the seed. Oh, it would continue growing inside the pot, but we wouldn’t see that seed anymore, and wouldn’t know of its growth. That is, until the second crisis moment in the life of a seed, that moment when it’s stem breaks through the surface of the soil into the sunlit air above. In the life of a believer, we might call that moment the beginning of his Entire Sanctification.
You say, “beginning of his Entire Sanctification?” Yes. For if he does not continue to grow in the grace which has been given him, then the plant may ultimately wither away. Instead, we expect the plant to continue to grow. Oh, we may not notice the growth. We could sit and watch a plant for hours and never see any growth, but while we watch, the chlorophyll is transforming sunlight into nutrients which travel through the plant to help the roots grow, the roots gather more nutrients, which travel back to the leaves to help the leaves grow, in order that they might collect more sunlight. The growth may be imperceptible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not growing.
We say that Entire Sanctification is both a crisis moment, and instant in time, and a process of continuing Sanctification. For that reason, when asked to share my testimony I will often say that “God began His work of Entire Sanctification in my life at a teen camp in eastern Maine.” He hasn’t finished the work of Entire Sanctification, and won’t until He does His work of Final Sanctification (that which we call Glorification). Like the turtle, I must continue to move toward the goal, although my progress may be imperceptible at times, it does not mean that I’m not moving in that direction.
You see, at any instant in time, it may appear that there is no growth. If I were to take a photograph of the plant, you would not see any change or growth. Were I to take a snapshot of our turtle, you would not see any motion at all. Were we to replace the turtle with one of the fast-moving chipmunks in my front yard and take a picture of him, you would still not see any movement. Why? Because growth and movement require two instants in order to notice. I need two photos, two snapshots, in order to identify growth or movement. And so, we may not have yet arrived, but we ought to be able to look at our lives and see that we have made progress since yesterday and the day before that.
“What exactly is meant by ‘Entire Sanctification’?” you ask. The Article of Faith puts it this way, “We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect.” In other words, it is freedom from the bondage of Original Sin.
It has been said that you are saved from the Penalty of your sin at Justification, saved from the Power of sin at Sanctification, and saved from the Presence of sin at Glorification. Sin no longer has a hold on the sanctified believer, for they have been baptized by the Spirit, set apart for God’s purposes. Paul speaks of this “freedom from the law of sin” in Romans 8, verses 1-14:
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Paul goes so far as to say that since we have been set free from the “Law of Sin” we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit. This “living according to the Spirit” could be termed “growth in grace” or “continual filling of the Spirit.
We see here, that Entire Sanctification is both about the moment of cleansing and the continual filling of God’s Spirit. It is not just about the moment, nor is it just about the process, but is about 1) being freed from the power of sin, and 2) living according to the Spirit.
With Paul’s comments and our two analogies in mind, let us take a moment and read the Article of Faith. You may wish to follow along, as I will insert some clarifying comments as we read.
13. We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, notice that is not your act or my act, this is God’s act, a result of His grace. Sanctification is never about what we do, but about what God’s Spirit is doing within us. subsequent to regeneration, (after salvation) by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. The result of God’s work in my life is that I am made more into His image, released from the bondage of Original Sin, and made devoted to God.
It is wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, Again, note that this is not our work, but that we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, filled to overflowing and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. And so, two things happen at our Entire Sanctification. First, the heart is cleansed from Original Sin (the tendency toward selfishness and sinfulness). Second, the believer is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This filling is not simply for the benefit of the believer, but in order that we might enter into a life of service to the Master.
Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness. In other words, we can only experience this baptism if we have first been forgiven through the blood of Jesus, by faith respond to God’s grace, and if we have consecrated ourselves entirely. Simply put, while Entire Sanctification is God’s work, the believer must prepare themselves and seek God’s filling. We must do our part to continue to grow in the grace that has been given us, not simply expecting God’s grace or unmerited favor to be lavished upon us.
This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.” Each of these multiple terms for the experience is found in scripture and in the writings of Church leaders. You’ll want to take time this week to explore the various scriptures provided in your bulletin.
14. We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace. In other words, just because you have been given a pure heart does not mean that you have found all the answers to your questions. It does not mean that you cease to be human. It does not mean that you have reached the end of the journey. Like the turtle, you must continue to move forward, responding to God’s grace, recognizing that the ultimate goal will not be attained this side of the grave.
We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the impulse to grow in grace. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christlikeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavor one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost. Perhaps our plant analogy works best here. If the plant is removed from the sunlight, it will stop growing. If we don’t water the plant, it will wither away. In the same way, we must ensure that we continue to grow in the grace that God has given us, nurturing that grace through spiritual disciplines, accountability, prayer, devotions, and faithful attendance to the means of grace.
And so, perhaps you are seated in these pews asking that all-so-important question, “Pastor, what difference does it make?”
The difference is this…nobody wants to be anything less than they can be. It’s no wonder that the Army saw great success with their recruitment phrase “Be all that you can be.” Within our being is a longing to fulfill what we were made to do. We desire to be what God made us for. If we go back to our initial understanding of God as Holy Trinity, we remember that by very nature, God is relational. Since we were created in His image, we were designed for relationship. If sin is what blocks that relationship between us and God, then in order to fulfill our nature as relational beings, we long to have sin removed from our lives.
The Good News today is this…you can be set free from the power of sin in your life. Oh, you won’t stop being human, and you want stop making mistakes. But you can be cleansed from sin and filled with the Holy Spirit. How? By faith, responding to God’s Grace, seeking His presence in your life every moment of every day. Pray for His filling, and continue praying for Him to baptize you with the Spirit. Do all that you can, and trust God to do all that He wants to do with you.
As we conclude our time with this Article of Faith, I invite you to meditate on these words written by Charles Wesley in 1742:
Oh, for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free!
A heart that always feels thy blood,
So freely spilt for me!
Thy tender heart is still the same,
And melts at human woe;
Jesu, for thee distressed I am –
I want thy love to know.
Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above;
Write thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of love!
Benediction: I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.