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John Wesley believed and taught the doctrine of Entire Sanctification, the idea that it is possible for a believer to achieve perfection in this life, based on Bible verses like:

Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God's seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. — 1 John 3:9

and Jesus' command:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:48

Can someone explain what Christian Perfection or Entire Sanctification means?

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There is a detailed explanation on one of the answers to this question. – Ben Miller Nov 9 '13 at 3:01
Bruce, you might like this: "pietism teaches that one can be an “extraordinary” Christian, above and beyond those who are “ordinary” Christians" – Benjol Jun 16 at 5:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, I can't say it any better than an article I found.


Wesley believed that Christ's death on the cross made it possible not only for sinners to be saved by grace, but, indeed, for them to be saved to the uttermost. Entire sanctification was restoration to the image of God, being made perfect in love toward God and neighbor.

(emphasis added)

It goes on to say:

Entire sanctification was not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received. Like justification, sanctification is the gracious gift of God, received by faith.

Wesley claimed that this was not a new doctrine but merely a revealing of an old doctrine.

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This doctrine seems very similar to the old doctrine of "theosis" made explicit by St. Athanasius in De incarnatione verbi Dei: paraphrased roughly, "God became man that man might become God," i.e. "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). – Robert Haraway Aug 27 '11 at 2:40
This answer would have been better with a link to the source, or at least an attribution. – King David Mar 20 at 19:53

Our most likely example of perfection in the New Testament age, short of Jesus Christ, would be the Apostle Paul. This excerpt from Philippians 3 would indicate, however, that he either did not embrace this concept or considered himself shy of the mark. You might also consider the questions, "Once you become perfect, how do you stay perfect?" or "If I consider myself perfect, does that mean I lack humility, and, if I lack humility, how could I be perfect as humility is one of the characteristics God values most?" Paul was not one for false modesty as we can read earlier in this passage. If he says he hasn't attained perfection, I believe he hasn't attained perfection and, if Paul couldn't make it, what chance have we? Perfection is a theoretical possibility but we live in reality.

12 "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

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Can someone explain what Christian Perfection or Entire Sanctification means?

There is a goal of Christian maturity - Christ-likeness.

Ephesians 4:1-151 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

While almost everyone falls short of achieving this objective in this life, One might concede the theoretical possibility on the basis of the existence of people like Enoch in the Old testament.

Genesis 5:24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

The danger with this doctrine is that there are many people who will feel that they have achieved perfection when they have only achieved self-delusion.

Luke 18:11-12 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

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Conversely, the danger with not embracing this doctrine is that of falling in to antinomianism - agreeing with those who say/practice "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Rom 6:1) and who "...turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,' and, 'A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.'" (2 Pet 2:21a-22) – bruised reed Jun 14 at 6:35
@bruisedreed, never heard of "always a sinner, always penitent, always righteous"? I'd say a greater danger than self-delusion is living a lie, pretending you're free of sin because you don't want to be 'left out' (though it may be that all the others are pretending too). – Benjol Jun 16 at 5:08

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