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

Source

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.

  • 3
    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 '15 at 19:53
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What is Wesley's concept of Entire Sanctification?

If that is the question that is posed, I will try to provide an answer. Wesley's brand of Christian perfection was a reviving of what he considered to be an Apostolic doctrine. "Perfect" (Grk.- telios) in simple terms means "complete". Wesley used 30 texts to defend this doctrine. The only OT text was in Ezekiel 36:25-27 which reads:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

Wesley saw this verse as a New covenant promise of a clean heart (See also Psalm 51). One of the hinge texts in the New Testament, besides Matthew 5:48, is 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

From these verses we plainly see that Wesley was talking about the work of God in man, not the work of man in God. God has called us, He is faithful to complete us.

Wesley would not agree with the Augsburg confession (1530) which states:

those who contend that some may attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin.

Wesley wrote in His sermon on Christian Perfection:

Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect. Yet we may, lastly, observe, that neither in this respect is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, as it is termed; none which does not admit of a continual increase. So that how much soever any man hath attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to "grow in grace," [2 Pet. 3:18] and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Saviour. [see Phil. 1:9]

Christian perfection comes by being filled with the Holy Spirit. This issues into the heart the abiding presence of

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)

And thank God for it!

Hope this helps! As Wesley said in his last breath - "Best of all, God is with us!" -Bill

  • Welcome to the site. Thank you for posting a fresh answer to an old question. I would hope we can track down specific online or offline references to Wesley's statements. I've already upvoted this in anticipation. It seems the wording is odd for the Augsberg confession quote, can you check that? You may be interested in reading the site tour if you have not done so; sometimes it is difficult to balance the need for fact-based answers with our passion for the truth as we understand it. I will look for the "God ... with us" quote, that's fun. Your signature is best in user id box and user page. – disciple Aug 22 '18 at 4:46
  • So far, best ref I found was nampaumc.org/sunday-october-11-2015 "Elizabeth Ritchie records his words when he barely had strength to speak: “Best of all, God is with us.” He said that twice. You might hear that these were his last words. They were not. ..." – disciple Aug 22 '18 at 5:02
  • I tossed in a couple of format upgrades, and fixed a few typos. I also tossed in a ref to Psalm 51 since you pointed to the clean heart (feel free to edit that out if you think it detracts from your point on Ezekiel). Please review the edit to make sure it retains your meaning. Welcome! – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 '18 at 13:30
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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 '15 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 '15 at 5:08

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