When I first became a Christian my Baptist minister spoke about sanctification, holiness and aspiring toward Christian perfection in our lives. Personally, I doubt any of us will see perfection this side of heaven, although those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus are called to be holy (1 Corinthians 1:2).

My understanding of sanctification is that it is both a done deal and a daily work. It’s on-going. In the past, through saving faith in Christ Jesus, God grants us justification. Through the process of sanctification, God guides us to maturity, a practical, progressive holiness. In the future, God will give us glorification, a permanent, ultimate holiness. These three phases of sanctification separate the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (maturity), and the presence of sin (glorification).

With regard to the Methodist view of sanctification, I found a 1988 book ‘What Methodists Believe’ by Rupert E. Davies, which said this on page 58:

One of John Wesley’s favourite teachings was that it was actually possible for a Christian in his life on earth to reach perfection in the love of God and of his neighbour; that is, by the power of the Spirit, really and truly to love God and his neighbour in the way described by Jesus without any imperfections whatever.

Is this view of sanctification and attaining perfection in love unique to Methodists? Or is it common amongst Protestant Christians? I am interested in exploring the similarities and differences between Methodists, Baptists and other Protestants on the process of sanctification. Rather than expect people to compare the views of different denominations, I would be content to read views representing individual Protestant denominations. Otherwise, I fear people may be put off from answering!

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    Up-voted +1, but 1) you have not mentioned the Person of the Holy Spirit, by whose presence (in union of spirit, by a new birth) - a stronger, more holy and more enduring a presence than the remaining presence of inbred sin (in the flesh) - sanctification is actually achieved (not by a legal means of that which is born of Adam but of Living Presence) . . . and 2) 'Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect' is worthy of note.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 19:36
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    This article surveys five views of sanctification. dwellcc.org/learning/essays/five-views-sanctification Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


Largely speaking, there are three schools of thought in Protestantism regarding sanctification, one of which follows, more or less, the Wesleyan-Open Brethren structure ; one states the Presbyterian-Westminster Confession view ; and one aligns with William Huntington and the Strict Baptist following.

The first view is based on an individual's choice, for they have 'chosen' Christ and the gospel propagated in this scheme says that Jesus Christ did not actually achieve the salvation of anyone in his sufferings and death unless the individual accepts what was done.

Thus this view is one of salvation by works, necessarily, and the disciple of this view will be faced with the necessity of sanctification by their own will and by their own achievement.

This view is lacking in substantial doctrine and is usually conveyed in an emotional way with exhortations that are encouraging and 'loving'.

The second view is that the believer is saved by faith but is sanctified by obeying the law. The law, it is said, is no longer condemnatory but is now, it is said, 'advice'.

This view is coupled with the doctrine of 'active and passive' obedience of Christ who, they say, 'kept the law' on the behalf of the believer. But then the believer is required to keep the law (after conversion) themselves also.

Finally, thirdly, there is a view which is strongly advocated by William Huntington and by those who followed him in the nineteenth century as 'Strict Baptist' and 'Gospel Standard Strict Baptists' who proclaimed that justification was by faith alone through a conversion that was of God and wrought in the Spirit unto justification.

They declared that the presence of the Holy Spirit was, alone, what made anyone holy or sanctified and they denied that the believer was still under the law as a rule of life after being saved.

They advocated that by faith, by viewing Christ as he is portrayed in gospel doctrine, the believer walks in the Spirit, and not in the flesh.

Thus sin, that dwells in flesh, is not active ; the rather, one is crucified with Christ and, therefore, dead to the world, to sin and to the law.

As far as my own reading and study has thus far progressed, these are the three views suggested by the spectrum of historic and contemporaneous Protestant teaching that I am aware of.

The first view may be found in the writings of John Wesley and also the epistles of the Brethren factions post-J N Darby.

The second view is propagated largely by Presbyterian and Puritan authors such as Joseph Allein, Richard Baxter, Andrew Bonar, R M McCheyne and John Owen.

The third view may be found in the writings of William Huntington, William Gadsby, John Kershaw and J C Philpot.


You seem to have provided a good overview of Sanctification already! I spent some time researching John Wesley and trying to uncover what he meant by Christian perfection in regards to sanctification. In general, Christian Sanctification has meant abiding more and more in the law (Dunning, Christian Perfection: Toward a New Paradigm, 157). Wesley, on the other hand, focused much more on growth towards a pure love (Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 3). Wesley's book A Plain Account of Christian Perfection would be a great place to start to read more specifically about he says.

In a sermon titled "Circumcision of the heart" Wesley describes Christian perfection as a habitual disposition to the things of God. In his book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, he emphasizes Christian perfection as purity of intention. Or when one's entire being, thoughts, words, and actions are all given over to God. The basis of such a commitment towards God is in love. Wesley says, "faith working or animated by love is all that God now requires of man," (Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 44).

Another aspect of Christian perfection, according to Wesley, is how one understands sin. Wesley states, "this is not sin, if love is the sole principle of action," (Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection). He explains a person can still make mistakes out of ignorance, but if love of God and neighbour is the sole driver of whatever a person does, then it is not sin. Just to balance Wesley out a bit, he also says this,

"there is no such perfection in this life, as implies either a dispensation from doing good, and attending all the ordinances of God, or a freedom from ignorance, mistake, temptation, and a thousand infirmities necessarily connected with flesh and blood." - in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 17.

I would highly encourage you to read A Plain Account of Christian Perfection by Wesley to gain a better more nuanced understanding of what he meant.

Christopher Bounds explores Christian perfection in the Church Fathers in his book The Doctrine of Christian Perfection. This would be another great resource to explore the topic a bit more.

A big part of the Biblical argument comes down to Matthew 5:48, "be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." The word "perfect" in Greek is teleios. This word can be understood not simply as perfection, but as fulfilling the purpose to which you have been created (Borchert, "Matthew 5:48," 265). The argument is that the Greek word carries more of a dynamic understanding of growth, rather than perfection as a fixed state. Col 3:14, "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Love is the binding virtue over all the others. Various other New Testament passages places an emphasis on love, not even to mention how Jesus places two commandments about love as the most important! Mark 12:30-31

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these.”

There is so much still to explore with Wesley's view of Christian perfection, what it means and what it doesn't mean. And I hope the above resources will be a helpful push in discovering more of what he read. Is he right? Now that is a bigger question which requires a whole new answer. But Wesley reorients sanctification around love, which does set him apart from other Protestant explorations of sanctification. I will close this answer with one final quote from Wesley,

"By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man ruling all the tempers, words, and actions, the whole heart by the whole life. I do not include an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole." - John Wesley (Rex Matthews, "Wesley's Perfection Reconsidered," 34).

P.S. if my formatting for sources is incorrect, I'm sorry. I tried to figure out how to use footnotes but couldn't find it.

  • Appreciate your research and all the quotes from sources on John Wesley's view of sanctification and perfect love. Are there any links to those books you mentioned?
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 14:37
  • Here is a link to "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection." (ccel.org/ccel/wesley/perfection/…). Here is the sermon "Circumcision of the Heart" (ccel.org/ccel/wesley/sermons/…). The rest I think you will have to find a library that has access to them. Including the journal article
    – BJoub
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 14:54
  • "The Doctrine of Christian Perfection in the Apostolic Fathers" by Christopher Bounds. "Matthew 5:48 - Perfection and the Sermon" by Gerald Borchert. "Christian Perfection: Toward a New Paradigm" by H. Ray Dunning. The works by Dunning and Borchert are both articles found in journals.
    – BJoub
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 15:05
  • Thank you for the link to the Plain Account of Christian Perfection, which I can read on-line. I shall go through it and take notes.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 15:10

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