Friday, May 10, 2013

Wesleyan Sanctification: overview and strengths

Wesleyan View
A second view of sanctification besides the Lutheran view is the Wesleyan view. The Wesleyan view, while distinguishing between sanctification and entire sanctification, believes that Christians can be entirely sanctified in their earthly lives. Christians are sanctified at the moment of salvation, but then there is a process of entire sanctification, which is “the experience of being made perfect in love” (96). The perfection that Wesleyans argue for is not a “sinless perfection,” but rather “The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.”[1] Wesley maintained a distinction between “sin” and “mistakes,” noting that sin is “a voluntary transgression of a known law” while imperfections (such as mistakes, faults, etc.) are an “involuntary transgression of a known law.”[2] Wesleyan sanctification views this ability to love God perfectly as realized in an instantaneous moment, even though the process leading up to this moment was not instantaneous. Wesley notes, “That Christian perfection is that love of God and our neighbor which implies deliverance from all sin…that it is given instantaneously, in one moment.”[3] Furthermore, the believer’s state after the experience still allows room for grace to work, so that the believer is to continue to grow in love and knowledge for Christ. Wesleyan sanctification relies heavily upon the Holy Spirit to give believers a “second blessing” after conversion so that they are able to reach this state of perfection. Personal experience also factors in heavily, in that while only the Scripture could establish a doctrine, “experience was a necessary confirmation” that the doctrine was correctly understood (96). Finally, Wesleyan sanctification does not hold to original sin in the sense that humans are responsible for Adam’s sin (only for their own personal sin) and locates the source of sin outside the human heart, which has been completely made clean. Wesley states, “it is only of grown Christians it can be affirmed they are in such a sense perfect, as, secondly, to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers. First, from evil or sinful thoughts. Indeed, whence should they spring?...If therefore, the heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts no longer proceed out of it.”[4]
The Wesleyan view of sanctification does have strengths that should be commended. First, unlike the Lutheran position and like Scripture, there is a distinction made between justification and sanctification. Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification process, so sanctification is not based entirely on human efforts and willpower. Thirdly, the Wesleyan view has a high regard for loving God, and tries to cultivate this love for God through holy living. The Wesleyan view reminds Christians that even after they made “perfect,” they still have room to grow, and cannot be spiritually lazy.

[1]John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (London: Epworth Press, 1952), 42.

[2]Wesley, Christian Perfection, 45.

[3]Wesley, Christian Perfection, 41.  

[4]Ibid., 19.

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