Entire Sanctifcation

Friday, November 16, 2007


Holiness was always a major concern of Wesley's. This did not just include typical piety like Bible study, church, and quiet time (that was an important part of it of course), but also caring for the poor, fighting slavery, and an attempt to root out all selfishness, resentment, pride, and hurtfulness from his thoughts and actions - loving the least, loving your enemies, and having the mind if Christ. Sign me up for that!

The way we get there, Wesley says, is by being in a personal relationship with Christ where his Spirit works in us to transform our hearts to see and love like Jesus, "transformed by the renewing of our minds" as Paul says. This relational process is known as sanctification. The tricky part is figuring out what exactly is meant by entire sanctification. Entire sanctification for Wesley does not simply means not sinning, since he expects that to be true for all Christians. (This is something that I think Wesley was profoundly wrong about, but let's leave that aside for the time being.) Entire sanctification for Wesley has to do with the removal of the carnal nature in us. By this he does not mean temptation (after all even Jesus was tempted) but a pull towards pride and self. For me this takes the form of getting focused on "what about me?" questions when I feel wronged, rather than thinking relationally about both of us. That's a self-focus, and I expereince God working in me, convicting me, guiding me into His way of responding differently. Following Christ's different way is of course is hard, because it goes against my grain, and this "grain" is what Wesley has in mind with entire sanctification: a new grain, a Christ-like grain.

This idea of sanctification understood as a gradual process is something I think most people would give their "amen" to. I have also found that, having known God for a while now, I have gone through several "seasons" where God worked on different areas of my heart and life. The problems I had when I was 22 are not the same problems I have now. Not only because I am older, but because God has really healed me in those areas. For example I don't struggle now with self-esteem. I deeply know that God loves me, after he hammered that fact into my heart for years and years. Now I have other areas of my life that God is working on, for example my self-focus and self-defensive posture, (which is why non-violence has been such a major theme for me since I am not by nature meek or passive at all). So I know from experience that with God's help, we can expereince real healing in major areas that seemed to dominate our former horizons, that we will not always struggle with the same issues. What I find hard to imagine is that there will come a time where ALL of these issues will be gone, and my entire heart will be loving and unselfish.

I don't know anyone like that, nor have I heard of anyone like that, and from what I know of Wesley's life he was not like that (just ask his wife). He - just like me and probably you - had plenty of flaws that to his credit he made his life's work to address through Jesus. Wesley never claimed to have attained total sanctification, and I have to wonder if anyone does claim to have? The goal of growing more like Jesus, of being more loving, is surely a good one, I'm just questioning whether it is a place we can ever say we have attained. It seems, on the contrary, that the "holier" I get the more I notice how much of my life is not like Jesus, his bright light deepening the contours of my own shadow.

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