Orthodox Views of Sanctification

LUTHERAN VIEW. Martin Luther taught that the believer is “always being justified, more and more, always by faith.” A person cannot be a sinner and saint at the same time. One needs to get used to justification. There is no need to work at becoming, since one is declared, “to be holy.” Hence, sanctification is instantaneous and all of grace, requiring no effort or work on man’s part.

PENTECOSTAL VIEW. Holiness Pentecostals believe a second work of the Holy Spirit sanctifies a believer in a crisis experience whereby original sin is removed entirely. Other Pentecostals (e.g., Assemblies of God) claim that believers who have already received new life by the Spirit (salvation) later receive an empowering baptism of the Holy Spirit that begins a life of spiritual growth in them. This latter work by the Spirit is continual, and not a single crisis experience.

Glossalic prayer in public or private is a heartfelt personal experience of sanctification. “The power of the Lord came down,” “slain in the Spirit,” “falling in the Spirit” or “slain under the power” are equated with being filled with baptism or filled with the Spirit and baptized in the Spirit. Throughout this movement have been various kinds of divorce between Word and Spirit. The Word of God, which as gospel is Spirit and life, degenerates into words about God and Jesus, which tend to be mere information.

The believer must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, presenting himself to God (Romans 12:1-2), putting to death sinful things that belong to the earthly nature (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). The goal of sanctification is “entire sanctification,” whereby the believer attains the wholehearted desire and determination to do the will of God.

Pentecostals think of the church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit—and experience is pivotal. In essence, emotionalism becomes sanctification or experiential religion. Orthodoxy is a latecomer to Pentecostalism. In 1961, the Assemblies of God first introduced a section on the Deity of Christ to their beliefs. In 1979, they established a Commission on Doctrinal Purity to review deviant
teachings of its ministers.

WESLEYAN VIEW. Sanctification begins with the new birth, when a person responds to God’s prevenient grace for salvation. This view holds that there may be stages in one’s personal history of salvation, in which one may know God successively as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works to regenerate the believer’s heart from one of rebellion to one of wholehearted love. After
salvation, God gives the believer sanctifying grace to enable him to avoid willful sin. Man is obligated to follow God’s will. He must be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) and put on the “new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24). One can lose his salvation by continued disobedience to God. The concept of sinning in the Bible is voluntary transgressions of the known will of God. Consequently, the Christian must fulfill the law through faith.

The struggle between good and evil ceases in a state of entire sanctification. Christian perfection means “to be renewed in the image of Christ,” which is imply to love God with all the heart, mind and soul. Thus, sanctification is the experience of being made perfect in love. John Wesley equates being filled with the Spirit with perfect love. His diaries are filled with testimonies of persons who
had professed to receive the gift of perfect love. Entire sanctification relates to the quality and purity of love, not to the degree of love. Wesley says, “Many mistakes [involuntary transgressions] may coexist with pure love.” The essence of original sin is carnal pride; the essence of Christian perfection is pure love for God. Sin is not literally a “thing,” but is an attitude of pride that alienates one from God and others. Sanctification is love for God and others; it has to do with intent. Both Scriptures and experience led Wesley to the conclusion that normally one receives the gift of perfect love subsequent to new birth and often prior to death. Heart-circumcision, perfect love, and being filled with the Spirit are conceptually identical. Only at Christ’s second coming, however, will the believer be perfected in terms of unknown shortcomings.

In Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley presented a clear summary of his understanding of Christian perfection.

1. There is such a thing as perfection; for it is again and again mentioned in Scripture.
2. It is not so early as justification; for justified persons are to ‘go on to perfection’ (Hebrews 6:1).
3. It is not so late as death; for St. Paul speaks of living men that were perfect (Philippians 3:15)
4. It is not absolute. Absolute perfection belongs not to man, nor to angels, but to God alone.
5. It does not make a man infallible; none is infallible while he remains in the body.
6. Is it sinless? It is not worth while to contend for a term. It is ‘salvation from sin.’
7. It is ‘perfect love’ (I John 4:18). This is the essence of it; its properties, or inescapable fruits are, rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
8. It is improvable . . . one perfected in love may grow in grace far swifter than he did before.
9. It is amissable, capable of being lost; of which we have numerous instances ….
10. It is constantly both preceded and followed by a gradual work.
(John Wesley, Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 28; quoted in Theological Perspectives, 536).

REFORMED VIEW. Sanctification begins at conversion through saving faith. God renews His likeness in the believer by conforming him to Christ (Romans 8:29). It is a continual process, whereby the Holy Spirit works in the believer (2 Corinthians 3:18). The believer must cooperate with God’s work in him, expressing gratitude for salvation. The Christian no longer has his old self, which was crucified (Romans 6:6). Through sanctification, the believer is a genuinely new, though not totally new person. The believer is able to resist sin and God conforms the believer to His image (Romans 8:29). Perfection is not attained in this life.

KESWICK VIEW. Sanctification begins upon belief at salvation. The Trinity comes to live with the individual believer, and renews him after the likeness of God. The believer should live in the Spirit to receive all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). The essential focus on the Christian’s life should be a close relationship with God. The believer should have sustained victory over human sin. The
old nature is not eradicated but is counteracted by the work of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is both positional and experiential. The believer is still influenced by sin but not necessarily under its control since he can choose right and do it consistently.

For this school, the baptism with the Holy Spirit does not cleanse the heart from sin; it is only empowerment for victorious living and effective witness. While their teachers deny the possibility of sin’s destruction prior to death, they do advocate the possibility of a life of victory over “the old nature” for those who put themselves under the direction and control of the indwelling Spirit. But as long as Christians inhabit this mortal body, they must contend with the sin nature. This position contends for the work of the Holy Spirit, but more emphasis is put on power than purity. The believer will not obtain perfection until total sanctification occurs at the coming of Christ.

AUGUSTINIAN-DISPENSATIONAL VIEW. Sanctification begins at regeneration, when God prepares the believer for experiential sanctification. The baptism of the Holy Spirit places the believer in the body of Christ, enabling the believer to have fellowship, receive spiritual power, bear fruit, etc. The Spirit indwells all believers and fills those who yield to him willingly. Because of the Spirit’s indwelling, the Christian can grow in sanctification. The believer is responsible to walk by the Spirit (continually depending on the Spirit’s power. Using God’s power, the believer should avoid sin, which grieves the indwelling Spirit. The believer must be willing to follow God’s will and direction for his life. The Christian has two natures: the flesh (sinful nature) and the Spirit, which are opposed to each other (Romans 7). The two natures in man are parallel to the two natures of Christ (human and divine). The believer receives a “new self,” which is a new life springing from his new nature (Colossians 3:9-10). Christians will not receive ultimate perfection until they are in heaven (Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 John 3:2).

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