Models of Sanctification

“All things are possible to him that can in Jesu’s name believe;
Lord, I no more Thy name blaspheme, Thy truth I lovingly receive.
I can, I do believe in Thee; all things are possible to me.”

In this chapter we are going to present four models of sanctification. Whilst there is some overlapping of the beliefs between the various traditions (i.e. there is a certain amount of mysticism to be found amongst both Wesleyan and Charismatic theologians) the object here is to present each model briefly and simply, without argument or explanation. There is not enough room to investigate the positive and negative points of each model of sanctification. It should be noted that these models do not form the foundation for the chapters that follow.

The Wesleyan Model of Sanctification
Much of contemporary Evangelicalism is indebted in some way to John Wesley and his theological understanding of Sanctification. Wesleyanism, various varieties of Holiness Theologies, Keswick, Deeper Life, Higher life, Victorious Life Theologies all have their root in Wesley’s teaching concerning the Christian life.

John Wesley’s ideal for the Christian was to be made perfect in this life. He considered the notion that perfection could not be attained in this life (or only attainable at death) to be a false doctrine: “Do you believe we are sanctified by faith? Be true then to your principle; and look for this blessing just as you are, neither better or worse; as a poor sinner that has nothing to pay, nothing to plead, but ‘Christ died.’ And if you look for it as you are, then expect it now.” Scripture is thus interpreted along this line, since there are many proof texts that appear to support the Wesleyan model of sanctification.

Holiness is a process that begins at the New Birth and continues until it becomes Entire Sanctification. It is this that must be in place in order for the believer to be prepared to meet Christ at death or at His Second Coming. As one grows in love for Christ and others he becomes more sanctified, that is, sanctification is evidenced by great love; “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Therefore, sanctification becomes a practical rather than merely a theological or legal issue under Methodism.

Wesley termed sanctification “Christian Perfection” and indeed published a book entitled A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Those in opposition to him thought that he was teaching sinless perfection, but in fact Wesley did not hold to that theory. In the book mentioned above he writes, “Perhaps the general prejudice against Christian Perfection may chiefly arise from a misapprehension of the nature of it. We willingly allow, and certainly declare, 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 necessary connected with flesh and blood.” The Church of the Nazarene, in their Articles of Faith boldly declare what most Bible theologians believe to be false, “We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by baptism with the Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness. This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as ‘Christian perfection,’ ‘perfect love,’ ‘heart purity,’ ‘the baptism with the Holy Spirit,’ ‘the fullness of the blessing,’ and ‘Christian holiness.’” This is an almost complete misunderstanding of Biblical Sanctification. It is the very teaching that Wesley wisely avoided and denounced.

This model also holds to the teaching that sanctification is a “Second Blessing” or a “Second Work of Grace”. This is seen as the Baptism in the Spirit as in the book of Acts. Therefore, every believer is in need of a personal Pentecost and a Filling of the Holy Spirit. It is this Second Blessing after conversion that a believer should expect and receive. It should be noted though that John Wesley accepted that sanctification can be instantaneous at conversion, but in practice we all need the atonement of Christ for our daily offences. “But does God work this great work in the soul gradually or instantaneously? Perhaps it may be gradually wrought in some; I mean in this sense, – they do not advert to the particular moment wherein sin ceases to be. But it is infinitely desirable, were it the will of God, that it should be done instantaneously…” As the believer grows in God, grows in grace, he is inwardly cleansed of sin and sinful habits.

Wesleyanism sees sanctification as the circumcision of the heart whereby sin is cut out once and for all from the Christian’s life. As physical circumcision was an outward sign of a Jew, so sanctification is the inward sign of a Christian believer. This means that sanctification is total cleansing from all known sin to enable one to walk blamelessly before God and man. This understanding of sanctification was taken on board and expanded upon (some may say exaggerated) by the various Holiness movements and the Keswick Convention. Though we do not have space to investigate Keswick the following quotation may help us to understand its belief system, “From its earliest days, Keswick stressed the combination of personal surrender to Christ leading to the fulness of the Holy Spirit, and a process of growth in godliness. It was not unusual to have on the same platform at Keswick advocates of a crisis of sanctification, who would actively encourage hearers to experience the crisis there and then …”

This model of sanctification usually comes at a certain point subsequent to salvation. It is a lifelong experience of dealing with sin that must result in complete holiness before death or the Coming of the Lord.

The Reformed Model of Sanctification
To the Reformed theologian sanctification is based upon the finished work of Christ upon the cross and man’s union with Him. They see the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who creates sanctification in the believer’s life. This means that He has won sanctification for those elected to salvation and so He imparts it to them when they receive Him. “They who are effectively called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection”.

Therefore, sanctification comes by faith in Christ’s death, for if a believer is united to Him because of His death, then it follows that he must receive sanctification from Him also. By this union with Christ we share in His resources, and as such He becomes our sanctification, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). John Calvin taught that everything to do with our salvation is to be found and completed in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, “Grace is itself the power and action of the Spirit: through grace the Father, in the Son, accomplishes whatever good there is; through grace He justifies, sanctifies, and cleanses us, calls us to Himself, that we might attain salvation.” It becomes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring a person into union with Christ. This requires faith on our part, that is, we must believe into Christ to receive cleansing and other benefits.

In the Reformed model justification, sanctification, and regeneration are all performed instantly when a person comes to Christ. This position teaches that justification and sanctification cannot be divided. This implies that since a believer is dead in Christ and dead to sin, then sanctification has automatically been imparted to him without any act or will on his part. Simply stated, the model promotes the idea that being dead to sin and alive to God is indeed sanctification.

While some Reformed theologians and denominations see the sinner being justified upon accepting Christ, most acknowledge a double application of justification and sanctification, i.e. justification being the foundation for sanctification. Under Reformation Theology sanctification is not based upon man’s ability to be holy through exercising his will, nor is it man’s co-operation with God, but on what God has already accomplished in Christ alone. Such holiness is outside of and beyond man, therefore he needs the direct intervention of God before he can be cleansed from sin.

From this position, that is union with Christ, a Christian is able to resist and fight against sin in his life – often termed ‘mortification’. Sanctification, as an ongoing Christian experience, is said to come by obedience to the word of God, afflictions and trials, fellowship with other believers, and through partaking of the sacraments (communion and baptism). In brief, the Reformed model of sanctification teaches that holiness is created, implemented, imparted, and finished in man upon conversion, it is completely the work of the Sovereign God without any assistance by man. Sanctification is therefore a work of grace in salvation.

The Charismatic Model of Sanctification
The Pentecostal and Charismatic understanding of sanctification is usually built around the teachings of mainstream Protestant theology. At times it relies upon Reformation Theology, at other times it holds to Wesleyan (Keswick) Theology. “The Pentecostal Movement owes its inspiration and formation to the Wesleyan Holiness revival of the nineteenth century”. There is also an element of Mystic Theology within certain denominations that come under the Pentecostal and Charismatic label. In reality, it is fair to say that Pentecostalism is a mixture of all three theological positions, adopting some but built upon neither. Both Pentecostal and Charismatics hold certain beliefs in common, but it is recognised that there is a difference between Classic Pentecostalism and the modern Charismatic Movements. Classic Pentecostalism normally does not hold to the theory that the Baptism in the Spirit compares with sanctification, “The oldest form of classical Pentecostalism, what can be called a Wesleyan variety, clung steadfastly to its established notion of sanctification as a ‘second definite work’ – a post-conversional, cleansing experience that enhanced personal holiness and, according to some, radically removed the bent to sin.” Nevertheless there are some denominations that do just that. Therefore in this model we are referring to modern Pentecostal and Charismatic theology.

Sanctification is used in terms of “being spiritual” and usually relates to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Such spirituality sets the person apart, not only from nominal Christianity but also from worldliness. Therefore it is seen as personal piety – practical holiness in an obedient life. This inevitably requires the need for personal experience, so without the Baptism in the Spirit a Christian cannot live a spiritual life – or cannot walk in sanctification. In this model sanctification becomes a part of being Baptised in the Spirit, though some call it being Filled with the Spirit on a daily basis.

As mentioned above, the various Holiness movements evolved from Wesleyan Theology. Holiness becomes a stricter concept within some Pentecostal denominations, but it should be noted that amongst Charismatics there is less emphasis upon personal holiness. Sanctification as a personal experience includes deep religious and emotional feelings. This is considered to be the sanctifying work of God in that person’s life. It is at such times that the Holy Spirit makes the believer aware of the sinfulness of the heart and his desperate need of higher (and deeper) spirituality. There is great emphasis upon speaking with other tongues as an outward sign of this taking place within the soul. Tongues assist the believer to grow in faith and so become more in tune with God and His cleansing power if they are used regularly.

Because of the mixture of theology with Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement it is almost impossible to find that blanket statement that would define their belief on the subject of sanctification. Yet, it is safe to say that within the movements sanctification is seen as a heightened sense of spirituality, emphasised either by personal holiness or the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Mystic Model of Sanctification
Amongst the mystics (which includes the Roman Catholic Church and Quakers) great emphasis is placed upon what is termed “the interior life”. It is on this level that the mystic understands sanctification. It is as a person contemplates their own lives that God can deal with their sin and thus deliver them.

This model of sanctification is popular amongst ascetics and monastic orders within Christendom. To achieve this some have taken to locking themselves in caves and cells to meditate on the Scriptures and their own unworthiness. This is sometimes called “practicing quietness” or “practicing the presence of God”. Asceticism is part of Catholic theology regarding sanctification. Pope John Paul II writes, “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails to ascesis and mortification that gradually lends to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.” Therefore God deals with man as silver and gold in a refiners fire. Sanctification may include pain, suffering and persecution. The ascetics welcomed and sought such torment so that they might be more sanctified.

Sanctification comes as a result of religious observances, habits and duties, as well as contemplation and prayer. As one looks within and looks to God he sees his own sinfulness in the light of God’s glorious holiness. This is said to increase a person’s intimacy with God. As the mystic is made aware of his own sinfulness, confession is made out of a broken heart; this is often termed “the dark night of the soul”. As he opens himself up to God and lets himself go, so the sanctifying work of God can be applied and take effect. The side that acknowledges the holiness of God is called “the knowledge of the divine”. This is what Madame Guyon refers to in her book entitled Union with God, “When you are thusly turned toward God, you find it easy to return there again and again. The longer you continue to turn inward to God, the neareryou are drawn to Him and the more firmly you adhere to Him. Consequently, you are further removed from your more outward and natural man … so often contrary to God.” In other words, as a person sees God he recognises that self is utterly worthless but that God loves him despite the sin.

The mystic model of sanctification is achieved by totally abandoning self, yielding to God, and walking in deep humility before both God and man in all aspects of daily living.