Sanctification — A Comprehensive Provision

Sanctification — A Comprehensive Provision

The New Testament teaches that the Kingdom of grace can comprehensively reign in God's children. Terms such as wholeness, completeness, thoroughness, and soundness describe the reign of grace in the life of a Christian. One excellent illustration occurs in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian Christians. The apostle prayed that "the God of peace" would "sanctify [them] wholly" (5:23, RSV, emphasis added). He then adds, "And may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 23, RSV, emphasis added): the whole person for the Kingdom of grace.

"Sanctify you wholly." Breathtaking language! Breathtaking promises! Breathtaking Kingdom! Sanctification resides at the center of the Kingdom of grace. Sanctification is the process of making holy. To be wholly or entirely sanctified means that we place our whole existence at the disposal of the Kingdom. It involves the Holy Spirit cleansing us from any lingering obstruction to Christ's Lordship and empowering us for victorious living and service. The term sanctification communicates a point of departure as well as a destination. It means placing all of life in the stream of transforming grace.

The principal purpose of all that God does in and through us is to declare or reveal Himself. Real sanctification has nothing to do with isolated, introverted, and neurotic piety. Instead, it has everything to do with an all-consuming enthusiasm for God's disclosure of Himself and His purposes for creation.

Sanctification harnesses all dimensions of life for service to righteousness, mercy, justice, and love. This is the meaning of Christian wholeness.

There is no single form of experience through which the Spirit works. The free Spirit of God works as He pleases (John 3:6-8; 2 Corinthians 3:17). Consciously and completely embracing the Lordship of Christ may occur early in one's discipleship or later. It may occur dramatically or over an extended period of time. It may be a quiet dawning awareness or more climactic.

The way in which the Spirit wholly establishes Christ's Lordship is incidental. The substance is essential. John Wesley said that in all instances when we are considering the work of God in His children, we should carefully avoid "limiting the Almighty. He doeth whatsoever and whensoever it pleaseth him. He can convey His grace" in any manner in which " His free Spirit is pleased most to work in our hearts."1

Not surprisingly, the Holy Spirit works with respect for our individual histories. Each of us has a different personality type, domestic background, religious history, and so on. A good craftsman takes seriously the material with which he or she works. The finished work of art will show the artist's skill and ability to respect, maintain, and develop the integrity of the medium, whether it be wood, stone, clay, or paint. The Carpenter from Nazareth is just such a craftsman.

Christians use a rich treasure of phrases to describe the Holy Spirit's work in bringing the child of God to embrace comprehensively Christ's Lordship: "the deeper life," "the fullness of the Spirit," "entire sanctification," "love made perfect," "Christian holiness," "Christian perfection."

Each term bespeaks the Holy Spirit's faithfulness to us in revealing the riches, promises, and reaches of God's grace. When speaking of "the fullness of the Spirit," we mean that the Holy Spirit is now free to administer in us all the gifts of grace Christ's atonement secured for us.

Entire sanctification means that through the Spirit's work in us, all dimensions of life are open to transformation by Him.

Love made perfect means that love for God and neighbor is made the central and defining disposition (or bent) of our lives. Taking on the disposition of Christ certainly does not imply anything so foolish as always loving perfectly or being sinless. Only of God is this true. Christian holiness means that provisionally the One who is the image of the holy God is now free without restriction to recreate His image in us.

Christian perfection can be a sticky and misleading term. But it need not be. It simply and beautifully means that what God has designed (purposed) for us as Christians who live in the world, and what Christ died to secure for us, the Holy Spirit can now accomplish in us. It is simply another way of celebrating and living out the reign of grace in every part of life. The phrase should not be distorted to mean "perfectionism," "flawlessness," or "sinlessness." In a spirit of celebration, the apostle announced that although sin once reigned over us, now grace will "reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:21, RSV).

The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can be misjudged in at least two ways. On the one hand, some Christians hope for, or expect, too little. They do not believe that the Holy Spirit can empower the Christian to live with love for God and one's neighbor as the defining disposition of life. On the other hand, some Christians claim too much.

They forget that we now Iive between the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God. The Kingdom has already been inaugurated, but it certainly has not yet been consummated. The first error depreciates the significance of the already. The second error ignores the importance of the not yet.

The first error can breed carelessness, laziness, and superficiality. The second error can breed arrogance, dishonesty, and frustration. The Christian doctrine of sanctification requires a sturdy balance between the already and the not yet. By God's grace and the Spirit's empowerment, we live from the Kingdom's inauguration and journey toward its fulfillment. Sanctification includes both the Spirit's present accomplishment and His ongoing work. So, fulfilling "the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14) is both already and not yet. Between the two lies a lifetime of maturation and confession.

One beautiful account of someone decisively embracing Christ's comprehensive Lordship comes from the life of Lloyd Ogilvie, for many years pastor of the Hollywood, California, First Presbyterian Church and later chaplain of the United States Senate. He said:

I'II never forget it as long as I live. After completing my postgraduate work, I began my work as a Presbyterian pastor. I was washed, starched, and almost insulated from any authentic power from on high. I was more concerned about the robes I wore than about being fully clothed with the Holy Spirit, more concerned about my collar than my Bible. And nothing was happening in my church.

I decided I would either leave the ministry, or I would receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus described in the 14th-16th chapters of John. I went away for the summer. I took my Bible with me and nothing else. I can still remember it. A long, lonely beach. I walked and talked with the Lord. I talked and I prayed for a whole month.

On the day before I was to leave, on the beach, in the sand, I took a stick and wrote all the things that were standing in the way of the total Lordship of Christ in my life. My insecurities, fears, frustrations, the devices of human manipulation of people, my longing for power, for recognition, my pride, arrogance — I wrote it all in the sand.

Then I got to my knees, and Jesus repeated in my soul what He had told His disciples: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” There, while I was on my knees, Jesus fulfilled His promise: “Abide in me and I in you.” An electric current began at the top of my head and moved to the soles of my feet. The power of Christ, the abiding Spirit, transformed my life. I moved from knowledge of my own education to the gift of knowledge, from my own insight to God’s wisdom.

Dr. Ogilvie would never impose the form of his experience with the Holy Spirit on anyone. His account is as unique as the creative touch of the Holy Spirit can make it. But he does urge upon us all a total surrender to Christ as the center of one’s life, and a commitment to allow the unhampered freedom of the Holy Spirit to govern and empower us.

Al Truesdale and Bonnie Perry

This article, originally published in the Herald of Holiness, September 1998, was excerpted from chapter 7, “The Kiss,” of a Beacon Hill Press book A Dangerous Hope: Encountering the God of Grace, by Al Truesdale and Bonnie Perry.

[1] Sermon, “The Means of Grace,” in The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., 14 vols.