Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Forgotten Teaching in the Church: Holiness


“…By the power of the Spirit we can overcome challenges and can advance towards the fulfillment of that which our conversion promises – victory over sin, the life of holiness, and mature Christian living.” -Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness, p. 192. 


Can I really be holy as He is holy?  Yes. It is the calling of each follower of Jesus to reach whole sanctification, which reflects a blameless, spotless state of salvation holiness, through which the believer is preserved to the day they will stand before Jesus, and give an answer for their lives. 

The blessing of complete sanctification is only possible through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. We must never forget that.  Without the Holy Spirit, there is only legalistic self focus.  This leads nowhere but to pride.  Human effort is of no use at all (John 6:63 NIV). 

So what is our part, if the work is of the Holy Spirit?  We respond to the Spirit through God-guided action. The three responses to the work of the Holy Spirit, which must be engaged in by the believer are: Full repentance in every area of the believers’ life (in the Spirit) to reject and turn away from sin, full surrender by yielding completely to the leading of Jesus (God must have all there is of me), and full engagement with God to learn and receive perfect love. To reiterate: complete repentance, complete surrender, and complete love.

First we consider the concept of full repentance, or perhaps better stated: The process of engaging in sanctification. According to the Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2013) “God’s sanctifying work is a life-changing experience whereby we are empowered to make radical changes of direction in our lives…” Christian sanctification engenders the concept that the believer has died to sin, and instead lives in the Spirit (Galatians 2:20 NIV). 


So to be sanctified, a believer must be active in “crucifying the flesh” and living to the Spirit. The Apostle Paul often cited common sins that believers struggle with, then contrasted those sins with the true life of purity that believers must live (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Corinthians 6:10-11, Romans 6:6). 

 This means that believers must be zealous, and repent of all active sins in their lives. In some ways this first aspect of sanctification is similar to the reformed view of sanctification, as a gradual process (Boyd & Eddy, 2009). However, sanctification in the Arminian-Wesleyan view punctuates the process with moments like “initial sanctification” and “whole sanctification” where concrete results can be attained (SA HoD, 2013, p. 194-195). Once again it must be emphasized that this process of repentance can only be achieved through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Our response to the work of the Spirit is to be thorough (and total) in repentance and growth (Romans 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). 

How do we do this?  Through a great deal of prayer, and acts of will, of going to God, in trembling and sorrow for sin, and making an act of the will to repent.  In some cases, indeed many, something greater may be needed, wherein we need to talk with our pastor or an accountability partner, or look up some books on freedom from sin, because often the claws of sin go in very deep, especially if it's a lifelong sin.  But let me emphasize: Jesus Christ can and will break every chain.  Often though, resources are helpful, like books, 12 step groups, small groups, and meeting with a pastor/friend.

Next we consider the concept of complete surrender to God. The process of sanctification should not be regarded as a lifelong process of struggling toward an impossible ideal (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 172). Instead full sanctification is possible in this life, and it should be viewed as possible and attainable long before glorification. And part of that full sanctification is total surrender to the will of God. Christians are called to radical, full obedience to Jesus Christ. This means to place God and His kingdom program ahead of any other concern (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

Often the experience of a full surrender occurs after a crisis experience, though that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 173). But often in the search for holiness a believer will try to achieve holiness through struggling in the flesh, instead of yielding to the Spirit (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 173). 


 This can lead to a crisis experience, of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” where the believer comes to realize that sanctification is found not in endless struggling in the flesh, but in total yielding and surrender to God. The Holy Spirit then guides the life of the believer, causing the believer’s mind to reject sin and hate sin, and turn away from sin. The Spirit then re-orders the lifestyle of the sanctified believer to consider God first, and him or herself second. 

William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army experienced a moment when he realized God needed all there was of William Booth, 95% would not do! So Booth surrendered his whole body, soul, and spirit to Jesus. And God used him in mighty ways. At the heart of total surrender, which stems from the Keswick view of holiness, sanctification becomes a resting obedient faith in God, instead of a work of man (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 174). This concept is an expression of the Keswick “Deeper Life” view of sanctification (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 172). But the concept of surrender tends to transcend such categories, and is mentioned often by Wesley is his reflections on holiness (Wesley). 

I recall in my own Christian life, I felt the sting of sin on a daily basis and felt it foreign to myself.  I didn't want any of it.  I wanted something greater, a true freedom from sin.  But all those around me, in the churches, seemed fairly content to remain in sins of various kinds.  I was longing after a road to victory over sin, but I didn't know where it was.  And it seemed so hard.  But now I realize in the holiness tradition that there is a glorious, beautiful road that every Christian must follow, out of sin, out of the flesh, and into the fullness of sanctification.  It will seem impossible.  It will seem like too much.  You'll be in so much sorrow, and you'll want to slide back into the mire with the rest of the modern church, caught in all manner of sins.  Don't give up.  Many, many others have walked this difficult road of holiness. You can do it too!  It will be very hard, but without holiness no one will see the Lord.  

Finally, we consider sanctification as an expression of perfect love. John Wesley wrote in A Plain Account of Christian Perfect (1854), “Will any dare to speak against loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves? Against a renewal of heart, not only in part, but in the whole image of God? Who is he that will open his mouth against being cleansed from all pollution both of flesh and spirit; or against having all the mind that was in Christ, and walking in all things as Christ walked? What man, who calls himself a Christian, has the hardiness to object to the devoting, not a part, but all our soul, body, and substance to God?”


John Wesley viewed sanctification as being centered on relationship with God (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 176). The work of God in the believer is to transform their heart into a life giving spring of perfect love that reflects the love of Jesus. It all stems from the heart. Wesley viewed sin as not so much actions, or wrong thoughts or deeds, but as stemming from a base attitude of the human heart (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). Thus God’s work in the believer, in sanctification was a circumcision of the heart (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). God cleansed the believer’s heart, which would set the heart ablaze, flaming powerfully with the love of God (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). This love expelled all sin, provided the believer with the virtues of Jesus, embodied the mind of Christ, and was attainable through faith and complete surrender to God (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). This is the Wesleyan “perfect love” view of sanctification (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 176).

We’ve briefly looked at the Keswick and Wesleyan view of whole sanctification, now let us consider the two other prominent views: The Lutheran view and the Reformed view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 161). The Lutheran view is quite simple, suggesting that justification and sanctification are not separate incidences, but are sides of the same coin (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 162). Sanctification is defined as nothing more than living out the faith that one has already been declared righteous because of Jesus (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 163). This view sees the separation of justification and sanctification as a “religious scheme” to counter the danger of believers who once justified would presumably not live a holy Christian (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 163). So the Lutheran view is that the Christian has been declared righteous in Christ, and that’s the end of it, more or less. The problem with this view is of course that justification and sanctification are distinct in the scriptures, and salvation in Christ must necessarily include repentance of sin, and living a holy life, which seems to be excluded from the Lutheran view.

The Reformed view is that believers in Jesus have died with Christ and resurrected through faith, and by living in Christ, in the Spirit, holiness of life occurs over time (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 167). The reformed view suggests that Christ is the pioneering one who was and is truly sanctified, and by being sanctified Christ also may sanctify His followers (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 168). Sanctification is viewed as both definitive and progressive (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 168). So while Christ has declared forever those holy who have faith in Him, there is also a process of sanctification taking place (Hebrews 10:14). The Holy Spirit is the prime agent who guides the believer through the process of sanctification (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 169). In the Spirit believers are able to resist sin and grow in holiness. But the reformed view suggests that the believer will always remain a sinner saved by grace, and thus will always struggle with sin. Sanctification in its fullest form is thus never achievable. The danger of the reformed view is that so much is placed on the process, and it leaves danger for human pride, and for struggling in the flesh, and never being able to achieve a concrete end to the process (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 170-171).

Now, we’ve exhaustively considered the basic viewpoints of sanctification in protestant Christianity. But what good would it be for every Christian on the face of the Earth to be completely sanctified, if this did not engender safety in the arms of God almighty? A whole host could plummet to the depths of hell. But that is not what we believe, which is why the Salvation Army’s tenth doctrine states that the whole spirit, soul, and body may be preserved blameless until Jesus returns to claim His church. Many in antiquity, and in biblical times considered the division of the human being to be of spirit, soul, and body. The concept of blameless preservation is the reality that when Christ returns, He will return for a holy church, for a church without blemish or defect. He will have no concern for those who have soiled their robes of righteousness (Revelation 3:4-5 NIV). Additionally, 1st Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV) states, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For those Christians who are zealous to serve God, and who truly love Christ more than themselves, and who are determined to be fully sanctified and free from sin, God almighty is faithful and will without a doubt preserve them blameless until the very last day (2 Timothy 1:12, Philippians 1:6 NIV).

In conclusion, my calling to you today is to pursue true Christian holiness. Pursue the blessing of full sanctification.  Ache for it as in land without water, in a desert.  That's how I felt.  I felt lost in sin and immaturity in the Christian life.  But the key is this: If we dare to believe that God can do anything, and throw out that radical faith toward God, God will respond with mighty works in our lives that will transform our lives unto holiness. 


References
Anderson, N. D. (2012, March 23). Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Retrieved from https://www.asbury.edu/about-us/cornerstone-project/holiness-initiatives/wesleyan-holiness-theology
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the Spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Leclerc, D. (2014). Discovering Christian Holiness The Heart of Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2nd ed.). (2013). London: Salvation Books.
United Methodist Communications. (2013, July 02). Our Wesleyan Heritage. Retrieved from http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/our-wesleyan-heritage
Wesley, J. (n.d.). Christian Perfection. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-40-Christian-Perfection

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