“Entire sanctification” is an odd and exciting term. It is a cornerstone Free Methodist doctrine. It has also vexed and offended many. The doctrine is particularly frightening for the modern mind when paired with another phrase from our Wesleyan heritage: “Christian perfection.”
Jesus Christ, our founder (not John Wesley, contrary to popular opinion), was the first to voice this concept. “Be perfect, therefore,” said Jesus, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Paul employs entire sanctification when he prays for the Thessalonian church, “ May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
John Wesley, our historic mentor, pointed not to some unique experience of his own, or novel understanding of the Bible when he called upon those in the renewal movement of his day (called Methodism today) to be sanctified through and through. He pointed to the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He drew from the writings and experiences of the early church fathers. He gave voice to what he witnessed in the lives of believers who, through faith alone received God’s forgiveness and (often after a “salvation experience”) an experience of spiritual awakening, fullness of the Holy Spirit, which led to such a transformational life change that the only way to explain it was that Jesus was somehow living in and through these believers in powerful ways.
These life transformations were in stark contrast to the common experience of Wesley’s Christian peers. His intellectual Oxford peers had lost nearly all sense of experiencing the power of God in their lives as they traded the treasures of the heart for an intellectualized, often sanitized, version of Christianity that led to deism, moralism and other “isms” that were less than God’s desire. Wesley’s peers in the streets, mines, prisons and distilleries of Great Britain believed the church to be by and large irrelevant for them, with often-lifeless spiritual leaders bringing little more than the ritualistic functions expected of them for marriage, baptism and burials.
Maybe today’s Free Methodists need to find new language, but we don’t need to find a new message. Jesus didn’t call for half-hearted, lukewarm commitment to the kingdom. The apostles did not die as martyrs preaching a gospel of comfortable acceptance of sins, brokenness, injustice, poverty and self-centeredness. The early Christian movement did not seize the hearts of slaves, soldiers, artisans and emperors by asking nothing and promising more of the same. The promise was declared that God’s kingdom belongs to those who are fully, radically, uncompromisingly devoted to following the King. The promise was that a broken life might be made whole. A broken world might discover restoration. As the ambassadors of the new kingdom, we go into the nations and teach everything our Lord teaches us, proclaiming and incarnating through the Spirit God’s holiness and love.
John Wesley used 26 different phrases and Biblical references to describe what we today narrowly refer to as “entire sanctification.” He did so because he was deeply concerned that people might become fixated upon or have negative reactions to any one of the terms that he felt the Bible employed in describing the concept. So, today, I imagine that no matter what different terms we may choose to use, someone will doubtless take exception and claim it is not what they can in any way believe.
I’m going to take a shot at it anyway. Free Methodists believe that God expects and empowers those who will turn to God (either to repent of wrongdoing or to embrace a more beautiful and true life or any combination therein) to be:
1) all in with Jesus,
2) radically devoted to God,
3) refuse compromise with the world,
4) full of the Holy Spirit,
5) wholly available for God’s purposes,
6) settling for nothing less than everything God has in store,
7) not holding back or onto anything that hinders God’s work through us,
8) sacrificing anything to be everything God intends us to be.
Maybe John Wesley said it best when he said, “What I mean by Christian perfection is nothing other than love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
I wonder where Wesley got that?
Don’t settle for less than all God wants to be and do in and through you. Let’s be all in!
Mark Adams is the superintendent of the North Central Conference. This article is adapted from a post on his North Central Reflections blog (nccsup.blogspot.com).
DISCUSSION: Do most Christians live their lives like they are sanctified through and through?  If Christ’s followers didn’t settle for less than all God wants them to be, how would the church be more fruitful? 1