A Sketch of a Biblical Theology of Sanctification: Wesleyan-Arminian But Not Wesleyan/Nazarene


By way of helping my brothers, whether Wesleyan-Arminian or non-Wesleyan-Arminian, see how the doctrine of sanctification can be articulated in scripturally derived categories, differ markedly from Wesley at various points, and yet still be Wesleyan-Arminian, I offer the following brief list of ways in which such a biblical theology would be distinct from standard published Wesleyan and Nazarene systematic articulations and definitions of sanctification.1

A biblical theology of sanctification through a Wesleyan-Arminian lens would affirm the following:

1. Post-conversion consecration and God’s entire sanctification of believers is grounded in and flows from union with Christ (Rom. 6, 12).

2. Regarding Sin

2.1. Sin is any violation of God’s word (Rom. 5:13; 1 John 3:4; Jam. 4:17), incurs guilt, and requires atonement (Lev. 4-6; 1 John 2:1-2). Personal culpability for sin is based on knowledge, intent, and capacity (Deut. 19:4-6; Num. 9:6-8; Num. 35:23; 1 John 1:7).

2.2. Believers are called to confess their sins one to another (James 5:16), confront sin committed by believers (Luke 17:3; Matt. 18:15-17), lay aside any sin which easily besets (Heb. 12:1), and pray for brothers who are caught committing a sin that is not “unto death” (1 John 5:16).

2.3. The sin which indwells and controls unbelievers (Rom. 7:7-25) is the depravity of self-centerness (Luther’s homo incurvatus in se) as a consequence of loss of relationship with God occasioned by Adam’s fall.

2.4. Indwelling sin’s control over a believer is broken through union with Christ (Rom. 6:1-6), but it requires entire sanctification, subsequent progressive sanctification and ultimately glorification to be dealt with fully.

3. Regarding NT Post-Conversion Calls to Consecration

3.1. Attention to and emphasis on the motivations offered as reasons to answer post-conversion calls to consecration: gratitude (Rom. 12:1), freedom from sin’s control (Rom. 6:11-16), freedom from fulfilling the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). Such biblical-theological attention to the motivations given in the text contrast markedly with commonly offered  appeals (in sermons) to become aware of one’s carnal heart, to confess and repent of inherited depravity, and to seek a heart cleansing that will eliminate internal struggle with temptation.

3.2. Attention to the grounds offered for post-conversion calls to consecration: prior mercies of God (Rom. 12:1), already available benefits of union with Christ (Rom. 6:11-22).

3.3. Calls to voluntary slavery (Rom. 6), self-sacrifice (Rom. 12), submission to the Spirit’s leadership (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25; Eph. 5:18), all share a shift from default self-centered or self-in-control living to consciously God-centered or Spirit-in-control living.

4. Regarding the Results of Full Consecration

4.1. Denial of arrivalism (Phil. 3:12-14), of freedom from the need for ongoing purification of ourselves (1 John 3:3; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 10:14), of sinless perfection (1 John 2:1-2; 5:16), or of automatic maturity as a consequence of entire sanctification.

4.2. Denial that “perfection in love” terminology references entire sanctification (1 John).

4.3. Affirmation that full consecration as love slave (Rom. 6) and living sacrifice (Rom. 12) is met by God’s acceptance (Rom. 12:1) and His sanctification of the entirety of the person on the grounds of theological inference from Exod. 29:37 and Matt. 23:19.

4.4. Affirmation that “entire sanctification” is quantitative sanctification of the entirety of our person. Denial that a qualitative entire sanctification is in view in 1 Thess. 5:23-24.

4.5. Affirmation that post-conversion consecration and its attendant entire sanctification address conscious self-centeredness and submission to God. Denial that post-conversion consecration and entire sanctification entail the cleansing of unconscious centeredness or habituated patterns of thinking that are unscriptural, unChristlike, and thus ungodly (cf. Rom. 12:2).

4.6. Affirmation that such consecration results in empowerment for service, freedom from fulfilling the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), and a heart united to fear and love God (Psa. 86:7; James 4:8).

5. Regarding Remaining Needs after Full Consecration and Entire Sanctification

5.1. Affirmation that the “flesh” is distinct from inherited depravity. The flesh, though crucified (Gal. 5:24), remains throughout the sanctification journey, and walking in the Spirit is the solution (Gal. 5:16).

5.2. Affirmation of remaining potential for intentional sin (1 John 2:1-2), the presence of unintentional sin and sins of ignorance (1 John 1:7; James 5:16) and remaining unChristlikeness or unconscience self-centeredness after full consecration (Rom. 12:2; 13:14); all of which need the ongoing provision of Christ’s once for all sacrifice and the cleansing of his blood (1 John 1:7).

6. Regarding Progressive Sanctification after Entire Sanctification.

6.1. Affirmation of the ongoing presence of crucified flesh (Gal. 5:24; Rom. 8:13; 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11), necessity of walking in, being led by, and following the Spirit to avoid fulfilling the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-18, 25) and to live out the presentation / consecration of Romans 6 and 12.

6.2. Affirmation that the call to transformation of our minds (Rom. 12:2) and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14) indicate the need for continuing sanctification after the entire sanctification consequent upon full consecration.

Originally published at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

1. See the following examples of published statements on entire sanctification which may indicate the ways in which a biblical theology of sanctification through a Wesleyan-Arminian lens gets swallowed up in standard Wesleyan systematic terminology and concepts.

The Wesleyan Church Discipline

Sanctification: Initial, Progressive, Entire

We believe that sanctification is that work of the Holy Spirit by which the child of God is separated from sin unto God and is enabled to love God with all the heart and to walk in all His holy commandments blameless. Sanctification is initiated at the moment of justification and regeneration. From that moment there is a gradual or progressive sanctification as the believer walks with God and daily grows in grace and in a more perfect obedience to God. This prepares for the crisis of entire sanctification which is wrought instantaneously when believers present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, through faith in Jesus Christ, being effected by the baptism with the Holy Spirit who cleanses the heart from all inbred sin. The crisis of entire sanctification perfects the believer in love and empowers that person for effective service. It is followed by lifelong growth in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The life of holiness continues through faith in the sanctifying blood of Christ and evidences itself by loving obedience to God’s revealed will.”

Church of the Nazarene Manual (2013)

We believe that sanctification is the work of God which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ. It is wrought by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit in initial sanctification, or regeneration (simultaneous with justification), entire sanctification, and the continued perfecting work of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification. In glorification we are fully conformed to the image of the Son.

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 the baptism with or infilling of the Holy 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 grace through 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 or infilling of the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.”2

2. http://2013.manual.nazarene.org/paragraph/p10/. Accessed July 26, 2018.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).