God-honoring preaching must be word-centered, contextually-informed, and exegesis-driven. This is what we advocate in all our Bible and preaching classes.
By word-centered, I mean that the preacher must proclaim God’s message not his ideas. By contextually-informed I mean that every text must be understood first within its immediate context and ultimately with the context of Scripture as a whole. By exegesis-driven I mean that the message we preach must come from a careful consideration of the words, the grammar, and rhetorical structure of the passage.
Having said that, I contend that a word-centered, contextually-informed, exegesis-driven consideration of Paul’s doctrine of sanctification leads to the conclusion that Paul expects God to sanctify believers “entirely,” i.e., sanctify every part of them—spirit, soul, and body, in this life. Again, I recommend my paper, “Is a Wesleyan Interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:23 Exegetically Tenable?: Responding to Reformed Critiques.”
A word-centered, contextually-informed, exegesis-driven consideration of Paul’s doctrine of sanctification leads to the conclusion that Paul expects God to sanctify believers “entirely,” that is, sanctify every part of them—spirit, soul, and body, in this life.
Having reached this conclusion, it is legitimate to ask where else does this or similar expectations occur and what is entailed in such a sanctification of the entirety of our spirit, soul, and body?
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, Paul applies our initial sanctification to the area of sexual purity. It is not a text that addresses God’s will for believers to be sanctified entirely, and it cannot be pressed into such theological service without doing injustice to the context, despite the long history of people doing just that.
The most responsible way of explaining what God wants to do in believers’ lives after saving them is, I believe, to exegete texts that address post-salvation acts of believing self-yielding (Rom. 6:1-13), full consecration (Rom. 12:1), reception/giving of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2, 8, 19), cleansings by God (Isa. 6:5), prayers for Christ to make himself fully at home in believer’s lives (Eph. 3:16-20), and so on.
In this way, I avoid imposing my preconceptions about entire sanctification on the text. I also allow the text to speak in its own terms, rather than in my systematic theological terms. And, I demonstrate a responsible commitment to exegeting all Scripture within its immediate context as well as its canonical contexts.
Read also: Key Texts on Entire Sanctification.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.