Bible & Theology

Key Texts on Entire Sanctification

There are several excellent texts for preaching “entire sanctification.” Perhaps it will help if I begin with the GBS Statement of Faith on entire sanctification, to which I subscribe:

God calls all believers to entire sanctification, which is realized in a moment of full consecration and faith subsequent to their new birth in Jesus Christ.  By the Holy Spirit they are thus cleansed from all sin and empowered for victorious living and fruitful service.  Entire sanctification is dynamically maintained by obedient faith in moment-by-moment relationship; and it is both preceded and followed by growth in grace, expressed in advancing holiness and increasing spiritual maturity.

The classic passage in the New Testament, which gives us the language of “entire sanctification,” is 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. Paul does not define precisely what entire sanctification is, but he clearly anticipates God sanctifying the Thessalonians entirely, and preserving them blameless until Jesus returns. Paul’s confidence in praying for their entire sanctification is based on two facts: God has called them to holiness and blamelessness, and God is faithful—what He promises, He performs.

I recently gave a paper arguing for a Wesleyan understanding of this text: “Is a Wesleyan Interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:23 Exegetically Tenable?: Responding to Reformed Critiques.”

Romans 6 is my favorite passage for demonstrating that God intends for believers to appropriate the full freedom from sin that their union with Christ has provided. The first ten verses spell out the facts: when we were saved and baptized, we were united with Christ. Our union with Christ means that just as he died, was buried, and rose again, so too we also spiritually died, were buried, and have risen again to new life.

The consequence of our union with Christ is that the old person we used to be has been crucified, and sin’s control over us is broken. Sin has as much power over us as death has over Jesus—none!

In light of what our union with Christ provides, Paul commands us in Romans 6:11-22 to appropriate our freedom from sin. We appropriate— personally experience—that freedom from sin through faith and self-consecration. By faith we reckon ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God. In self-consecration, we yield our new life in Christ back to God for His full control.

After that moment of self-consecration, we live out our consecration in moment-by-moment obedience, which produces the fruit of holiness in our lives. In other words, the consequence of a relationship with God in which we fully yield our new life He gave us back to him and live in obedient submission to Him as His love slave is a life of righteousness, holiness, and eternal life.

I believe that the Gospels and Acts together argue that the indwelling of the Spirit that takes place in salvation is distinct from the filling with the Spirit that takes place subsequent to salvation. The filling with the Spirit that we observe in Acts 8 and 19, was unquestionably subsequent to the salvation of the individuals involved.

I regard Paul’s admonition to “be filled with the Spirit” in Eph. 5:18-21 to be a key text which addresses the means by which God cleanses our hearts from inherited depravity and empowers us not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, i.e., to live victoriously over willful sin and the flesh.

Although God cleanses us from the guilt and penalty of sin in salvation, the self-centeredness that was the consequence of Adam’s sin, remains. Inherited depravity is not a thing which mankind gained but a condition created by the loss of the Spirit’s controlling and thus sanctifying presence.

The remedy to the inward corruption occasioned by this loss is the restoral of the Spirit’s full control within the child of God.

The remedy to the inward corruption occasioned by this loss is the restoral of the Spirit’s full control within the child of God. Both Psalm 51:5-7 and Isaiah 6:1-7 (by implication) identify a need for further heart purity beyond that provided in salvation.


Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.