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Wednesday
Jan192011

Theological Term of the Week

perfectionism
The Wesleyan teaching that after the new birth, there may be a distinct second transforming work of grace in which “God roots all sinful motivation out of a Christian’s heart, so that the whole of his mental and emotional energy is henceforth channeled into love for God and others: love that is … free from any contrary or competing affection whatsoever”;1  also called entire sanctification. 

  • Scripture used to support the doctrine of entire sanctification:
    No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

    Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

    No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s  seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3: 6, 8, 9 ESV)

  • Scripture that disproves the doctrine of entire sanctification:
    If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8 ESV)
  • From The Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, which teaches the doctrine of entire sanctification:

    Article XI—Sanctification and Christian Perfection

    We believe sanctification is the work of God’s grace through the Word and the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

    Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God.

    We believe this experience does not deliver us from the infirmities, ignorance, and mistakes common to man, nor from the possibilities of further sin. The Christian must continue on guard against spiritual pride and seek to gain victory over every temptation to sin. He must respond wholly to the will of God so that sin will lose its power over him; and the world, the flesh, and the devil are put under his feet. Thus he rules over these enemies with watchfulness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • From The Westminster Confession of Faith, which, of course, teached against entire santification:

    CHAPTER XIII.

    Of Sanctification.


    I. They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

    II. This sanctification is throughout in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life: there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

    III. In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome: and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

  • From Keeping in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer:

    [T]he practical implications [of this doctrine] are unedifying. Dilemmas arise, admitting of no satisfactory resolution. The prime dilemma is that just indicated: How are Christians who believe sin to have been rooted out of them to be realistic about their own continuing sinfulness? Wesley’s teaching inevitably requires them not to be. Then a further dilemma arises: Should such Christians testify to their blessing? And if so, how? Not to testify would rob God of glory and men of help that the witness might bring them and would moreover be a cowardly evasion of possible trouble; but to testify in the way Wesley envisages (“I feel no sin, but all love. I pray, rejoice, give thanks without ceasing. And I have as clear an inward witness that I am fully renewed as that I am justified.”) would seem to lock them unavoidably into smugness of a rather unlovely kind.

Learn more:

  1. R. C. Sproul: The Heresy of Perfectionism
  2. GotQuestions.org: Is entire sanctification/sinless perfection possible in this life?
  3. John Hendryx: Can a Man Achieve Sinlessness?
  4. Jay Wetger: A Critique of the Higher Life Movement
  5. Wayne Grudem: The Doctrine of Sanctification: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (audio) 

Related terms:

Filed under Defective Theology

1From Keeping In Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer.

This term was suggested by Kim of The Upward Call. Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (3)

I wonder if that principle of there being a gap between conversion and experiencing entire sanctification is the basis for what is referred to now as the "carnal Christian." My pastor consistently talks about how young children can receive Christ, live carnally, and then come to a point where they understand what they've done (could be years later) and then are no longer "carnal."

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim in ON

I'm not sure if they're connected or not or if the carnal Christian idea is more connected to the non-calvinistic kind of eternal security. You know, the "once-saved-always-saved" idea.

It is connected to the holiness doctrine of "second blessing."

January 20, 2011 | Registered Commenterrebecca

By His Cross and Resurrection Jesus Christ saved all of U>S (usual sinner) and all we need do is admit that we've all fallen short of His Love and keep knowing that Satan and his army is always ready and waiting to seduce any of U>S if we dare stray too far from The Love that Our Heavenly Father gave our first parents Adam and Eve who were made in HIS OWN IMAGE. Amen.

Keep Up the good words and works Rebecca and for what "IT" is worth, I think you're doing a great job and please keep praying for me.

God Bless Peace

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

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