–October of 1998
A Clear Call to Entire Sanctification
This year’s student body has been characterized by intense spiritual desire. Chapels and prayer meetings from the very beginning have been marked by God’s presence and much spiritual seeking. Rising out of this hunger after God is this oft-heard testimony, “I want to be sanctified wholly, but I’m not sure I understand it.” This beautiful honesty is welcomed and encouraged. It is also met with the willingness on the part of an upperclassman, faculty member, the school pastor or even me to serve as a mentor and counselor until that person has satisfied the deep longing of his heart.
However, the quest to be sanctified wholly and the subsequent acknowledgement of failure to understand what God does for a person in this work of grace is not limited to a freshmen class at a Bible college. The truth is that many sensitive, intelligent, and dedicated people often-express serious problems in understanding what it means to be entirely sanctified. They have traveled to revivals and camp meetings to hear sermons by holiness preachers, only to find them confusing and at times even conflicting. They have asked questions, but found their questions to be ignored or discouraged. In some cases, their confusion and perplexity have been met by the response, “Throw your questions to the wind and claim it now!” Admittedly, we don’t approach God with just our mind, but our heart will never rejoice in what our head rejects.
Holiness theologian and author, H. Ray Dunning, says that these frustrated seekers will tend to end up in one of three different categories if they do not find clear direction. The first is the category of those who have quietly accepted a second-class Christian walk and have given up obtaining this experience in their own hearts. Secondly, there will be those who were pushed into claiming an experience of grace for which God had not yet had time to prepare them; and, hence, they end up professing that which does not work and which they do not have. The third group is composed of those who notice a gap between what is promised and preached, and what is observed and experienced. The temptation for these is just to toss the whole thing out, as if there were nothing to it.
The confusion is real, but the blame can’t always be placed on the preacher or teacher. There are those who complain of not understanding this doctrine, but they have done nothing to enlighten their minds or feed their faith. They are corrupted by a spiritual laziness that wants quick, easy results without hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
On the other hand, the holiness pulpit must accept some responsibility for the deficiency of our teaching on entire sanctification. One of the traps that we who are preachers have fallen into is a presentation of entire sanctification that goes through the grid of our own personal experience rather than a Biblical, theological approach. Experience-oriented preaching that is highly personal can create unnecessary issues in the heart of an earnest seeker that have to be cleared up before progress can be made.
Another problem lies in the use of terms we use to describe this work of grace. One might well hear entire sanctification defined in any one of the following ways: “A death to self,” “a complete consecration,” “the perfection of love,” “a cleansing of the heart from the nature of sin,” “the baptism of the Holy Ghost,” “the rest of faith,” of just simply, “Christlikeness.” All of the above describe some facet of entire sanctification, but when used interchangeably can create confusion. We must seek concise and clear statements that are biblically accurate, theologically sound, and communicate with a great degree of precision what we want to say.
It might well be that our most serious problem in presenting this doctrine is that we have taken it out of its natural setting alongside the other great doctrines of the church. The doctrine of entire sanctification is indeed a wonderful and glorious truth. It is desperately needed by our world today. But so are the doctrine of grace and the doctrine of the new birth, and the doctrine of progressive sanctification. The goal of redemption is the renewal of fallen man into the image of God. The road of redemption that we must travel for this to happen begins with the new birth, continues naturally to the point of entire sanctification, and moves right along to the glorification of the body in eternity. In our attempt to stress the doctrine of entire sanctification, we have inadvertently demeaned other doctrines or made them appear secondary. This has created an unhealthy focus on the experience of entire sanctification, rather than the whole overarching life of holiness.
God, indeed, has called His people to holiness. We need not expect any other call. But those of us who take up that call must make sure that we give it with a clear, certain sound.