Perhaps the greatest distinctive doctrine of Wesleyans today is our belief in the "entire sanctification" of Christians. (Other terms, such as "perfect love" or "full salvation" or "Christian perfection" etc. have been used to describe the experience.)
What exactly is this belief? In A Plain Account Wesley unfolds it. While in Germany in 1738 John Wesley received the following definition by Arvid Gradin:
Repose in the blood of Christ; a firm confidence in God, and persuasion of his favour; the highest tranquility, serenity, and peace of mind, with a deliverance from every fleshly desire, and a cessation of all, even inward sins.Let's break down Gradin's definition together:
1. Repose in the blood of Christ—resting in the merits of Christ's sacrificial death on the cross
2. A firm confidence in God—a mature faith, not a double-minded or frail faith
3. Persuasion of his favour—the witness of the Holy Spirit that one is a child of God
4. The highest tranquility, serenity, and peace of mind—due to the relationship with the Trinity
5. A deliverance from every fleshly desire—an end to the sin-repent-sin-repent vicious cycle
6. A cessation of all, even inward sins—an end to the war within, no more back and forth tug of war with sin.
Wesley believed that every Christian already is freed from outward sin but a perfected Christian is one who is further cleansed of inward sinful thoughts and attitudes. Christian perfection, according to Wesley,
...is the complying with that kind command, 'My son, give me thy heart.' It is the 'loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.' This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:' Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. 'On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets:' These contain the whole of Christian perfection. (Sermons, number 76, "On Perfection")This is an impressive doctrine; however, does such a thing happen when we want it to happen? In other words, can we have it when we choose to experience it? Listen to Wesley's words from A Plain Account:
This was the first account I ever heard from any living man, of what I had before learned myself from the oracles of God, and had been praying for, (with the little company of my friends,) and expecting, for several years.He had been waiting for years to receive this blessing. This is where classic Wesleyanism differs from the Methodist Phoebe Palmer and, later, the holiness movement of the 1800's.
I believe entire sanctification may be had in a moment (or, rather, moment by moment) and I support my conclusion from Romans 6. Consider Paul's thought:
I. First Step: Realization
Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (vvs. 1b-2 ESV)Every believer has died to sin without exception.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (vvs. 3-4 ESV)Paul uses the imagery and symbolism of baptism (by immersion, I believe) that points to a spiritual reality: just as Christ was buried physically in the grave following his crucifixion so, too, were our old sinful selves were done away with, buried, finished. As Christ was raised physcially so, too, were we regenerated and became new creations in Christ Jesus.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (vvs. 5-10 ESV)Our old lives in the flesh are dead. Our new lives in the Holy Spirit are alive; sin's reign is broken!
II. Second Step: Consideration
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (vs. 11 ESV)The word "consider" is λογίζομαι which means to reckon, calculate, account or deem.
1. If you are a Christian you are dead to sin already.
2. So consider yourself dead to sin already.
It's that simple! But why do so many sincere believers think they cannot stop sinning until they are in heaven? Because they don't know their privilege as a child of God; they don't know the promise. And because they are ignorant of the privilege and promise they don't appropriate it by faith. They think they are enslaved to sin until death and their experience matches their expectations.
This appropriation by faith is a moment by moment action. One of my favorite classical Methodists, William Carvosso, quotes with approval from Lady Maxwell's testimony in his spiritual autobiography, Life of William Carvosso:
From day to day, I am made to taste of that perfect love which casts out fear; and often I experience a plenitude of Divine presence. But I most sensibly find it is only by a momentary faith in the blood of Jesus, that I am kept from sin; and that my soul is more or less vigorous as I live by faith. I have never known so much of the nature of simple faith, and of its unspeakable value, as since I have tasted of the pure love of God; -- by it how has my soul been upheld in the midst of temptation The Lord has taught me that it is by faith, and not joy, that I must live. He has, in a measure, often enabled me strongly to act faith on Jesus for sanctification, even in the absence of all comfort: This has diffused a heaven of sweetness through my soul, and brought with it the powerful witness of purity. I would say to every penitent, 'Believe, and justification is yours;' and to every one who is justified, and sees his want of sanctification, 'Believe, and that blessing is yours also.' I seem to derive the greatest advantage from a lively faith in constant exercise; this secures what I now already possess, and increases my little stock. At times, my evidence for sanctification is as strong is a cable fixed to an immovable rock, and as clear as the sun shining at noon-day.Carvosso concluded Maxwell's quotation with his view, "I have recorded these remarks, because they so perfectly agree with my own views and experience."
III. Third Step: Consecration
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (vvs. 12-14 ESV)Let me share Charles B. William's translation of this passage:
Accordingly, sin must not continue to reign over your mortal bodies, so as to make you continue to obey their evil desires, and you must stop offering to sin the parts of your bodies as instruments for wrongdoing, but you must once for all offer yourselves to God as persons raised from the dead to live on perpetually, and once for all offer the parts of your bodies to God as instruments for right-doing. For sin must not any longer exert its mastery over you, for now you are not living as slaves to law but as subjects to God's favor. (vvs. 12-14)This can be broken into two parts:
Negatively, Paul says stop giving yourself over to sin. Determine that it's over. Period.
Positively, Paul says to consecrate yourself to God in all things for all time.
What happens when a person realizes the Bible says he's dead to sin, appropriates the promise by faith, completely decides to stop the sin game and unconditionally surrenders to God? He is empowered by God and is entirely sanctified.
Christians can get in trouble if they expect certain things to happen to them that happened to other believers. The Bible doesn't promise everybody will act the same and experience the same things. The Bible does promise that a person will live free from rebellion to God's will. Be entirely sanctified and let God determine your experience. You may experience ecstasy...or no deep emotion. You may see a vision...or see nothing. You may feel electricity flow through you...or you may feel nothing.
Living free from sin is enough. That's entire sanctification.
Here are some Scriptures to substantiate a deeper move of the Spirit in the life of a Christian:
...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th 3:12b,13 ESV)Realize that these verses were written to Christians, not sinners. There is more for the believer than "just" salvation. (I put "just" in quotation marks because I don't want to devalue it; salvation is the beginning of a relationship with God in which we become partakers of the divine nature. That's not something to be taken lightly! I'm only saying that there is more for the Christian to experience.)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1Th 5:23-24 ESV)
Has your heart been cleansed of inward sin? If not then seek the Lord for the deliverance from a divided heart.
Additional sources for your consideration:
The Meaning of Sanctification by Charles E. Brown
How Entire is Entire Sanctification? by Howard Culbertson, Roger Hahn, and Dean Nelson
Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop (.pdf download)