I agree that a Christian's life will be different after accepting Jesus.
But I would like scripture that specifically addresses a second commitment,
to entire sanctification.
A. I do not think that it is possible to PROVE the secondness of entire sanctification on the basis of scripture alone. Scripture must always be interpreted; and different interpreters often see things differently. I think I am a competent interpreter, but I am not God and do not claim infallibility. I think that one can make a prima facie case for the "secondness" of sanctification on the basis of scripture. There are numerous passages I could cite, but for the sake of simplicity, I refer to 1 Thessalonians. There are more instances of explicit "holiness" terminology in this letter for its size than in any other NT book. In the interests of space I list supporting passages that I do not quote. You can look them up for yourselves.
First Thessalonians is an occasional letter.
It is occasional because it was written in response to a real-life
situation. It is a genuine letter, not simply a sent theological treatise.
It has all of the usual features of letters written during the Hellenistic
age and most of
Paul's other letters, with one exception. Normally Paul offers thanks to God for his readers following his opening salutations, only to move on to other matters at hand. But here thanksgiving seems to be the matter at hand.
First Thess. 1:2 through 3:13 is concerned entirely with thanksgiving to God for the faithfulness of these new Christians (see esp. 1:2-3; 2:13; and 3:9). Even when Paul turned to encouragement and exhortation in chapters 4 and 5, his overflowing gratitude for the Thessalonians was obvious.
Paul's letters are not theology textbooks.
There are no logically organized sections devoted to such topics as the
doctrine of God, anthropology, hamartiology, or soteriology. The theology
found in Paul's letters is pastoral and occasional, not systematic. Paul
writes as a
concerned founding pastor to recent converts who need encouragement.
But pastoral theology is real theology.
And occasional theology is often more obviously relevant to everyday life
than the speculative theories we sometimes call theology. In
addition to its attention to sanctification, 1 Thessalonians also offers instruction on the important theological topics of divine election and eschatology. (There is also a close connection between the three doctrines in 2 Thess. 2:13-15.) In the interests of space, I
will comment only briefly on election and eschatology.
Paul refers to election as a reminder that conversion and entire sanctification -- in fact, all that God does in our lives -- are not destinations, but vocations, callings. The Christian life is a pilgrimage undertaken by invitation only. It may begin with a crisis moment, such as turning from idols, but serving God is of necessity a process (see 1 Thess. 1:10). Paul's emphasis on election is part of his rehearsal of the impressive evidence of the Thessalonians' conversions to Christ. "We know . . . that [God) has chosen you, . . . [for] when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (1 Thess. 1:4; 2:13).
There is no doubt that the Thessalonians are genuine Christians. Paul offers no criticisms of the Thessalonians' Christian conduct, even though they were recent converts from paganism, only praise. He made a special point of encouraging them to continue in the way of life they were already pursuing (1 Thess. 4:1, 9-10; 5:11, 4-5). The Thessalonians' conversions were not at all deficient. Yet, despite Paul's confidence in them, despite God's election and the genuineness of their conversions, he considered it possible that the Thessalonians, might lose their faith and be lost.
Paul's concern that the Thessalonians might
lose their faith was not because of the inadequacy of their conversions,
but because of the contingency of salvation. Salvation is not only a past
event and a present experience but also a future expectation (1 Thess.
1:9-10; 5:5, 8-10). Christians live "between the times." Christ's death
in the past makes
salvation universally possible. To make salvation individually personal, He invites people to turn from their old lives of sin to the service of God and lives of holiness. Those who accept His invitation in the present already live with Him as children of that future day when salvation will be complete. Only then will believers be "forever . . . with the Lord" (4:17; see 2 Thess. 2:13-15). In the meantime, they are called "to live lives worthy of
God, who calls [them] into his kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2:12). Salvation in the fullest sense is a future hope -- something we will receive if we remain faithful in the present.
Paul discusses such aspects of eschatology (the doctrine of last things) as the second coming of Christ, the resurrection from the dead, and the final Judgment. But he does not do so merely to satisfy the curiosity of his readers. Eschatology describes the ultimate goal of election -- final salvation. God's call to salvation in the past, and the prospect of divine judgment in the future are important motivations for holy living in the present. Both election and eschatology motivate us to prepare for life's most important "final exam" -- judgment.
The doctrine of sanctification, as 1 Thessalonians presents it, is intimately related to the doctrines of election and eschatology. A holy God calls believers to lives of holiness as the essential preparation for life in eternity with Him. This is clear from Paul's two prayers for the sanctification of the Thessalonians in his first letter. Between these two prayers, Paul appeals to them to allow God to sanctify them (3:12--4:12; 5:23-24).
It is impossible to demonstrate all that
Holiness churches have said about entire sanctification on the basis of
1 Thessalonians alone. But neither Wesley nor Wesleyans have ever claimed
that their theology was based exclusively on this or any other scripture.
Experience, tradition, and reason are essential supportive sources of this
other Christian doctrine.
And the Bible has much more to say about holiness than what we find in 1 Thessalonians. But there is much in here that lends support to the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification. Although there is much more I could say, this much is obvious on the basis of this letter:
is something God longs to do in the lives of believers. God calls believers
to live holy lives and can be trusted to provide the ability to fulfill
His call requires through His gift of the Holy Spirit. God is not con=ADtent that pagans simply become believers. He wants them to turn from their old lives to demonstrate their
new allegiance to Him. God wants believers to be sanctified -- to live a quality of life reflecting God's character and will." Holiness in the present is an essential prerequisite for the glorious future God has planned for His holy people.
2. But sanctification is not automatic, as if God will do it apart from human cooperation and self-discipline. Believers must learn to control themselves. Those who allow God to sanctify them please Him and do His will. They stand blameless before Him. Those who reject His call to holiness put themselves in line for divine punishment. Although conversion is a genuinely sanctifying divine work, as initial sanctification, it is only the beginning. If lives of holiness were the inevitable result of Christian conversion, much of 1 Thessalonians would be unintelligible.
Why was Paul concerned that genuinely converted believers might be lost? Why did he send Timothy on his mission to establish the Thessalonians in their faith? Why did he pray
for their sanctification? Why did he exhort them to live lives of holi=ADness? Apparently, human choices and commitments are essential conditions of God's ongoing sanctifying work in the lives of believers.
3. A single sanctifying moment will not suffice. Growth in sanctification entails an ongoing process. This requires the continued cooperation of believers, as the repeated exhortations "to do this" and "more and more" imply. Paul's prayer that God might sanctify these believers "entirely" (1 Thess. 5:23). Holiness means acknowledging and expressing each day our status as God's holy people. But it also means being shaped more and more by the grace coming to us in Jesus Christ. Paul's reference to "entire sanctification" in 5:23 cannot refer to some future consummation of God's sanctifying work, that is, to the Thessalonians' "glorification." The logic of the text contradicts any claim that "entire sanctification" is to be equated with "the moment when we see God face to face." The scriptural evidence supports the Wesleyans' distinction between sanctification that is initial, entire, and final.
4. The Lord is the Source of the continuing "increase and overflow" of love in the lives of sanctified believers. Most biblical commentators assume from the holiness terminology in 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:3, 4, 7; 5:23 has in mind a process of sanctification beyond conversion. These passages insist that the hallmarks of the life of holiness are growth, maturing, and progress in the Christian life, particularly in "love." Ever increasing love is "the means" by which Christians are "established blameless in holiness before our God" at the very center of their beings. This inner strengthening of the heart in love is the secret of true holiness. Blamelessness before God is closely linked with living in love, because love influences thinking, desires, motivation and behavior.
Love and holiness are two related ways to view the Christian life. Holiness is preeminently expressed in love; and love is the essential means by which holiness is maintained. Love is not to be confused with the "passionate lust" of pagans. In fact, Paul makes a special point of emphasizing that sanctification involves the disciplined exercise of one's sexuality. Clearly love is more than a feeling. To love others is to refuse to use them for selfish ends or to take advantage of them. On the contrary, it involves a commitment to live responsibly in relation to believers and unbelievers. Those who know they are unconditionally loved by God and who have committed their lives completely to Him no longer live for themselves alone or according to the values of this pagan world.
Paul proceeds from the theological assumption
that the character of Christians is fundamentally different from that of
pagans because of the character of their God. Pagans
behave as they do because they "do not know God." Christian morality involves living "a life worthy of God, who calls you," not only "into his own kingdom and glory" in the
future, but to "holiness" in the present (1 Thess. 4:5; 2:12; 4:7). Paul insists that the God who called Christians also makes them worthy of His call and enables them to fulfill their "every good resolve" (2 Thess. 1:11-12).
No-one can be "blameless in holiness" without the love that God's Spirit inspires and enables.
5. God's sanctifying activity affects
the Christian's entire being -- one's "whole spirit, soul and body."
It involves a "through and through" cleansing of every dimension of life
(1 Thess. 5:23). Sanctification cannot be restricted to inner motives. It expresses itself in tangible outward behavior. It would seem to renovate both the character and conduct of believers. It begins in our hearts, but it must eventually emerge in what we do with our hands. It is not restricted to the religious aspects of human life; Paul emphasizes its counter-cultural transformation of the most secular realm of the ethical life -- the sexual behavior of believers. Paul's prayer in verse 23 gathers up the main pastoral exhortations of the preceding section (4:1--5:22).
Thus, sanctification has to do primarily with ethical behavior. Entire sanctification calls for the complete expression of what it means to be God's holy people.
6. Sanctification is expected to be
a reality in the lives of believers prior to Christ's return.
The expression "at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" should not be taken
to suggest that sanctification comes as a result of the Second Advent or
only in the article of death. After all, Paul prays that believers should
be "kept blameless" in preparation for the end, not "made blameless" because
of it. Paul prays that the Thessalonians may be "preserved
blameless" in 5:23. In the earlier part of the chapter (verses 1-11) Paul calls for "sober and godly lives," because "the day of the Lord" is near. In verse 23 Paul prays that God will make that possible. Does this not suggest that Paul's prayer must be answered prior to the Second Coming? If entire sanctification is the prerequisite for glorification, not its equivalent, Paul must expect it in this world and not the world to come.
Although I am persuaded that the Wesleyan-Holiness
understanding of sanctification coheres with an objective reading of 1
Thessalonians, honesty compels me to admit that other interpretations are
possible. Wesleyans need not hesitate to refer to their distinguishing
doctrine as "scriptural holiness." It rests on no one biblical book or
proof text, but on the whole tenor of Scripture. Whatever else the message
of "scriptural holiness" involves, it must include the challenge of 1 Thessalonians:
God expects moral
integrity of His people, because He has given His Holy Spirit to enable them to live exemplary, Christlike lives in this world as they prepare for the world to come.
E-mail Professor Lyons
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