Entire Sanctification and Anger

by | Oct 6, 2009

Dear Phil,

I grew up hearing that if I was truly sanctified, I would not struggle with anger. It became one of the primary tests of my walk with the Lord. Unfortunately, it seldom survived the first “hard foul” in a backyard game of ball. I’m sure that I’m not alone. Can you help me understand this problem?


Dear Hal,

You’re not alone. At the heart of your question is the issue, “What results can I count on after God entirely sanctifies me?” Before addressing your central question, I want to note three significant companion issues.

First, sanctification and entire sanctification are not synonyms and should not be used synonymously. The Bible teaches, as John Wesley recognized and taught, that every believer is “sanctified” at the same moment he or she is justified (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11).

“Sanctification” is not a work of grace subsequent to being born again. “Sanctification” is an indispensable part of the first work of grace. It is time for Wesleyan-Arminians to bring our use of biblical terms back into line with the Bible.  As Wesley noted, the word sanctification is never used alone in the NT to refer to entire sanctification. Only when the word “entire” or “wholly” is used together with sanctification does the word sanctification refer to entire sanctification.

And, the only place in the NT where that happens is 1 Thess. 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely ….” If we will use biblical terms biblically, we will avoid laying stumbling blocks in the path of those who are genuinely interested in understanding what we believe the Bible teaches about holiness of heart.

Second, there is no difference between being “truly [entirely] sanctified” and being “entirely sanctified.” The use of the word “truly” to modify “sanctified” wrongly implies that there is such a thing as being genuinely sanctified entirely, and then there are fake or imitation versions of entire sanctification.  Any person whom God entirely sanctifies is entirely sanctified, and none are more entirely sanctified than others. Either you are entirely sanctified or you are not. This same point applies to salvation. There is no difference between being “truly” saved and being saved. Either you are saved or you aren’t.

Third, Wesley and many others confused heart purity with spiritual maturity. Whatever else God does when He entirely sanctifies us, He does not comb all the kinks out of our minds (Rom. 12:2). He does not rewire our personalities (Acts 15:39). And, He does not transform our emotional dispositions. Wesley wrongly taught that entire sanctification would so renew us in Christ’s image that we would feel no ripples in the calm of our soul, but all would be love and joy and peace.

The Bible does not teach this, the experience of saints throughout all ages does not confirm this, and the life of Christ contradicts it. The sinless Son of God experienced anger  (Mark 3:5) and the pull of natural human desires against the will of God (Luke 22:42).

1 Thessalonians 5:23 does not explicitly identify the results of entire sanctification. I wish it did.  I am satisfied that the baptism/filling with the Holy Spirit that believers received in Acts (2, 8, 19)  is the means by which God entirely sanctifies fully consecrated believers. The primary result in Acts was empowerment for witnessing. That empowerment was not a discernible sense of power, but an enabling to testify for Christ despite intimidation, pain, and persecution. Paul follows up Acts 19 with an admonition to the Ephesian believers to live under the control of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

In Eph. 5:19-21 he outline the results of living under the control of the Holy Spirit: (1) speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, (2) singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (3) giving thanks always for all things, and (4) submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ. These results are not automatic. They are actions we must engage our wills to perform. The Holy Spirit empowers us to choose them, as we co-operate with Him.

On distinguishing sinful from godly anger, see my column in the Summer 2007 Revivalist online.

Dr. Phil