How to find Entire Sanctification

by | Apr 11, 2011

Dear Phil

If a preacher doesn’t know where Entire Sanctification is in the Bible, why would he want to preach about it? The question “What passages do you recommend for preaching entire sanctification?” makes it appear that entire sanctification must not be easily discovered by a “natural” reading of the Word.

Please understand, my issue is not with holiness doctrine, it is with the careless license with which it has been “constructed” by far too many preachers in my lifetime. I am a builder by trade. When I build something, I begin with design. I don’t go to “Big Box Building Supply” and wander the aisles looking for inspiration. As best I can tell, that is exactly what many preachers are doing with God’s Word! They “cruise” the pages of Holy Writ seeking useful verses that require substantial assembly. Some even need to be carefully extracted from their settings to be useful for the purpose at hand.

If I Thessalonians is where the answer lies, so be it! I would recommend that he read it from front to back in one sitting several times over until he felt the flow of the text and the heart of Paul as he wrote it. The text should define the context and reveal its own agenda.

Thanks for listening to a comment from the back pew!


Dear Hal,

I couldn’t agree more that God-honoring preaching must be word-centered, contextually-informed, and exegesis-driven. This is what we advocate in all our Bible and preaching classes.

By word-centered, I mean that the preacher must proclaim God’s message not his ideas. By contextually-informed I mean that every text must be understood first within its immediate context and ultimately with the context of Scripture as a whole. By exegesis-driven I mean that the message we preach must come from a careful consideration of the words, the grammar, and rhetorical structure of the passage.

Having said that, I contend that a word-centered, contextually-informed, exegesis-driven consideration of Paul’s doctrine of sanctification leads to the conclusion that Paul expects God to sanctify believers “entirely,” i.e., sanctify every part of them—spirit, soul, and body, in this life. Again, I recommend my paper, “Is a Wesleyan Interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:23 Exegetically Tenable?: Responding to Reformed Critiques” (

Having reached this conclusion, it is legitimate to ask where else does this or similar expectations occur and what is entailed in such a sanctification of the entirety of our spirit, soul, and body?

In 1 Thess. 4:3-7, Paul applies our initial sanctification to the area of sexual purity. It is not a text that addresses God’s will for believers to be sanctified entirely, and it cannot be pressed into such theological service without doing injustice to the context, despite the long history of people doing just that.

The most responsible way of explaining what God wants to do in believers’ lives after saving them is, I believe, to exegete texts that address post-salvation acts of  believing self-yielding (Rom. 6:1-13), full consecration (Rom. 12:1), reception/giving of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2, 8, 19), cleansings by God (Isa. 6:5), prayers for Christ to make himself fully at home in believer’s lives (Eph. 3:16-20), and so on.

In this way, I avoid imposing my preconceptions about entire sanctification on the text. I also allow the text to speak in its own terms, rather than in my systematic theological terms. And, I demonstrate a responsible commitment to exegeting all Scripture within its immediate context as well as its canonical contexts.

In short, my encouragement to you is don’t throw out the building supplies when you discard “Big Box Building Supply.”

Dr. Phil