Holiness is Pure Love

by | Sep 1, 2007

“What is implied in being a perfect Christian?” was asked at the first Methodist conference in 1744. This was the answer:

“Loving the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our mind, and soul, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5;30:6; Ezekiel 36:25–29).

In a letter John Wesley made it even clearer. “All that is necessarily implied is humble, gentle, patient love, regulating all the tempers and governing all the words and actions.” In The Scriptural Way of Salvation he wrote:

“But what is perfection?


The word has various senses;


here it is perfect love.


It is love excluding sin;


love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the same.”

Dr. Arthur Skevington Wood in Love Excluding Sin, concluded that “love,” “pure love,” “love expelling sin,” “perfect love” were the designations Wesley employed to express the quintessence of sanctification.

In that sense we are filled with the love of God, expelling all that is unworthy or ungodly. So holiness is not the state of accumulated worthiness before God. It is the desire to receive God’s love in full measure and His delight in giving it. Holiness then is a gift from God consistent with His will for us (Ephesians 1:4 and 4:24). It is a relationship characterized by the risk of faith where God is consistently at work in us (I Thessalonians 4:3–7; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 4:24).

In the New Testament the Christian is called to be holy as God is holy (I Peter 1:15), and Christians are to be a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5). The basic meaning of holiness in these texts is separation—set aside for God’s use. Christians are separated from sin (2 Timothy 2:19; Titus 2:12) and for God (Ephesians 1:4;5:27).

Those so separated are to conform to the image of Christ (Colossians 3:1–3; 9–10; 12–17). Such renewal is by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and issues in a life of righteousness and obedience (Philippians 2:12; Romans 6:1, 2). It is when we see this in the context of being filled with the love of God that such holiness of life is conceivable today.

The idea of cleansing is linked with that of purity. In New Testament terms, the word pure can mean free from defilement, free from stain and unalloyed (I John 3:3; John 15:3 Philippians 1:10).

To be made pure is to be cleansed from the guilt of sin (Hebrews 10:2), which comes through the conscience (Hebrews 9:14). It is to be cleansed from the power of sin (I Corinthians 15:56; Romans 6:6). It is to be cleansed from all sin (I John 1:7) by the love of God in Christ through His death on the cross.

Salvation is God’s offer to us with an emphasis on what He does in Christ. Consecration is our response.

  • We are to offer our body (total personality) to God (Romans 12:1) to be a temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).
  • We are to commit our mind and will (Romans 12:2) to seek to be governed by God’s will (Colossians 1:9; 4:12).
  • We are to surrender ourselves (Matthew 16:24–26; Galatians 2:20) so that Christ may live within.

Consecration is an offering to God of all we are, have, and do.

Holiness is not absolute (God’s perfection is unequaled), not sinless (only Jesus is without sin); not infallible (we are not free from ignorance or mistakes to which no blame is attached); not free from temptation (even Jesus was tempted); not free from infirmities (such as dullness of thought), and not final (there is always more room for growth).

Christian holiness is “neither more nor less than pure love—love expelling sin and governing both the heart and life of a child of God” (John Wesley). May God give us the desire to long for such a relationship with God.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Mellor is Superintendent Minister of the Winchester Circuit of the Methodist Church in England and was formerly Principal of Cliff College. This article is reprinted with permission from The Flame and is abridged by Larry D. Smith.