How to Know for Sure You Are Entirely Sanctified Part I
How can I be sure that I am entirely sanctified?
This question is of great concern to us who believe that the Bible teaches that a Christian can be entirely sanctified in this life and that we must give an account to God as to whether we have obeyed all the commands of Scripture.
All Christians are clearly commanded in Scripture to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), to reckon themselves to be dead unto sin but alive unto God, to stop allowing sin to reign in their bodies (Rom. 6:11–12), and to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God (Rom. 12:1–2).
- Ephesians 5:18: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.”
- Romans 6:11–12: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”
- Romans 12:1–2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Although these commands do not use the phrase “entirely sanctified,” they address various aspects of what we have come to call “entire sanctification.”
God expressed His desire that all Christians be entirely sanctified when he had Paul write,
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;
and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God’s willingness and ability to entirely sanctify Christians is expressed in the following verse:
“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thes. 5:24).
There are three ways that Scripture offers a Christian assurance of entire sanctification.
- The first and primary way is through biblical faith in God’s Word.
- The second way is through the direct witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of the Christian, assuring him that his life is fully surrendered to God, that he has been cleansed of self-centeredness (inherited depravity), and that the Holy Spirit has full control of his life.
- The third way is through measurable attitudes and actions that may be expected as the fruit of entire sanctification.
I. Assurance Through Biblical Faith in God’s Word
The first and most fundamental way for a Christian to have assurance of entire sanctification is through biblical faith. The focus of biblical faith is God’s written Word. For this reason the apostle Paul calls it “the word of faith” (Rom. 10:8). When believed, the “word of faith” effectually works in the one exercising faith (1 Thes. 2:13).
There are three indispensable elements to biblical faith. Hebrews 11:6 teaches us, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
In addition to belief in God’s existence, biblical faith requires us to believe that God has spoken to us through special revelation (the Bible).
The phrase, “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him,” implies:
- a person must believe what God says (“He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him”);
- a person must obey what God requires (“diligently seek Him”); and
- a person must trust in and rest on what God promises (“He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him”).
Let’s explore the implications of each of these three elements.
A. Biblical faith believes what God says.
The first element of biblical faith requires a mental assent to what God has said in Scripture. For example, when God commands Christians, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), one must believe that it is possible for Christians, who already have the Spirit dwelling in them (Rom. 8:9–11), to be “filled” with the Spirit.”
When God says to all Christians, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1), the Christian must believe that God really expects him to do this.
When God inspired Paul to pray that the Thessalonian believers would experience God’s provision of entire sanctification and concluded his prayer with a sovereign promise from God, “Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it” (1 Thes. 5:23, 24), the Christian must believe that God wills all Christians to be entirely sanctified.
We must believe what God says.
B. Biblical faith obeys what God requires.
The second element of biblical faith requires the act of the will—that you must do what God requires. This step requires that the Christian, who is dead to sin and free from sin due to his union with Christ (Rom. 6:2, 7), must reckon himself to be “dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord “(Rom. 6:11).1
The Christian must present his body to God as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). He must, by faith, turn over to the Holy Spirit’s full control every aspect of his life (Eph. 5:18) thus responding to God’s call to be entirely sanctified (1 Thes. 5:23, 24).
The Christian must not proceed to element three of biblical faith until he is sure he has successfully completed steps one and two.
Successful completion is measured by a clear conscience and an unconditionally surrendered attitude of heart and mind toward God. This includes all things past, present, and everything God may wish to bring to mind in the future.
C. Biblical faith trusts in and rests on what God promises.
The third element of biblical faith requires one to “trust in” and “rest on” what God promises. One “trusts in” what God has promised because God’s Word is immutable and eternal (Psa. 119:89). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Luke 21:33; Mat. 24:35).
Further, Hebrews 11:1 tells us that biblical faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The words “substance” (hupostasis) and “evidence” (eleg chos) are better translated “confidence” and “certainty” respectively. Faith brings confident trust. A person has not exercised biblical faith if he is not able to trust God with complete confidence to do what He promised.
For example, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). When God told him He was going to give him a son, Abraham, without any outward proof, chose to believe God simply because He had said it.
As a result, God counted Abraham’s faith for righteousness. Paul tells us that Abraham, “in hope against hope” believed (Rom. 4:18). Abraham did not look to himself or to others for assurance. He simply believed God because God cannot lie (Titus. 1:2). He fought off doubts and did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Rom. 4:19, 20).
What has God promised the Christian about entire sanctification?
God has promised the Christian that He will sanctify him entirely (1 Thes. 5:23, 24), that He will fill him with His Spirit (Eph. 5:18), that He will empower him to be the witness that He desires him to be (Acts 1:8), and that He will purify his heart by faith (Acts 15:9).
To trust in God enables the Christian to “rest on” what God has promised.
The act of resting on God’s Word produces a calm assurance within the heart of the believer. By the phrase, “calm assurance,” I am emphasizing that a person can know when he is at rest, fully trusting the promises of God’s Word, and therefore can be confident that God has done what He promised He would do.
If a person is having a battle of faith, he will be assailed with doubts and fears about how he can know for sure that God has entirely sanctified him. A Christian must fight off such doubts and fears.
One does this by meditating on the unchanging and fully trustworthy character of God, resting upon His unfailing promises, and by reading testimonies of other people who have been entirely sanctified.2
Although none of the testimonies are to be taken as the pattern for God’s sanctifying work in us (2 Cor. 10:12), such testimonies can be helpful in fighting off doubts and fears by reminding one that many people from all walks of life and from greatly differing theological perspectives, have personally experienced entire sanctification.
Until a person has settled it in his heart and mind that God is fully trustworthy and always does what He promises, he will not be able to rest in His promises.
However, when a person’s faith reaches the place of “resting on” God’s promises, such a person can say with utmost confidence and assurance, “I am resting on the promises of God and there by am confident He has done what He promised to do.”
Paul tells us that joy and peace are the fruits of biblical faith: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…” (Romans 15:13).
The first and most fundamental way for a Christian to have assurance of entire sanctification is through biblical faith. In our next sermon we will consider the assurance that comes through the direct witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of the Christian.
1 Note that this is something the Christian must do for himself. There is no mention of any attendant feelings one should expect as the result of obeying God’s command.
2 See for example, V. Raymond Edman, They Found the Secret. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 1984.
Dr. Allan P. Brown teaches such courses as Christian Beliefs, Doctrine of Holiness, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew, Preaching Holiness, Romans and Galatians, and Letters to the Hebrews.
He has been on faculty at GBSC since 1996 and is the author of several books and articles.
Dr. Brown also speaks at churches, camp meetings, revivals and more.