How to Know for Sure You Are Entirely Sanctified Part III
In our last message, we began our discussion about knowing that we are entirely sanctified by means of the witness of the Holy Spirit.
We first discussed the witness of the Spirit to us through Scripture (Heb. 10:15-16). We noted that the Holy Spirit’s witness to us through Scripture must be received by faith (Heb. 4:2) in order for it to profit us.
When it is received by faith, the witness of the Spirit to us through Scripture becomes the witness of the Spirit in us (1 John 5:9-11).
We come now to the immediate witness of the Holy Spirit to us apart from Scripture, that is perceived by an immediate, direct, subjective, inner assurance that we are indeed entirely sanctified.
b. The immediate witness of the Holy Spirit
The Bible also speaks of an assurance that comes to us by the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture — a divinely imparted inner consciousness that God has saved us or that God has entirely sanctified us, and that we are pleasing Him (Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6). This direct witness of the Spirit is not always perceived immediately upon conversion or at the moment of entire sanctification.
But sooner or later, the Holy Spirit will witness to our hearts that He is pleased with us. The universal testimony of the church is that the awareness of this direct witness of the Spirit is not an abiding, always present, conscious perception.
Sometimes it is very clear, and at other times, especially during times of sickness or Satanic oppression, it is not discernible at all. Further, one cannot dictate to God the timing of the witness nor the form in which this direct assurance comes.
In his first written sermon on the witness of the Spirit (1746), John Wesley defined the witness of the Spirit to one’s salvation as follows:
“The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me;
and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”
In his second written sermon on the witness of the Spirit, written 20 years later (1767), John Wesley said,
“After twenty years’ further consideration, I see no cause to retract any part of this.
Neither do I conceive how any of these expressions may be altered, so as to make them more intelligible.
I can only add, that if any of the children of God will point out any other expressions, which are more clear, or more agreeable to the word of God, I will readily lay these aside.”
John Wesley and his fellow ministers were not the only Christians of his time who were emphasizing the witness of the Spirit. There were also Puritans and Presbyterians (Westminster Confession) who taught the importance and reality of the direct witness of the Spirit.
John Wesley, however, made the teaching of the direct witness of the Spirit a primary focus for all Methodists. Until the day he died, John Wesley continued to stress the importance of the direct witness of the Spirit.
However, he does tell us some mistakes his ministers made in the early years of preaching on the witness of the Spirit. Speaking of his ministers he wrote,
“They were apt to make sad the hearts of those whom God had not made sad.
For they frequently asked those who feared God, ‘Do you know that your sins are forgiven?’ [In other words, do you have a direct witness of the Holy Spirit that you are forgiven].
And upon their answering, ‘No,’ immediately replied, ‘Then you are a child of the devil.’”1
John Wesley and his fellow Methodist ministers later modified their view of the spiritual condition of a person who has not yet received the direct witness of the Holy Spirit. He explained that they had not clearly understood the teaching in Acts 10:35, which affirms that whoever fears God and works righteousness is accepted of God.2
Instead of condemning the seeker, Wesley would affirm the progress the seeker had made and then tell the seeker to keep walking in the light and not to doubt God. He assured them that they were no longer under the wrath of God and that sooner or later they would receive the direct witness of the Spirit.3
Because of the variableness of one’s perception of the direct witness of the Spirit, this means of assurance, although thoroughly Scriptural and important, is not to be our primary basis of assurance.
Faith in God’s Word is to be our primary basis of assurance. To rely on one’s perception of having the direct witness of the Spirit for assurance for either the new birth or entire sanctification would make a person susceptible to fear and unbelief whenever he could not sense the direct witness of the Spirit.
Paul makes it clear in Romans 1:17 that the just shall live by faith, not by feelings. The assurance that comes from believing God’s Word and walking in all the light we have is the stabilizing, constant, abiding basis for assurance that we are saved, and, likewise, the basis for assurance that we are entirely sanctified.4
My Personal Testimony to Entire Sanctification
My mother was a godly, old-fashioned, shouting Nazarene who took me to church three times a week. I can’t remember when I did not want to love and serve God, and whenever I felt the need I went to the altar to get things cleared up with Him.
Because I was taught a performance model by the preachers, if I did one thing I knew was sin — such as not mind my mother — the devil would tell me I was backslidden.
He would say, “You are now a sinner. Therefore why don’t you cuss and smoke. If you are a sinner, you might as well sin.”
I would be in this “backslidden” miserable state — wanting to be a Christian but knowing I wasn’t — until the next hell-fire and brimstone message.
Then I would seek God and begin again trying to live a sinless Christian life. Each time I “backslid” and started my Christian life over, I would seek again to be entirely sanctified.
I read testimonies of people who were entirely sanctified, listen to the old saints give their testimonies, and thereby became “programmed” to expect some kind of extraordinary spiritual experience. I claimed to be entirely sanctified, and, to the best of my understanding, believed
that I was during my adolescent years.
When I was nineteen and a junior in Bible college, there was a week of spiritual renewal preached by H. Robb French. I felt a spiritual need and decided I was not really entirely sanctified. As I was seeking at the altar night-after-night, I was told to raise my hands (my “lightening rods”) and look up and expect the fire to fall.
I sincerely did everything they told me, and I even promised God I would not brag about my experience if He would only baptize my heart with His love and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. I expected God to do it and was looking forward to seeing the world and people with new eyes, and feel a flood of love and compassion toward the lost. But It didn’t happen.
After seven nights of seeking, Rev. S.D. Herron, the college president, slipped up beside me at the altar and whispered in my ear, “Allan, Why don’t you go outside and die under a Saw Palmetto bush.” At first I took his word literally and was hurt.
Then it dawned on me that he meant, “Stop going to the altar continually and making such a big production of the whole matter. Just get alone with God, ‘die out’ to self-centeredness, and God will entirely sanctify you.”
I did what he suggested and continued to seek God privately for another week. On the following Saturday afternoon at a cottage prayer meeting, I cast myself by faith on the promises of God and felt assured that God had indeed entirely sanctified me.
It had none of the extraordinary characteristics I had wanted and expected, but there was a deep peace that I had done all God required. I had “reckoned myself indeed dead unto sin” (Rom. 6:11), had fully yielded myself totally to God (Rom. 6:12), and on the basis of God’s sovereign, unchanging promises, claimed the blessing of entire sanctification.
From that moment onward, I endeavored to maintain a full surrender. Whenever God showed me something that needed changing, I tried my best to walk in all the light.
Now many years later, I have learned that entire sanctification is not simply a one-time event that automatically works for the rest of your life.
Rather, it is a cleansing and a further empowering of the relationship begun at the new birth.
One enters into entire sanctification at a moment of faith but must continue to walk in all the light and maintain a fully surrendered life.
1 John Wesley, “On Faith,” in The Sermons of Wesley, Sermon 106, p. 218.
2 Acts 10:35: “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”
3 Wesley, Ibid.
4 Richard S. Taylor, Exploring Christian Holiness, Vol. 3, The Theological Formulation, (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1985), 181. Taylor writes, “Neither can the emphasis on the Word of God as the true ground of assurance be challenged.”
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.