Questions About Entire Sanctification
I teach a class entitled “Doctrine of Holiness.” Toward the end of the semester, I asked my students to write down anonymously any questions they still had about the subject.
I received eighteen questions, and here are seven of them.
Can you detect the basic biblical concept that is necessary to answer each of these?
- Can a person reject his entire sanctification and still be saved?
- Can a person lose entire sanctification but not lose salvation?
- Does a person need to be entirely sanctified to get into heaven?
- Can a person be entirely sanctified and be unknowingly sinning from a lack of knowledge?
- Does an entirely sanctified person who rebels against God but later comes back to Him need to be entirely sanctified again? We do know that a person can rebel against God and later turn back in repentance and then be “re-saved.”
- Can a born-again person live for years resisting a full surrender to the complete control of God in entire sanctification and remain a Christian?
- Is it possible for a person to be entirely sanctified and still be a royal pain to be around? I know of a person that I’ve heard preach on the need to be entirely sanctified and yet he is the kind of person I would never wish anyone to have to be around.
These questions are either explicitly or implicitly answered by 1 John 1:7,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
I learned from reading the questions of my students that I had not sufficiently taught and adequately applied the principle of “walking in the light.” I spent the next several class periods discussing this concept. Let’s talk about it.
What does it mean to “walk in the light”? To give structure to our thoughts, please observe that 1 John 1:7 can be divided into three parts:
- there is a condition to be fulfilled: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light…”;
- there is a communion to be enjoyed: “…we have fellowship one with another…”; and
- there is a cleansing that is promised: “…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
I. The Condition to Be Fulfilled
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light…”
The first thing we must do as we think about the meaning of walking in the light is to seek to establish a Biblical definition of light. Contextually, John says God is light and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5).
This means God is righteous and holy. His Word is the primary revelation of His righteousness and holiness.
- “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
- “The entrance of thy words gives light; it gives understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
- “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). To walk in the light is to say “Yes” to all that God’s Word teaches us about living like Him.
- As one walks in the light, he receives more light (Psa. 36:9). If a person does not obey all that he learns from God’s Word, he is not
walking in the light. He is walking against light and therefore walking in darkness.
- To walk against light is to commit willful sin and unless immediately repented of, willful sin will separate you from God (Isaiah 59:2) and damn your soul.
II. The Communion to Be Enjoyed
“…we have fellowship one with another…“
The grammar here is ambiguous, but the context suggests that “one with another” means that we who walk in the light have fellowship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).1
John has not yet introduced the believer’s relationship with other people. His focus is on the privilege of fellowship with the Godhead and in context refers to a privilege available only to the true Christian who is walking in all the light he has.
John will later teach in this letter that fellowship with God is the basis for fellowship with other believers (1 John 2:6ff).
III. The Cleansing that is Promised “…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
“…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
There are three aspects to this promised cleansing.
First, the means for our cleansing is the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. There is no other means for cleansing from sin.
Second, the nature of the cleansing indicates that we ative which communicates in the strongest way possible the factual, actual, continual cleansing that is provided to the one who chooses continually to walk in the light.
Third, the phrase, “from all sin,” indicates a complete and thorough cleansing from sin.
As Adam Clarke, the prince of Wesleyan commentators, says,
“The meritorious efficacy of his passion and death has purged our consciences from dead works, and cleanseth us…,” i.e., “continues to cleanse us, i.e., to keep clean what it has made clean, (for it requires the same merit and energy to preserve holiness in the soul of man, as to produce it.”
Let’s return now to our seven questions on the subject of entire sanctification and try to answer them with 1 John 1:7 in mind.
Can a person reject his or her entire sanctification and still be saved?
Answer: No. A Christian must continue to walk in all the light he or she has or become guilty of walking in darkness, which is willful sin. A person practicing willful sin is not saved (1 John 2:3–6; 3:4–10).
Can a person lose entire sanctification but not lose salvation?
Answer: No. The only way a person can “lose” (“reject” is a better term) his entire sanctification is through willful sin or unbelief (which is also sin). One cannot remain in fellowship with God (stay saved) unless he continues to walk in all the light he has.
Does a person need to be entirely sanctified to get into heaven?
Answer: Yes and No. Yes, if a person knows the Bible teaches it is God’s will for him to be entirely sanctified, he must walk in the light or become guilty of willful sin. No, if a person, like the thief on the cross, has never heard of entire sanctification, or if a person has been taught entire sanctification is available only at the Second Coming of Christ.
A person will go to heaven as long as he is walking in all the light he has.
Can a person be entirely sanctified and be unknowingly sinning from a lack of knowledge?
Answer: As long as a Christian is walking in all the light he has, the blood of Jesus Christ is continually cleansing from all sin. Such a cleansing includes unknown violations of God’s Word.
Does an entirely sanctified person who rebels against God but later comes back to Him need to be entirely sanctified again? We do know that a person can rebel against God and later turn back in repentance and then be “re-saved.”
Answer: Yes. To come back to God is the action of a backslider having his re in need of continual cleansing. The verb “cleanses us” is a present indica-relationship with God restored. After the restoration, one must walk in the light and obey Romans 12:1 and offer himself a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to God. This can be done only by a person in right relationship with God.
Can a born-again person live for years resisting a full surrender to the complete control of God in entire sanctification and remain a Christian?
Answer: No. A Christian must continually walk in all the light he has. To resist any light is to commit willful sin and the practice of willful sin is the characteristic of the sinner, not the Christian.
Is it possible for a person to be entirely sanctified and still be a royal pain to be around? I know of a person that I’ve heard preach on the need to be entirely sanctified, and yet he is the kind of person I would never wish anyone to have to be around.
Answer: Yes. To walk in all the light does not instantly make one mature in the fruit of the Spirit. The preacher may have grown up in a dysfunctional home, be very insensitive and unlearned in many areas of living, but truly be walking in all the light he has. Such a person is cleansed from all sin, but obviously is not a good example for a person to follow.
John Wesley reminds us that even those who are “really perfect in love” struggle with many infirmities, recounting the conversation he had had “some years ago” with “a saint of God,” who was a household servant.
Wesley had said to her, “Jenny, surely now your mistress and you can neither of you be a trial to the other, as God has saved you both from sin.” “Oh, sir,” said she, “if we are saved from sin, we still have infirmities enough to try all the grace that God has given us.’”2
Are you walking in all the light God has given you?
1. The tense of the verb “we have” is a present tense which indicates the continual possession, and the mood is the indicative which assures the reader of the factual reality of actually having continual fellowship with God.
2. Quoted in John Wesley’s Concept of Perfection by Leo G. Cox (Beacon Hill, 1964), p. 166.
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.