What is the Work of Entire Sanctification?

by | Apr 1, 2007

In the grace of justification, sins as acts of transgression are pardoned. In the grace of entire sanctification, sin as a malady is removed so that the heart is pure.

When guilt is forgiven in justification and then all pollution is removed in entire sanctification so that grace possesses the heart and nothing contrary to grace remains, then that moral condition is reached to which the Scriptures give the name of perfection or entire sanctification.

Though leading Methodist writers define this gracious state in different terms, they are agreed in teaching the following:

  1. That justification and regeneration are not identical with entire sanctification.
  2. That entire sanctification is subsequent to regeneration and, in an important sense, is an instantaneous work.
  3. That it is a supernatural, divine work, and is by faith.
  4. That negatively it is freedom from sin; and positively, it is loving God with all the heart.
  5. That it is attested by the Holy Spirit by personal consciousness but also by its fruits.
  6. That it is both the privilege and duty of all believers to be entirely sanctified.

At the same time, we all deny that entire sanctification is absolute, angelic, or Adamic perfection. We all denounce any view of Christian perfection except that of love and moral purity.

But is this “sinless perfection”? This is never a term that we use in teaching entire sanctification. Indeed, if it means infallibility or a state in which a soul cannot sin, we vigorously deny it. We believe in no such perfection in this life; and further we know of no one who teaches such a thing.

Moreover, if the term “sinless perfection” means a perfect fulfillment of the perfect law of innocence and freedom from all involuntary transgressions even of the law of love, we also answer “no.” Mr. Wesley says,

“Therefore ‘sinless perfection’ is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself. I believe a person filled with the love of God is still liable to these involuntary transgressions.”

Not for a moment does entire sanctification exclude our need of Christ’s atonement! All Christian life is in Christ, and is dependent upon Him, as the branch upon the vine.

“I am the vine, ye are are branches….


Without me ye can do nothing.”

The pure in heart abide in Christ by a continuous faith, which is the vital bond of union with Him. Sever this connection and the spiritual life of the soul ceases at once. Christ does not give life to the soul separate from Himself but in and with Himself.

Purity of heart sharpens the spiritual vision and secures steady and unbroken reliance upon Christ’s atoning work. Therefore those who are cleansed from all sin “live by faith on the Son of God.” None see their need of the atonement so clearly or feel their need of its merits so deeply as the entirely sanctified. Thus they say continually in the words of an old hymn, “Every moment, Lord, I need the merit of thy death.”

Remember that always it requires the same Jesus who purified the soul to keep it pure. Cleansing grace is keeping grace, and it is retained as it was obtained by faith. In Christ they are, and in Christ they must abide. “According to your faith be it unto you” is the divine order in keeping as well as in receiving grace. Always we “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

“What is it that cleanseth the soul and destroys sin?” asks Dr. Adam Clarke.

“Is it not the mighty power of the grace of God?


What is it that keeps the soul clean?


Is it not the same power dwelling in us?


No more can an effect subsist without its cause than a sanctified soul abide in holiness without the indwelling Sanctifier.”

The Rev. J.A. Wood was a mid-19th century Methodist preacher and author known for his unrelenting advocacy of the work of entire sanctification. This extract, abridged by the editor, is taken from Wood’s famous book Perfect Love.