Summary. Wesleyans believe that Christians are to become what is theirs in Christ. Thus, the Christian’s purpose is to be renewed into Christ’s own image. This goal can be attained, and should be endeavored to be attained, in this life. This is accomplished by a “second blessing” that comes upon the Christian after conversion. This second blessing has been called “entire sanctification”, which is the removal of rebellion from a Christian’s heart. This “entire sanctification” is not the removal of sin. It is, instead, the removal of willful sin by this second work. One receives this second blessing by having faith in the work of Christ and expecting God to do what He had promised. After this second blessing the Christian freely loves God and his neighbor with all his heart. All his affections, heart, soul, and mind are directed toward the things of God and love for Him.
Benefits of this View. One of the benefits of having this view is that one looks upon one’s sanctification with optimism. Robert Flew correctly points out that the doctrine of entire sanctification directs our minds to the wonders of what God can do in and with our lives. Personal sin is not seen as an unconquerable foe, but one that can be subjugated to the love of Christ. The hope of victory can keep one pressing forward when frustrated with sin.
Another benefit is the zeal for the good life of holiness that comes with the Wesleyan doctrine. Holiness is to be pursued with zeal because holiness is beautiful to obtain. Holiness is not a cold lists of regulations. Instead, holiness is a blessing to partake in when we yearn for it enough. Such a view can bring needed heat to cold views of holiness.
Problems with this View. A major problem with the Wesleyan view arises when it comes to the definition of sin. Wesley’s definition of sin is that it is “a voluntary transgression of a known law.” With this definition, “one may be blameless, even though far from being faultless.” The problem with this is that it is making the existence of sin dependent on the existence of the law. Romans 5:12-14 demonstrates such an assertion to be false. The first section of verse 13 states, “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given.” Even though there was no law, “sin was present in mankind and men actually sinned.” Thus, a Wesleyans view of sin is defective when viewed biblically. Death resides where there is no law. Ignorance about divine law does not remove the problem of death, and, since death is the produce of sin, sin must come about even where no law is found.
Because it moves from biblical definition, the Wesleyans hold a weakened understanding of sin. Sin is only a wrongdoing when the person recognizes it as such. Yet, experience, as it correlates with the bible, stands against such a claim. Any Christian can testify that they have walked in sin while not knowing it. “How easy it is not to recognize sin as sin! Often what is called ‘sinful anger’ in others we deem ‘righteous indignation’ in ourselves.” Just keeping the definition of sin at the Wesleyan level has one pass over the vast amount of sins in a believer’s life.
There are also several texts which are very problematic for the Wesleyan view. James 3:2 states that every believer stumbles in many ways (πολλὰ γὰρ πταίομεν ἅπαντες). Thus, the reality for the believer is that they will continue to sin. In 1 Corinthians 4:4 Paul gives a decisive blow against the Wesleyan view of sin. He says, “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” Paul’s lack of knowledge of his actions does not acquit him of it. Since his final judgments of his actions are fallible he must wait for God’s final verdict. Then, in Philippians 3:12; Paul’s denial of his own perfection (Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι). Paul discounts the possibility that he had obtained the goal of gaining Christ and being made perfect. If Paul cannot reach perfection, what Christian can? Such texts do not fit within the Wesleyan system.
The final problem is the contradictory meaning of sin that has to be crafted in thinking about confession. An example of this can be seen in regards to confession. The question of the need for the “perfect” believer’s confession was posed to him. Wesley’s answer had the mistakes a “perfect” Christian committed needing the atoning blood of Christ since it was “a transgression of the perfect law.” But how could it be a transgression if a transgression is only a known transgression? As was quoted before, Wesley clearly defined sin as a known transgression of the law of God. If one did not know about it, it was not sin. What we are faced with is a contradiction. The Wesleyan view, however, has to hold this considering that the Apostle John clearly states that confessing one’s sin is a staple part of the Christian’s life (1 John 1:9). Wesley would have to hold that “perfect” Christians would not need the blood of Christ anymore. Thus, Wesley had to hold to a contradiction.
Because of these problems, the Wesleyan system of sanctification should be rejected. Within the system, there is a strong push to have real victory in the believer’s life, but the biblical testimony speaks differently. There are too many problems spanning from wrong views of doctrines of sin to problems with individual texts. Finally, contradictions ensue when trying to live out the “perfect” life of a believer.
Application to Ernie. The Wesleyan’s counsel to Ernie would be for him to seek Christ and the second blessing that comes from Him. Ernie will never win the battle by doubting the love of Christ. Christ has completely forgiven him of all his sins and the Holy Spirit of God resides in him. It is not his portion to remain defeated in his sin. Instead, if he seeks after Christ and waits, the powerful second blessing will descend upon him. Ernie will find himself losing all interest in the sin that once ensnared him. He will find, instead, that his heart is devoted to pleasing the Lord and loving the people who surround him. Victory can be attained over his sin and new love for Christ can pour out of his heart.
Laurence W. Wood, “The Wesleyan View,” in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, ed. Donald L. Alexander (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 96.
Melvin E. Dieter, “The Wesleyan Perspective,” in Five Views on Sanctification, ed. Donald L. Alexander (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 15.
R. Newton Flew, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology: An Historical Study of the Christian Ideal for the Present Life (London, Great Britain: Oxford university Press, 1934), 397. Also compare, Dieter, “The Wesleyan Perspective,” 15.
Wood, “The Wesleyan View,” 97. See also Flew, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology, 317-323, who lists 6 characteristics of this second blessing.
Other terms for this doctrine would include, “Perfectionism,” “Perfection,” “Perfect love,” or others.
“Entire sanctification—a personal, definitive work of God’s sanctifying grace by which the war within oneself might cease and the heart be fully released from rebellion into whole hearted love for God and others.” Dieter, “The Wesleyan Perspective,” 17.
“[Perfection] does not mean freedom from ignorance, nor from mistake. Christians may fall into a thousand nameless defects, either in conversation or behavior—such as impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation. They are not free from infirmities such as weakness of understanding, heaviness of imagination.” Flew, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology, 325. A fuller understanding of what perfectionism does not mean can be read from Wesley, John Wesley, “Christian Perfection,” in The Works of John Wesley, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 1-22.
John Wesley, “On Perfection,” in The Works of John Wesley, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 413.
Wood, “The Wesleyan View,” 96. See also Wesley, “On Perfection,” 413. Since such is the case, what is being communicated by those that hold perfectionism is that the Christian who has been entirely sanctified cannot commit willful or voluntary sin. The heart is in total devotion to the things of God. All identifiable sins have been rejected. See Flew, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology, 325-326. The issue with voluntary and involuntary sins will be discussed later.
George Allen Turner, The More Excellent Way: The Scriptural Basis of the Wesleyan Message (Winona Lake, IN: Light and Life Press, 1952), 75.
C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1975), 282. See also Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 277-279, who agrees with the over all conclusion of Cranfield and gives a good rebuttal to the idea that it is only the cooperate sin of Adam being identified here.
Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 220.
Stephen Neill makes this point beautifully when he writes, “In certain circles, perfection is interpreted as meaning no more than the avoidance of all known or conscious sin. This is by no means a contemptible ideal. But how far short it falls of an understanding of the depths and realities of our problems!…How often we find that we have done wrong, without at the time being aware that we were doing it!…To go one stage deeper yet, which of us will venture to claim that the motives which impel us to action are always free from an admixture of dross, perhaps unobserved at the time, but painfully evident to us when we have leisure to be completely honest with ourselves? Over nearly forty years there comes back to me a beautiful description of a preacher returning from the University Church at Oxford with a bulky manuscript under his arm, bursting with pride because he had just preached so excellent a sermon on humility.” Stephen Neill, Christian Holiness (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1960), 37-38.
One could translate πολλὰ to speak to the amount of sins one commits as does the NKJV and the NRSV. But whether one translates it as speaking to amount or variety does not change the argument from the text.
Wesley tries to explain the passage by saying that the subject of the verse is neither the Apostle or the Christians but false teachers. Wesley, “Christian Perfection,” 13-14.
However, verse two is clearly connected to verse one by the use of γὰρ. And the subject in verse one is plainly stated as the Christians (ἀδελφοί μου). Compare with Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 150-151.
Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Commentary, ed. I Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 340-341.
Wood tries to do away with this text by saying that it refers to a psychological problem Paul is having. Apparently, Paul can repress psychological “complexities” which would have him act out of wrong motives and still not sin. Wood, “The Wesleyan View,” 98.
Such speculations have nothing to do with the text which is before us, presents a host of complexities for understanding the meaning of sin, and relies on unbiblical psychological theories. With such being the case, his argument can be discounted.
Wood tries to make the argument that there is a difference between an ethical and a legal transgression of the law. Wood, “The Wesleyan View,” 112-113. Yet, such a distinction is nowhere found in the biblical witness. Unethical actions always bring the just condemnation of God.
Curtis, sympathetic to Wesley’s views, makes this statement about his research about contradictions of this nature in Wesley’s system, “I have found no way of harmonizing all of Wesley’s statements at this point; I am inclined to think that he never entirely cleared up his own thinking concerning the nature and scope of sin.” Olin Alfred Curtis, The Christian Faith: Personally Given in a System of Doctrine (New York, NY: The Methodist Book Concern, 1905), 378.