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Levi Jones

Wesley’s Understanding of Entire Sanctification

As we have discussed in this class, holiness pertains to two things: separation and

purity. But, we may ask, what are we separated from and what are the characteristics of

purity? Furthermore, holiness generates insiders and outsiders. Who is included in this

community? And, how do we become a part of this social entity? It is vitally important

that we understand holiness and entire sanctification so that we articulate the doctrine

faithfully, especially because it has led to so much confusion and questioning. As we do

this, we may faithfully call our congregations to embody the character and purposes of

God in our world.

In the Genesis story of Creation, we see that we were created in the image of God,

or the imago Dei. Humanity was made in the likeness of God. However, sin entered the

world shattering that divine image. Light became darkness in the human soul. Sin

distorted and twisted God’s creation, including humanity. There is a sense of longing

with which we groan to be restored to this glorious state.

For John Wesley, the restoration of the imago Dei was the chief purpose and telos

of salvation. He preached that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this divine image, both

God and man. Whereas, the first Adam was the venue by which humanity was enslaved

to sin, Christ became the second Adam by which humanity could be saved and restored to

proper relationship with God. So, in a very real way, the restoration of the divine image

becomes Christ-likeness in the believer. Ultimately, the recovery of this image means

being perfected in love. It is embodying the character and purpose of God, which is

always life giving. However, we must then ask, by what means are we saved and what

do we mean by such terms?

John Wesley writes, “The salvation which is here spoken of is not what is

frequently understood by that word, the going to heaven, eternal happiness… the

salvation which is here spoken of might be extended to the entire work of God, from the

first dawning of grace in the soul till it is consummated in glory” (372). In other words,

salvation is the entire work of God wrought in the souls of men which restores them to

the divine image. Although Wesley broke salvation into several steps, although he

believed they were equally important and inseparable in the life of all believers. These

instances of grace and salvation are: prevenient grace, justification, and sanctification


God’s grace was the one and only catalyst in the cultivation of salvation.

Prevenient grace was simply the work of God, the stirring of the heart, in the sinner that

leads to justification. It is God working in our lives before we are even aware of His

presence and power. As one becomes aware of God’s working in our lives, we reach a

crisis point which calls for decision. We either accept God’s grace or reject it. Upon

acceptance, we move to justification through faith and repentance.

Justification is simply the pardoning of our sins. In a sense, our debt has been

paid. However, Wesley points out that while sin does not “reign,” it does remain (377).

We are no longer slaves to sin but we are prone to backslide. Thus, Wesley affirmed that

justification, as well as, sanctification is both instantaneous and a process of maturing in

our faith. Wesley commented, “Faith is the condition, and the only condition, of

justification” (375). However, Wesley also affirms that repentance must be a part of this

process. Repentance is turning away from evil and doing what is right. Yet, in the midst

of this turning, we eventually come to understand how prone our hearts are to wander.

We become acutely aware of our lack of righteousness before a holy God. For, even in

doing good works, we at times find wrong motivation moving us in those actions.

“Repentance frequently means an inward change, a change of mind from sin to

holiness. But we now speak of it in a quite different sense, as it is one kind of self-

knowledge – the knowing ourselves sinners, yea, guilty, helpless sinners, even though we

know we are children of God” (406). Even after justification, we are often confronted

with the reality that sin still resides within. We find ourselves desiring that which is

opposed to the Spirit of God. How might we then bring everything we are under

obedience to Christ?

In knowing that sin remains, though it is no longer in control, we are convinced

that we have yet to fully take hold of God’s promised life of perfection. It is this promise

that God saves us from the depths of our sins and perfects us in love. We recognize that

we are unable to bring about this perfection through our own power. Moreover, we are

entirely at the mercy of God to work in and through us. However, we find that God has

promised us that we will do such a work through His Spirit, that He is able to do such a

work, and that He desires to work it now (379). Faith, once more, is the catalyst of God’s

work in us. That is not to say that sanctification, or justification, are worked because of

something we have done. Rather, faith is the response to God’s grace that is available.

Sanctification is being set apart totally for the will and purpose of God.

One point of contention arose from Wesley’s viewpoint of salvation and Calvin’s

viewpoint. Calvin had asserted that grace was irresistible. Essentially, God calls those

whom He will to be saved. We have come to know this doctrine as “Predestination.”


Wesley vehemently opposed this viewpoint by affirming that it is free grace to all that

God extends. This grace is given to everyone who might receive it. However, God’s

grace can be rejected because we do have the power of free will.

Scripture continuously affirms that Jesus died for the world so that none may

perish but that all may have life. It is an open invitation. God provides the means and

the way of grace to salvation. Calvin believed that God had elected a select few to be

redeemed. Wesley countered that predestination denied the validity of preaching and

teaching, as well as, any effort on our part because God was the only one doing anything.

If it be God’s will to obey or disobey Him, who can resist His will? In a sense, this

doctrine, stated Wesley, painted God worse than Satan himself. Satan too, in this

doctrine, did not have to work one iota because God had already determined the future,

both redemption and condemnation. However, if our choices are genuine and really

matter, then we cannot neglect the doctrine of free grace.

The means of grace, in this doctrine, thus become important channels for God’s

work in the world. Wesley preached, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs,

words, or actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end – to be the ordinary

channels whereby he might convey to men preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace”

(160). In addition, this outward signs of grace pointed to an inward reality. Furthermore,

one must be careful to keep these practices as means, so that they would not become the

end in and of themselves. In fact, if these means of grace do not move one to love

through the Spirit of God, they are vain acts of self-glory.

Specifically, for Wesley, there were three means of grace most employed: prayer,

Scripture, and Eucharist. Each of these elements was equally important and

interchangeable. Neglecting one aspect is detrimental to the spiritual life. These three

sacraments were designed as a way to wait for the grace of God. Everything found in

salvation is worked by God alone and in His own timing. Our works do not convince or

bribe God to act. Rather, it is by these means of grace that God conveys His grace to us.

So, that in everything we might say God works both our faith and salvation. Wesley

concluded, “The mere work done, profiteth nothing; that there is no power to save but in

the Spirit of God, no merit but in the blood of Christ; that consequently even what God

ordains conveys no grace to the soul if you trust not in him alone” (170).

In conclusion, entire sanctification is the restoration of the divine image. We are

perfected by and in the love of God, through His Spirit. This salvation and sanctification

is the instantaneous and process by which God restores that image and empowers us to

live Christ-like lives. Furthermore, this salvation is wrought by the grace of God alone

through faith in Jesus Christ whose atoning blood pardoned our sins. This salvation is

not by works. Yet, God has ordained means of grace by which he works to communicate

salvation, grace, and mercy. It is for this reason alone, that we participate in these

practices, waiting on the Lord in prayer, Scripture, and the Eucharist. Likewise, we

respond to the grace of God in our lives by “ceasing to do what is evil, learning to do

what is good” so that in all things God might be glorified.

Works Cited

Outler, Albert C., and Richard P. Heitzenrater, eds. John Wesley's Sermons: An

Anthology. Nashville: Abingdon P, 1991.