The Perfection of Our Faithful Wills

The Perfection of Our Faithful Wills
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The Perfection of Our Faithful Wills

Paul’s Apocalyptic Vision
3.1: Initial Renewal:
Demarcations & Clarifications Concerning Holiness
I remember sitting in a seminary class with a guy named Chad. Chad
came from a background of drugs and for a time was living homeless
in Northern California, and we started talking about his life and journey
toward God. He had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and, by the miraculous grace of God, the desire and addiction to drugs were removed entirely
from his life. For most of us, this sort of inexplicable change does not happen. Renewal or the process of sanctification is more often a journey with
a body of believers in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The nature of Pauline
sanctification or holiness is this: the active outworking of a person to imitate the life lived by Jesus of Nazareth. This implies the utter rejection of sin
and the active lifestyle of holiness in relation to neighborly love and divine
glorification. Holiness is the refusal to participate in what God has deemed
as sinful and destructive. Holiness is love for God and love for nothing else
outside of God.
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What makes these sorts of diverse experiences unique and complex is
that Paul’s language of “renewal” (ἀνακαίνωσις) tells us that “perfection” affects the totality of the human person and her “mind” (νοῦς; Eph 4:23): the
entire person is to be included in “renewal,” and the process of sanctification
or holiness is rarely if ever instantaneous. “That is why we do not lose heart,
but even if our outer humanity is being utterly corrupted, yet our innerness
is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Therefore, the transforming
power of the gift of Christ (Eph 4:7) affects the totality of the human person
in her life lived in faithful pursuit of God’s vocation for her. This is also connected to Christ being the “image of God” (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15–20), who
calls us to be his brothers and sisters. The human person is in desperate
need of “emancipation” (ἀπολύτρωσις) and this emancipation includes her
entire person (Rom 8:23). In the triadic clause following the prepositional
conclusion in 1 Corinthians 1:30, we have “rectification and sanctification
and emancipation” (δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις) as finding
their source “from God” (ἀπὸ θεοῦ). The significance of this is exemplified
in the linking together of three distinct nouns that follow from the giving
of “wisdom.” The initiation of perfection begins with Christ as the gift from
God to us for our present and future perfection. Thus, rectification, holiness, and Godly emancipation are thematically linked to the work of God
in our lives as well as our faithful pursuit of what God desires for us. If the
Holy Spirit is determined to instantly sanctify us, then who can stop the
Spirit? If the Holy Spirit desires to journey with us through our sufferings
and agonies, then who will cast the Holy Spirit away? As John Wesley said,
“one perfected in love may grow in grace far swifter than he did before.”1
Perfection by the power of the Holy Spirit is contagious for those seeking
the reckless love of God.
3.2: Perfecting Holiness:
Biblical Theology & Paul’s Vision of Perfection
When speaking of “perfection,” Paul almost always uses a specific word:
the noun τέλος and the verbal form τελέω (along with various compounds
like ἐπιτελέω). Space does not permit us to explore all of Paul’s uses of
this complex word group, but it is sufficient to note that the word has a
wide semantic range. Some lexicons like Liddel-Scott (LS 42313) gloss this
term as “the fulfillment or completion of anything.” Other lexicons such as
1. Cited in Collins, Theology, 294.
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BDAG 6342 render the term as “a point in time that marks culmination,
end, outcome.” In other instances, the word clearly refers to a tax of some
sort (Rom 13:7). In the following chapter, we will focus on various Pauline
Epistles where this word occurs with the other word group for “holiness”
or “sanctification,”2
with specific reference to the τέλος word group if need
be.3
We will see that the glory of God is manifested in perfection, especially in how Paul describes the struggles of life and sinful people in light of
the Holy Spirit’s call toward perfection in their forsaking of sin. God is most
glorified when we become most like him, where sin is cleansed, and we are
united fully to the Godhead in glory and honor and immortality.
The structure of this chapter is relatively straightforward. There are
certain key phrases in Paul’s letters that rather explicitly support the doctrine of entire sanctification, while other texts and concepts imply such a
doctrine. As is the case when dealing with dogmatic theology, one is forced
to consider both the historical particularities of the ancient world and the
concerns of Christian theology in our present age. For me, interpreting
these historical texts theologically has pressed me to consider the various
aspects of how the human person can be entirely sanctified in this life.
Perhaps the best initial text is found in Romans 6:6. For Wesleyans—
and, indeed, all Christians—we are deeply and profoundly aware of who
we are as creatures. Paul captures this rather poignantly when he writes,
“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified along with him for the purpose of bringing the body of Sin to utter nothingness (καταργηθῇ) so that we
would no longer be enslaved to Sin” (Rom 6:6). As we noted earlier, Paul’s
Christology and his doctrine of humanity are intertwined here; as Wesley says, “This, in a believer, is crucified with Christ, mortified, gradually
2. BDAG 47 defines ἁγιωσύνη as “state of being in accord with divine standards of
virtue.” Similarly, in BDAG 43, the verbal form is defined as “set apart into the realm of
the sacred.” The aspect of holiness or sanctification are therefore appropriate renderings
of this word group, and there is far less complexity concerning the variegated meanings.
3. The τέλος word group occurs through the majority of the Pauline literature,
sometimes in conjunction with the “Law.” Beginning in Rom 2:27, we have a reference to
“the one keeping/fulfilling the Law” (τὸν νόμον τελοῦσα) in reference to the debate over
the place of the people of the nations (=so-called gentiles) in the church. The participle
τελοῦσα suggests an active fulfillment on the part of the person persisting or actively
engaging with the Law, and this person will have judgment rights over the Jew. Whereas
the person of the nations, though uncircumcised, has been faithful to God’s Law, the
Jew has not. Thus, the participle fits well with Paul’s axiom of faithfulness on the part of
an active agent, and their complete fulfillment of the requirements of the Law (at least
hypothetically).
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killed, by virtue of our union with him.”4
Sin, in whatever form, is utterly
removed from the life of a believer—this results in the interchange between
enslavement and emancipation. The believer is no longer subjected nor
guided by the power of sin and death. As the “body of Sin” is brought to utter nothingness, so too will the various “powers” and “sovereignties” (1 Cor
2:6; 15:24–26) be brought to utter nothingness. This notion of sin being
a force to be utterly removed is reflected in 2 Maccabees 12:42: “and they
turned toward prayer that the sin that had been made would be utterly and
completely (τελείως) removed.” The perfective aspect of faith is also seen in
Sirach 34:8: “without lies the law will be fully accomplished and wisdom is
perfected (τελείωσις) in the mouth of the faithful one (πιστῷ).”5
This telos
word group occurs often throughout the LXX in a context of sacrifice and
the rectification of the community in relation to God.6
Sin, as an operative
force, is a reality that must be resisted, and can be resisted, as it is no longer
able to operate in the space the Holy Spirit has claimed. The interrelation
of “eternal life” and “holiness” (Rom 6:19–22) illustrates the necessary association Paul makes between apocalyptic life and the perfective accumulation of the ethical life. Our lives are apocalyptic examples of Christ’s own
life, and our hope for “eternal life” is predicated upon faithfulness to Christ,
forsaking the things of death and destruction for the living God.
Two other passages in Romans deserve some specific exegesis. Both
Romans 12:1–2 and Romans 15:16 are thematically linked together.7
Romans 12:1–2: “And do not be conformed to this age, but transform yourselves8
in the renewing of your mind, for you to test yourselves about what
the will of God is: what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (τέλειον).” In
a context of personal reflection, the pursuit of God’s will and desire for us
as people of faith is summed up in the triadic form: good and well-pleasing
and perfect. All three aspects of “testing” or “discerning” on our part cannot be summed up in a single word—rather, all three words describe the
emotional and corporate responsibility we have toward one another: we
4. Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 377.
5. That is, the faithfulness of a person or a community is co-operative in how the
ethics of the person of God are lived out. That is, the honest adherence of a community
to God’s law results in the “perfection of wisdom.”
6. Exod 29:1–35.
7. Jewett, Romans, 729.
8. The imperatival form of this word suggests a free action on the part of the agent
performing the verb: that is, the human person. The middle/passive element corresponds
to God’s initiation and the imperative is our free response in participation.
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are to be good to our brothers, sisters, neighbors, and enemies; we are to
be well-pleasing to God by these things; we are to be perfect in pursuing
and striving toward what God has called us to be. The image of “perfect”
here is not a far-off goal reserved for people with excellent testimonies or
exciting stories about a life no longer lived in sexual immorality, anger, or
drug abuse. Rather, the idea of “perfect” in Romans 12:1–2 is that renunciation of sin and “testing” God’s demands in order to discern our vocation in
God’s kingdom. Our transformation is not to be done in an isolated fashion: rather, we need the Holy Spirit working through the body of believers
around us.9
The emphasis on “bodies” is Paul’s way of stressing our actions
and mindset as embodied creatures under the reign of the Spirit. The utter
transformation of our personhood by the desire of God is precisely what
Paul is saying. The goal is not conformity to Greco-Roman ideals or our
modern-day notions of nationalism but faithful allegiance to Jesus Christ
and to Jesus Christ alone.
The pneumatic element of sanctification is especially present toward
the end of Romans where Paul speaks about the people of the nations being
“sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:6). The verb here for sanctification
is ἡγιασμένη (perfect tense form), and this verb is used to describe what is
called a “complete and undifferentiated process,”10 where the people of the
nations are entirely set apart in terms of holiness, and this is done by means
of the Holy Spirit and within the sphere of the Spirit.11 As Jewett remarks,
“It is the transformation of their social life that requires the appellation
‘holy.’”12 Paul’s own “priestly service”13 (Rom 15:6a) is for Christ Jesus and
for the gospel of God. Hence, even before we’ve moved from Romans in our
study, we can see the Trinitarian force of sanctification in Paul’s thought—
especially as it relates to the perfective aspect of people being included in
9. This corporate body of faithful people may be the local church, a Bible study, or
a group of friends who fellowship together. Whatever the case may be, do not forsake one
another for yourselves.
10. Porter, Idioms, 21. To be clear, I am not claiming that the “perfect tense form” is
what “perfection” means.
11. Fee notes, “One cannot tell whether Paul intends it to be instrumental or locative
of sphere.” As I have rendered and exegeted the phrase, I suspect both understandings are
true, but the instrumental nature of the dative case would result, by consequence, in the
locative sphere of the Spirit’s presence. Fee, Empowering Presence, 626 n.459.
12. Jewett, Romans, 908.
13. This word does not refer simply to “ministry” in the sense that the ESV renders
it; rather, in context the word refers to cultic or priestly works done in a temple setting.
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God’s family. While this verse may speak about their “separateness”14 from
the rest of the nations, this does not explain the full force of Paul’s Trinitarian work here: the nations are an “offering” (προσφορὰ)
15 to the triune
God, a free offering that cannot be blemished or stained by pagan activities
or woefully sinful impulses. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is involved in “love”
(Rom 5:5), intercession (Rom 8:27), testifying (Rom 9:1), and the attributes
of the kingdom of God: rectification, peace, joy, and especially hope for
those who are hopeless (Rom 14:17; 15:13).
In essence, Romans 15:16 (along with other texts) recapitulates Paul’s
entire argument from Romans 9–11 in that the people of the nations and
the Jewish people are both sanctified and holy people, regardless of geography, gender, or social status—the oneness of the body of Christ does
not show privilege or preference toward those whom God calls “sons” and
“daughters.” Temporal election or calling for vocational purposes does not
result in favoritism for those who were initially not called by God.16 Paul
has moved the holiness of the people out of the confines of the temple and
granted it to every Jew and to all of the people of the nations who exercise
faithful allegiance to King Jesus; in his priestly service to God and Christ,
Paul has brought the people of the nations near, for the purpose of their being made holy by God. This aligns perfectly with Romans 11:32–36, where
Paul’s climactic cry is the universal triumph of God’s ultimate gratuitous
display of mercy.17 All of humanity’s sins—whether personal, corporate,
or systemic—are undermined by God’s severe and generous mercy toward
those who are most in need of his favor and kindness. Sanctification, in
Romans, is the work of the Holy Spirit in coordination with Christology—
the one who summarizes all things in him and is the τέλος of our calling to
be a righteous and perfect people, steeped in holiness and fully united to
the will of God-in-Christ. Hence, the doctrine of entire sanctification plays
an integral part in the theology of Romans as it relates to how Christians
pursue holiness despite the influence of Rome and sin.
The conflict in Corinth spans at least two Epistles, with at least one
Epistle not surviving. Given the extraordinary conflict between Paul and
14. If one adopts a wooden reading of the word in question, of course.
15. Odes 7:38; Sirach 34:18; 35:5; 46:16; 50:13.
16. Thornhill, Chosen People, 229–53.
17. Longenecker puts it this way: “the apostle declares that undergirding the entire
course of God’s salvation history—is God’s desire to ‘have mercy on them all’ (i.e. on all
people, whatever their ethnic heritage, their geographical location, and their particular
situation or circumstance).” Epistle to Romans, 902.
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the various apostolic groups and schismatic factions, it is striking that the
apostle begins 1 Corinthians 1:2 with him writing “to the assembly of God,
sanctified (ἡγιασμένοις) in18 Christ Jesus who are in Corinth19 called saints,
with everyone who is calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every
place: theirs and even ours.” What is compelling about this brief opening is
that Paul does not believe the Corinthian church has been entirely sanctified, so there is an element of sarcasm here (1:10–11 per “divisions” and
“dissentions”). Nevertheless, the lack of perfection does not diminish the
rather obvious call toward perfection. Indeed, the power of Christ is involved here as Christ “will strengthen” the church to the “end” (τέλους), the
“day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).20 Not only this, Christ will make us
“blameless,” a state only worked out through the sphere of Christ’s presence
and influence. Those who are called “holy ones” (ἁγίοις)
21 are described as
ones who are “called” (κλητοῖς); more specifically, the ones who were beckoned and welcomed by God to be “holy” are the ones who have partaken
of the Son’s work. Both Gordon Fee and Anthony Thiselton spar about the
nature of the “verdict of God” and the “blameless behavior.”22 However,
one should not push both ideas apart. The human response23 to God’s declaration of emancipation (1:30) clearly has ethical implications, as we will
discuss later. Both 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 1:8 present us with the principal
idea of rectification in Christ Jesus, and this universal scope where everyone who “calls upon” Christ will be rectified as an “emancipated” (1:30)
holy one of God. The presence and person of Christ is the principal source
of our own “rectification, sanctification, and emancipation” (δικαιοσύνη τε
καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις). These attributes, including wisdom, “belong
18. The locative meaning (“in”) of this preposition does not exclude agency. It is “in”
Christ and “through” Christ that sanctification occurs.
19. There is a textual variant here: some early witnesses (01 Sinaiticus; 02 A Alexandrinus) have the phrase “those being in Corinth” before the phrase “sanctified.” However,
the earliest extant witness we have (P46 B) has the sentence in the order I have translated,
so I believe this is the best reading.
20. This phrase clearly has an apocalyptic outlook, as the phrase “day of the Lord”
indicates.
21. See also 1 Cor 14:33; 16:1, 15, 20; 2 Cor 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:12.
22. See Thiselton, First Epistle, 102.
23. Specifically, “all who call upon” (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐπικαλουμένοις) the name of the Lord
(1:2b) suggests the active desire of people to be united to Christ in the exercise of their
free will.
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together, and both characterize Christ”24 and are constituted by Christ’s
saving activity in the cosmos. The activity of God-in-Christ confers what
might be called the great transference, from one reality to another. In contrast to worldly wisdom, we have Christ, who is our rectification, and the
imagery of a “holy” (ἁγιασμὸς) temple25 suggests a reality without sin in
the presence of God (1 Cor 3:17).26
In 1 Corinthians 2:6, Paul asserts “but among the ‘perfected ones’
(τελείοις) we speak wisdom, but it is not the wisdom of this world order nor
the rulers of this world order27 being utterly destroyed (καταργουμένων).”28
Similar to his use of τοῦ αἰῶνος, Paul is perhaps anticipating the final annihilation of the sovereignties in 1 Corinthians 15:24, and the use of this
participle suggests that this is a phase that has begun. Hence, even though
they exercise dominion at the current time, their time of annihilation is
immanent. Here, Paul is indulging in some sarcasm, as it is likely the Corinthian church has drunk deeply from the postmodern well. The logic
is rather stark: those who do not have the “mind of Christ” (2:16) or the
ethical impulses of the Spirit (6:1–20; ch.7) are sarcastically compared to
those who are “perfect.” Rather, this is an assertion about absurd self-promotion, where the flight of human narcissism has risen to disparate heights
of indulgence. Sanctification remains a telic ideal, and the lack of present
perfection in terms of holiness does not mitigate Paul’s ultimate desire for
ethical holiness in his communities and in our communities as well. Far
from it! The ones who have been entirely sanctified are contrasted with the
current world order; this world order is bound over to destruction.29
Paul uses several key nouns and verbs in 1 Corinthians ch.6–7. He
refers to the people he’s addressing as “saints” or “holy ones” (6:1–2, 19;
7:34: ἅγιος) in relation to their troubling behavior concerning lawsuits. This
entire display of the rich taking the poor to court is “shameful” (ἐντροπὴν:
6:5), and the lack of communal mutuality is placing the assembly at great
24. Thiselton, First Epistle, 191.
25. The temple in 1 Cor 3:15–17 is the body of Christ, the community of believers.
26. Indeed, the utter abolition of evil remains one of Paul’s more central apocalyptic
themes. The exercise of divine or secular sovereignty cannot co-exist with a God of holy
love. Hence, the fall of the sovereignties remains certain. This will be talked about later.
27. Paul’s use of τοῦ αἰῶνος suggests both the element of time (the present reality or
age) and the negative aspect of being under evil sovereignties: hence, my translations.
28. For a discussion about whether these are spiritual or secular powers (I believe
they are both), see Thiselton, First Epistle, 238–39.
29. Hays, First Corinthians, 43.
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risk. The wealthy members are wielding authority over the weak ones, and
Paul’s response is to severely criticize the people in positions of actualized power (6:9–10) with a stringent vice-list that indicts everyone. But as
John Wesley pointed out, “we may learn that we are never secure from the
greatest sins.”30 Paul’s rather cutting response to various people is to remind them of the work of God-in-Christ-through-the-Holy-Spirit in 6:11:
“and such were31 some of you: but you washed, but you were sanctified
(ἡγιάσθητε), but you were rectified (ἐδικαιώθητε) in the name of the Lord
Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”32 When Paul speaks additionally of
marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1–16, he highlights the mutual sanctification
at play in marriage between husband and wife (7:14): “for the unbelieving
husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by
the husband: therefore, your33 children would be unclean, but now they
are holy.” The perfect tense form of the verb ἡγίασται (“to sanctify”) is
exactly parallel between husband and wife, and Paul’s thoroughly radical
egalitarian contention is that both genders are agents of virtue and sanctification within marriage, and the holiness involved renders them as united to
Christ. Throughout 1 Corinthians 6–7 we see the various aspects of marital sex within Paul’s context as it relates to how women and men interact
in marriage by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and in prophecy.34
Hence, while 1 Corinthians contains a great deal of sarcasm and rhetorical
bite, Paul’s goal is the unity of a fractious church.
In 2 Corinthians, however, Paul’s general outlook is one of combative
despair over the conflict within his various assemblies that has bubbled
over the cauldron; his goal is ultimately reconciliation despite the schisms
that have erupted.35 Hence, “holiness” and “sanctification” have ceased to
30. Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 419.
31. The being verb “were” (ἦτε) refers to a past status or persona, where the desire
for sexual immorality and economic exploitation are removed.
32. All three verbs involved are in the aorist tense form, signifying an act that has
transferred or removed those formerly identified by this vice list and placed them into
the sanctifying presence of Christ and the Spirit of God.
33. The plural form of this pronoun refers to husband and wife in relation to marital
sanctification, and we will discuss its importance in ch. 4.
34. 1 Cor 14:20: “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your mindset. But in
evil [you] act as infants, but in your mindset be perfect (τέλειοι).” See also 1 Cor 13:10.
The contrast between evil actions/ways of thinking is seen in contrast with the “perfect,”
where the vision of holy love eradicates the necessity for evil and the desire for sinfulness.
35. Witherington III, Conflict and Community, 327–28.
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be about sex and marriage as in 1 Corinthians, and Paul’s second letter to
the “saints”36 in Corinth has a different emphasis. That is, Paul and his
various co-workers have endured immense suffering and persecution for
the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 6:4–6 Paul lays this out rather plainly:
“But in all things we demonstrate ourselves as God’s ministers: by
great perseverance, by afflictions, by hardships, by anguishing moments, by floggings, by imprisonments, by riots, by difficult work,
by lack of sleep, by famishment: in purity, in knowledge, in forbearance, in kindness—by the Holy Spirit in unpretentious love!”
Similarly, the witness of the various apostles in 2 Corinthians 1:12 is said to
be “in a lifestyle of holiness (ἁγιότητι) and sincerity for God, not in earthly
wisdom.” In both texts, we have the immanence of love as set above all
manner of oppression and degradation, without pause or stammer. The
life lived in holiness and sanctification is said to reflect “sincerity for God”
and a love that lacks pretense and hypocrisy (6:6). The impact of entire
sanctification presses upon us the value and necessity of seeking “unpretentious love” despite trials and agonies, where the thought of resistance to the
various gods, empires, and idols becomes encompassed in a boast of the
loving-kindness of the triune God. However, there is a problem: why has
the Holy Spirit been included in a list of human virtues in 6:6? I suspect the
answer is twofold. First, the use of the preposition ἐν (“in” or “by”) most
likely includes the notion of agency, and thus it should be understood as
“by the Holy Spirit.” Second, it is not uncommon for Paul to include the
Spirit in a discourse on ethical practice (Gal 5:18–23). The Holy Spirit, as
the one who guides and empowers the community of faith, is a fitting inclusion to the end of Paul’s sentence especially as it relates to unpretentious
love. It is because of all these things in these few verses that Paul can assert
the following in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
And he has said to me, “My gracious favor is sufficient for you, for
power is made perfect (τελεῖται) by weakness”—most gladly there
will I boast even more in my weakness so that the power of Christ
will dwell in me.
True power for Paul lies not in physical might or spectacular weapons of
war. True power is the subversive nature of God’s holy love actualized in
the brokenness of the human condition—a condition that rages against the
darkness with the vitality characteristic of the Holy Spirit of God. Power
36. 2 Cor 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:13. See also 13:21 for the “holy kiss.”
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is complete through what the cosmos deems as worthless and powerless.
God’s gracious favor remains the singular factor in Paul’s life. As Ben Witherington notes, God’s “grace was obviously strength to endure, not healing
grace.”37 The manifestation of God’s power in Paul’s life was that God did
not shield Paul from the realities of suffering; rather, God’s use of Paul despite Paul’s failings and agonies reminds us continually that God is at work
to empower us through our sufferings, that our weaknesses are going to
strengthen us with the teleological goal of union with Christ through our
sufferings. We, therefore, are to strive after and persevere toward a certain
teleological focal point (Rom 2:6–7), and this concept of Pauline perfectionism may be exemplified in 2 Corinthians 7:1, perhaps one the strongest
texts in favor of entire sanctification:
[Because] we have these promises, beloved ones, we should purify
ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness (ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην) in reverence for God.38
Two major points must be made when discussing this text. The phrase
“purify ourselves” (καθαρίσωμεν ἑαυτοὺς) suggests that this is an action
undertaken by the human person. In light of the evidence above where it
has been argued that Paul did not view the human person as a composite,
this phrase seems to press us toward understanding Paul as saying that the
human person, in response to God, has the moral responsibility and intellectual freedom to purify themselves before a holy God. Belleville notes,
“in the sphere of agriculture, καθαρίζω (‘to purify’) means ‘to prune away’
or ‘clear’ the ground of weeds . . . both Greek religion and Judaism placed
an emphasis on physical and ritual purity.”39 The active tense form of the
subjunctive, when combined with the reflexive ἑαυτοὺς, makes this abundantly clear: the human person is called to cleanse herself from anything
that defiles her.
The second point of sanctification centers on the participial phrase
ἐπιτελοῦντες40 ἁγιωσύνην ἐν φόβῳ θεοῦ. What does it mean to be “per37. Witherington, Conflict and Community, 462.
38. While some like Bultmann, Theology, 205, have argued that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is
a non-Pauline interpolation, many have not found this argument to be persuasive. See
Witherington, Conflict and Community, 402-4, who views the pericope as a “deliberate
digression” rather than interpolation. The textual evidence alone suggests that the pericope is likely original despite protestations to the contrary.
39. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, 184.
40. In Gal 3:3, Paul chides the Galatian church by asking them if they think they
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fecting holiness in reverence for God”? It seems rather obvious that this
phrase is centered on the work of the human person to be “perfecting” her
“sanctification,”41 something that strongly implies a free response of an assenting will. The compound verb ἐπιτελέω often refers to a “completed”
action or result, and this works nicely with the reciprocal language of Philippians 1:6 where Christ is “completing” or “perfecting” a “good work”
among the Philippian congregation. Christ is active in the lives of his active
people, no less so in Corinth. While the triune God is certainly involved
in purification elsewhere in the New Testament (see Heb 1:3 where Christ
is the one “making a cleansing for sins”), Paul’s language is quite clear and
forceful. The human person is enjoined to seek their purification in the
fear of God, and part of this process is the perfection of holiness in rejecting temple worship and cultic elements (see 2 Cor 6:14–18). Hence,
Paul believed that the human person was free and able to purify himself
or herself in seeking God, without respite or hesitation: sanctification is a
process begun in this life, with no clarifying word to suggest that this ends
upon the moment of death. Rather, the active tense form of the participle
ἐπιτελοῦντες confirms the opposite: in the scheme of “already/not yet,” this
perfection is actualized grammatically with the notion of a completed process that will ultimately be accomplished over time. The inclusion of “flesh
and spirit” (σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος) does not denote only the apocalyptic
reality of new creation, but the transformation of current reality where flesh
and spirit are rectified by God-in-Christ-by-the-Holy-Spirit in the present
world, with the purpose of spreading the hope of holiness in the midst of
a dying world. As John Wesley notes: flesh = outward sin; spirit = inward
sin.42 How this process looks according to 2 Corinthians 7:1 is relatively
simple, and I believe Ambrosiaster is correct when he says,
We do this [perfecting holiness] by pursuing the things which are
right in the fear of God and which are therefore holy, abstaining
from sins in the name of Christ. People who restrain themselves
from vices without professing Christ may seem to be set apart
have been fuller ἐπιτελεῖσθε (“perfected”). Rather than create a problem for my thesis, it
actually proves my point. Paul assumes the plausibility of perfection and insinuates that
the Galatian church has not reached this potential reality because of their desire to bring
back Torah.
41. Much has been written on the language of “holiness” (ἁγιωσύνην) already, but
from this context it is clear that while this noun is a gift from God, a gift given in a
patronage culture requires a response. See Barclay, Paul.
42. Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 460.
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58
according to the world but not according to the Spirit of God.
Only those who believe are made clean. Others, whatever they
may be like, remain unclean.43
Similarly, the early Christian witness in interpreting this verse corresponds
quite strongly to a perfectionist understanding—that is, the fear of God is
a compelling (though not coercive or deterministic) method that empowers humanity to perfect themselves through the witness of the Spirit. John
Chrysostom writes
For it is possible to perfect chasteness, not in the fear of God but
for vainglory. And along with this [Saint Paul] implies yet another
thing, by saying, “In the fear of God;” the manner, namely, whereafter holiness may be perfected. For if lust be even an imperious
thing, still if thou occupy its territory with the fear of God, thou
hast stayed its frenzy.44
However, Ralph Martin argues against a perfectionist reading of 2 Corinthians 7:1: He writes, “Paul appears to some readers to be promoting the
idea that the Corinthians are to obtain holiness by way of the observance
of cultic ordinances . . . but to take this position suggests what is being
advocated is instant holiness in this life. This is quite inconsistent with Paul
in other places (see Phil 3:12–15).”45
There are a number of issues with this rebuttal. First, Paul’s use of the
conjunction οὖν (“therefore, since”) in 7:1 presses us to consider the process
of God’s call: purification (contra defilement and idolatry) and cleansing
are in response to such malignant worship practices describes in chapter
6. That is to say, Paul’s response is already corrective to those who would
practice such things, as Paul would later argue in 2 Timothy 2:18–22. Specifically, the reflexive ἐκκαθάρῃ ἑαυτὸν in 2 Timothy 2:21 states that this
“cleansing” aspect of “sanctification” (ἡγιασμένον) is to be done by the person herself—that is, through the influence of the Spirit, but not through
force. We are told to “pursue” specific Christian attributes: rectification,
43. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles (CSEL 81.247).
44. Chrysostom, John. “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.” In Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, edited by Philip Schaff, translated
by J. Ashworth and Talbot B. Chambers, 345. Vol. 12. A Select Library of the Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. New York: Christian Literature
Company, 1889. My thanks to Pastor Austin Long for this citation.
45. Martin, 2 Corinthians, 210.
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59
faith, love, and peace (δίωκε δὲ δικαιοσύνην, πίστιν, ἀγάπην, εἰρήνην). The
abolition of our sinful passions (1 Tim 2:22) follows from the pursuit of
sanctification, affirming the idea of entire sanctification as a reality into
which all Christians are called to live. The human response is free, uncoerced, and divinely invited (2 Pet 1:4). To be in a state of “perfecting” holiness is to be in a place where the Holy Spirit is the chief operator in one’s
life: Paul assumes this pneumatic reality already in his discourses, and if the
assembly is gathered, the Spirit will do mighty works.
Second, and more importantly, no one is advocating what might be
called universal “instant holiness.” Far from it! This is a common misunderstanding of the doctrine of entire sanctification. John Wesley notably
accepted this nuance: “carrying [the perfecting aspect of holiness] to the
height in all its branches, and enduring to the end in the loving fear of God,
the sure foundation of all holiness.”46 Holiness may occur in an instantaneous moment, but more often than not, it is progressive and culminates
later. More specifically, the active tense form of the compound participle
contains the elements of actualization and continued participation in sanctification, and Martin seems to simply sidestep this issue. Third, Martin
assumes that Philippians 3:12–15 and 2 Corinthians 7:1 are at odds with
one another—an unnecessary interpretive move. Synergism is at play in
both where both God and the human person operate together.
Thus, the language of 2 Corinthians 7:1 (and elsewhere) is decisive
in summing up all that has been said so far: because the Holy Spirit is empowering the people of God, we can thus exercise our freed wills, having
become a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), perfecting our holiness in coordination with the work of God already begun. Hence, this theological axiom
covers both the anthropological dimension of the human person as formerly enslaved to sin, her need for liberation, and her continually working
out of God’s will and desire for her life. In a word, she is seeking the perfect
things of God by the power of the perfect God.47 The presence of sin in
the life of the Christian does not logically negate the future “perfection” of
her mind and heart in Christ within this lifetime. For the believer, the final
removal of sin from their life remains a struggle that most often does not
cease when they are called into the vocation of serving Jesus. Rather, and
46. Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 460.
47. Given the prominence in Paul’s triumphal discourse in 1 Cor 15:35–57 surrounding the future resurrection of the body, one can safely see a connection between
the present renewal of the human person as a somatic being and her future resurrection
into pneumatic perfection.
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often, it is a difficult process of seeking sanctification and holiness by the
Holy Spirit; sometimes, the walk through the valley of the shadow of death
is indeed filled with terrors and pain. But it is good. As Saint Basil said, “We
are instructed to marvel at the unspeakable benevolence of God in Christ
Jesus and with the greater fear to cleanse ourselves of every defilement of
the flesh and the spirit.”48
In Philippians, there are two specific texts that demand a close look
as they pertain to the thesis of this book: 1:6 and 3:12–15. Philippians 1:6
reads as, “And I am persuaded of this, that the one who has begun a good
work among you will perfect it at the day of Christ Jesus.” Concerning the
context, Stephen Fowl rightly suggests in relation to 1:6 that “the church is
a community which has a destiny, an end, or telos given by God.”49 On the
face of it, this verse suggests that God’s sovereignty is active in the lives of
believers (as the one working: ἐναρξάμενος) who have actively participated
(v. 5: κοινωνίᾳ and v.7: συγκοινωνούς) with Paul’s Gospel mission.50 God’s
activity is central to the perseverance of the saints. In Philippians 1:6, we
have this same compound verb (ἐπιτελέσει) where it is used to refer to the
active work of Christ in the life of the Christian. Moisés Silva notes “the tension that exists between the believers’ accountability for their own spiritual
conduct and their need to rely totally on God’s grace in order to meet that
obligation.”51 While Silva correctly notes that some will resist this language
as belonging to the realm of “systematic theology,”52 I would disagree
about the nature of “tension.” Paul in both Epistles is focused on the mutual
outworking of this process of perfection between Christians and Christ, a
process where Christ and the community are both striving together toward
the end. If one views Pauline perfection as a mutual process or trajectory
where both the triune God and the human person, through the work of her
faithful community, are striving toward the same goal, there is no tension,
especially if one includes the language of being “conformed” to the image
of the Son. Being conformed to the “image of God’s Son” in Romans 8:29
assumes a state of (present) glorification on the part of the resurrected and
48. Concerning Baptism (FC 9:374).
49. Fowl, Philippians, 25.
50. This includes the missional impulse on the gospel, but also God’s activity within
human beings as it relates to the proclamation of the gospel.
51. Silva, Philippians, 45.
52. Silva, Philippians, 45. I personally would not object to his analysis, as I think it
is coordinate with the language of Scripture and does not force a foreign category upon
Paul’s words.
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61
exalted Christ, along with being “conformed to Christ’s glorious body” in
Philippians 3:21. In both instances, Christ’s resurrection is the source of our
future resurrection, glorification, and sanctification, and the present reality
of transformation. This is confirmed by Paul’s use of the future active verb
μετασχηματίσει53 in Philippians 3:21, and potential echoes of this language
previously established in this Epistle.54 In 3:12–15 we have something a bit
different. The text reads:
12not that I have already attained this or have been perfected
(τετελείωμαι), but I pursue it to take it for myself, upon whom even
I was obtained by Christ. 13Brothers and sisters, I myself do not regard this as having been obtained: but one thing I know is that I
am forgetting what is behind and straining for what lies ahead. 14I
pursue toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in
Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, as many of us that are perfect (τέλειοι), let
us have this mindset,55 and if you think differently about anything,
God will unveil that to you also.
Martin sees the key verb in v. 12 as referring to “knowledge.”56 Gordon Fee suggests that the verb “carries the sense of having ‘been brought to completion,’”57
which is not excluded from the realm of Christian perfection by any means.
Paul’s use of the perfect tense form suggests that his faith and sufferings have
not yet resulted in his being perfected in Christ (3:9). The issue of separating
ethics from Paul’s own discourse here in Philippians suggests that Pauline interpreters are willing to overlook issues that Paul takes quite seriously. Being
“perfected” by means of suffering (3:11) means that Paul desires to be united
to Christ through suffering (3:10): the death of Christ is the ocean that we are
to dive into if we are to follow him (John 21:18–19). To remove ethics and the
moral demands of being in Christ from this entire discussion is unnecessary:
53. The symmetry or reciprocity of μετασχηματίσει and Christ’s subjection of all
things work together and needn’t be set in opposition to the other if one assumes a mutual outworking of these concepts.
54. Fee notes that these verbs “pick up the language of [Phil 2:6-8], where Christ,
who was in the ‘form’ (morphē) of God, assumed the ‘form’ of a slave in coming in the
‘likeness’ (schēma) of human beings.” See Fee, Paul’s Letter, 382. More likely, however,
is Paul’s closer thematic use of συμμορφιζόμενος τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτοῦ (“Being conformed/
formed with his death”) in Phil 3:10. The language assumes mutual participatory suffering on the part of the Philippian church, and does not exclude a mutual participation of
imitation of Christ.
55. Flemming, Philippians, 192, offers this translation.
56. Martin, Philippians, 206.
57. Fee, Paul’s Letter, 344.
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do we really believe Paul’s ethical standards were cast aside in this discussion?
Paul’s sense of the language is clear: he has not yet attained “perfection,” and
the interplay between Christ claiming Paul and Paul claiming Christ58 suggests synergism. Paul is not a passive object within God’s story; rather Paul is
an active agent at play in God’s mission, seeking the final goal and pressing
toward it, with the apocalyptic hope that he would attain it (3:11).
The lack of this “perfection” in 3:12 does not suggest that Paul did
not believe in being “perfected” by the Spirit. Rather, Paul never mitigates
or downplays the threat of passivity and apathy. The journey of faith is a
journey toward the telic Christ by the power of the Spirit, where union
with Christ is enfleshed and where all fear is cast asunder. As Flemming
has noted, the adjective τέλειοι (“perfect”) in 3:15 when used in the LXX
“can describe those whose hearts are wholly devoted to God (2 Kings 8:61;
11:4; 15:3; 20:3).”59 While this meaning is certainly to be included within
the realm of possibility, another element should be considered—that element being having the “mindset of Christ” (2:4–5), which includes ambition toward ethical praxis and the person being entirely united to Christ.
Sanctification, glorification, and the empowerment of the Spirit are hence
integrated together at this point, as we are conformed into Christ and his
faithfulness. The temporal reality of sin and the struggle against evil does
not mitigate the call toward entire sanctification; rather, the call is intensified as we respond through the work of the Holy Spirit against sin with
the goal to be united fully to Christ in holy love. The intense struggle of
sanctification is a progression into the apocalyptic unknown, where the
Spirit of God is active and moving despite any restrictions we may place
upon the Spirit.
Moving on to Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, we immediately see
something a bit different from the material we saw in Philippians. Christology of course plays a large part in the structure of Philippians, but the exegesis of certain sections of Colossians (1:28; 3:14; 4:12) must be centered on
perseverance and sanctification in a way that Philippians does not. Christ
is the one who is both Creator and sustainer of the cosmos (1:15–20), the
one who has reconciled all things to God (1:20–22) and has called the
church toward faithful persistence in Christ (1:23). These people were “at
one time hostile” (ποτε: 1:21), but in God’s new apocalyptic schema have
been reconciled and rectified in Christ (Rom 3:21–26). This is a present and
58. Flemming, Philippians, 184.
59. Flemming, Philippians, 193.
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established new order under the kingship of Christ; gone are the hostility
and evil deeds done in the past. The new humanity has been established in
Christ and through Christ.
Colossians 1:28 begins with an admonition toward all believers:
Him we proclaim, warning all people and teaching all people in all
wisdom, so that we might present all people as perfect (τέλειον) in
Christ.
The ESV renders τέλειον as “mature,” but this is imprecise and theologically
insufficient for Paul’s purpose here.60 Fundamental to Paul’s claim is the
invasive presence of Christ in the entire cosmic world and realm, including being operative with humanity and the church as their “head.” Christ’s
headship (κεφαλή) throughout Colossians (1:18; 2:10, 19) is rather explicit:
Christ is the “head” or “provision” of the body (1:18); head and body are
interdependent upon one another and cannot be separated. While “head”
(κεφαλή) can refer to “preeminence,”61 the explicit focus in Colossians is
on Christ as the Creator.62 Christ is also the “origin” of the various “sovereignties” (2:10) that were explicitly created by God-in-Christ in Colossians
1:16. More specifically, the somatic nature of the Christ-church relation
is exemplified in 2:19 where the human person must cling to the “head”
(κεφαλήν), which is the fountainhead of our “growth” (αὔξει). Christ’s headship, then, is not about Christ being portrayed as an authority, but rather as
the sustainer of the life of his church. Thus, for Colossians 1:28, we see that
the “perfection” of the human person is located within the “sphere” (ἐν) of
Christ by means of reconciliation and union with him. This is our apocalyptic “hope of glory” (δόξης; 1:27) where humanity struggles along with
the active and risen Christ (1:29) in order to be united fully and perfectly
to him. The telic ideal and reality of Christ’s reign involves our “bearing
good fruit” and “growing” in the knowledge of Christ (Col 1:10), which is
an explicitly ethical category. Similarly, Colossians 3:14 says that “love” is
the “bond that binds everything together in perfection (τελειότητος).” This
60. The use of ἵνα (“so that”) suggests a purpose clause, where the result of “admonishing/teaching” in all “wisdom” is that people would be “perfect” in Christ.” See Harris,
Colossians & Philemon, 73.
61. Eph 1:22.
62. Westfall, Paul and Gender, 80–84; Thiselton, First Epistle, 812–22 for the various
nuances. I, for one, think there one can interpret κεφαλή as meaning “preeminent” in
certain contexts (LXX) but “source” as a metaphor makes good sense of several of Paul’s
uses of the word.
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contains a serious ethical admonition toward all people, especially as this
“bond of perfection” is previously defined as “compassion, kindness,” and
so forth (3:12–13). This includes the “forgiveness of sins” (1:14), an assertion that is tied up with Christ’s apocalyptic emancipatory act of liberation.
Hence, Colossians 1:28 makes good sense in supporting the doctrine of
Christian perfection, especially when related to the “already/not yet” aspect of salvation within Colossians.63 Paul’s ethics are wrapped up in the
goal of transforming people into being “perfect” in Christ, and by Christ’s
vocational power and desire to reconcile all things together. Sin is to be
abolished by the Christocentric life. As Marianne Meye Thompson has eloquently said, “’perfect in Christ’ implies transformation into the likeness of
Christ, who is the image of God (1:15).”64 However, Scot McKnight argues
that τέλειον “does not point toward a rigid sense of sinlessness. Rather [the
term] combines conformity to the moral purity of God as taught by Jesus
and the apostles (Matt 5:48).”65 In response, it must be noted that these
two ideas (sinlessness vs. moral purity) are clearly not at odds with each
other.66 In Paul’s discourses on perfection he often explicitly talks about
ethics and sin (2 Cor 7:1) and clearly says that sin will have its final and irrevocable end eventually—but it is not at all certain that one’s sinful desires
are terminated at the resurrection. Rather, Paul seems to strongly suggest
the opposite. The nature of sanctification is the destruction of the “body
of sin” (metaphorically speaking) and the embrace of the holy life. This
is summed up under Paul’s theology of reconciliation (Col 1:19–20) as
the corrupt powers are stripped of their privilege and sovereignty (2:14).
Therefore, the notion of being confirmed to the sinlessness of Christ’s own
resurrected reality informs us of our calling and God’s desire: for us to be
fully like Christ, and this includes the destruction of the body of sin.
One of Paul’s final parting words in Colossians that is related to our
discussion can be found in 4:12:
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ, greets you. He is struggling always for you in prayer, so that you might stand perfect and
63. In some sense also, if one wanted to be rather cheeky one might argue that
Christian perfection is an element that might make the case for the Pauline authorship
of Colossians.
64. Thompson, Colossians & Philemon, 46.
65. McKnight, Epistle to Colossians, 202–3.
66. One also might sense an implicit critique of legalism in McKnight’s comments
here. This is a concern I share and one that I will attempt to respond to below.
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fully fulfilled (τέλειοι καὶ πεπληροφορημένοι) in the entire will of
God.
Similar to Colossians 1:28 is the “so that” (ἵνα) clause, with the goal of the
human person standing firm67 or strong in perfection and comprehensive
or complete “fulfillment.”68 The relationship between “perfect” and “fully
fulfilled” suggests a theological correspondence: being described as both
perfect and fully fulfilled is included within God’s will, for the purpose of
glorification. The completeness of a person in Christ means the full measure of holiness has overflowed in their life. The language of “fulfillment”
throughout Colossians refers to human fulfillment in knowledge (Col 1:9;
2:10), the God-Christ relationship (1:19), and Christ’s own bodily incarnation of deity (2:9).69 Here, God’s will is acting with Epaphras’ prayers for
those in Colossae for their perfection despite the various opponents. The
hope of glory for us is that God would entirely sanctify us from our sins
and that God might beckon us into perfect union with him. The presentation of humanity before God as “perfect and fully fulfilled” suggests that
this reality is not confined to the eschaton but is to be made manifest now.
Christ’s presence and work are not limited to the end of all things; rather,
God is active through God’s word, for us and for our salvation. Epaphras’
own struggle is magnified in our struggle as the people of God, to present
our lives to God—not because of our works but because of our vocation
in serving the God of the universe. Those who are in Christ are already
participating in what God has called them to and their sanctification is set
in motion: “perfect, endued with every Christian grace.”70 The penultimate
goal of God’s work in Christ is to liberate us from sin and bondage to decay;
sanctification thus becomes an enabling agent through prevenient grace71
67. Paul’s use of the aorist transitive verb “might stand” (σταθῆτε) means that there is
no direct object for the verb.
68. The goal of sanctification and “standing firm” (στηρίξαι) in 1 Thess 3:13 means
that the person is “blameless in holiness,” where purification has resulted in the person
being set free from the power and sphere of sin.
69. This verse is not merely describing the representation of “Deity/divinity” (τῆς
θεότητος), as in Jesus was representing deity by being human. It is an assertion of Christ’s
own preexistence described in Col 1:14–20 and given full force in 2:9, where the humanness of Christ and the divinity of Christ are seen as complementary images that paint a
holistic Christological portrait.
70. Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 524.
71. For a biblical and theological case for prevenient grace, see Shelton, Prevenient
Grace.
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to empower people to live the life God has gifted to them. In Paul’s concluding benediction (peroratio) to the Thessalonian assembly (1 Thess 5:23), we
have these words written for us:
And may he, the God of peace, sanctify you entirely (ἁγιάσαι . . .
ὁλοτελεῖς) and may your whole72 (ὁλόκληρον) spirit and person73
and body be preserved as blameless in the coming of our Lord
Jesus Christ.
Several things must be noted within this short verse. First, God is the agent
here, but God is not to be separated from the work of Jesus. Both are involved in the apocalyptic reality of deliverance from sin. Second, the hapax
legomena adjective ὁλοτελεῖς is a compound of ὅλος (“whole, all”) and τέλος
(“goal, end”). BDAG 4559 defines the compound as “‘meeting a high standard of perfection’, perfect in every way.” The importance of this verse is that
it comes directly after Paul’s explicit call to “keep away from every form of
evil” (1 Thess 5:22)—hence the whole issue of entire sanctification centers
on the rejection of sin (1 Thess 2:10). Paul’s use of the verb ἁγιάσαι reflects
the LXX use of the term: the sanctification of a holy mountain or a place of
sacred architecture (Exod 19:23; 2 Chr 2:3), an animal sacrifice (Exod 29:1,
33, 36) and even with respect to God (Num 20:12; 27:14). First Esdras 1:3
speaks of temple servants “sanctifying themselves” (ἁγιάσαι) before God as
well, which is similar to 1 Thess 5:23, although Paul’s Epistle lacks the overt
cultic connotations.
We are to be “without blame” (ἀμέμπτως) in what God has called us
to be: a people set apart and dedicated solely to God. This verse explicitly
affirms God’s work—not merely the human process—in our sanctification,
and the entirety of the sanctifying process is not to be pressed entirely into
the future. Rather, the aorist tense form suggests that this is a process that
has already begun and will continue,74 and I see no reason why this sanctifying process will terminate only and exclusively within the eschatological
new creation. The present call is a call for all people to participate now in
what God has done and what God is doing. The apocalyptic reality of God’s
72. “The word signifies wholly and perfectly; every part and all that concerns you; all
that is of, or about you.” Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 532.
73. As we saw above, Paul’s use of “soul” (ἡ ψυχὴ) more likely corresponds to the idea
of “person” or “vitality” as opposed to the idea of an immortal immaterial soul.
74. “This text suggests they are involved in the process of sanctification by virtue of
what they do or do not do. For this reason we must interpret the aorist opative ἁγιάσαι as
embracing the whole process,” Wanamaker, Epistles, 206.
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invasive work for fallen humanity is a conclusive demonstration of God’s
kindness in Christ: sanctification is the catalyst for the life of holiness and
the Holy Spirit is the agent who presses us into full unity with the triune
God and with one another.
3.3: Baptism & Perfection
A major theme that is vital to the doctrine of entire sanctification is the
sacrament of baptism. The Gospel of Matthew speaks of “baptism” leading
to the “confessing of sins” (Matt 3:6). Related to baptism act is the need
for the confession of sins and the life of holy love: the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11). The Spirit and Jesus Christ are distinct but not inseparable as the means of baptism in the life of the believer. Baptism “into
Christ” is a baptism into his life and death (Rom 6:3–4; Gal 3:27; Col 2:12),
and the Spirit is the source of our spiritual vitality and giftedness (1 Cor
12:13). Baptism is the well from which the doctrine of entire sanctification
drinks. Perhaps the most succinct statement is the creedal formulation in
Ephesians 4:5: “one Lord, one Spirit, one baptism.” When the one who professes allegiance to Christ operates by faith in what God is doing in their life
(Col 2:12), sanctification begins: as we are immersed into Christ’s death, we
are raised by the power of God. Baptism is the means by which a person
is pressed into the depths of death and given new life in the Spirit as she is
drawn and clothed in Christ. Baptism leads to the death of the self to sin
and the emergence of new life. Thus, the road of sanctification has begun
through immersion and emergence into the new life of the Spirit.
3:4: Conclusion: Paul’s Apocalyptic Vision of Perfection
For many years I have preached, ‘there is a love of God that casts
out all sin.’ Convince me that this word has fallen to the ground,
that in twenty years none has attained this love, that there is
no living witness of it at this day, and I will preach it no more.
—John Wesley75
Here we see the threads from above (Christology and anthropology) come
together. Christ as the perfect one, the preexistent and eternal Son, is the one
who leaped into the realm of the forsaken and the enslaved. The imperfect,
75. Outler, John Wesley, 298.
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68
the wretched, the incarcerated are reckoned as righteous and rectified by
his work. The material world order, with our bodies, is seen for what it is:
enslavement and disempowerment and dehumanization. The notion of the
immortality of the human soul is a prerogative that must be questioned, but
not dismissed outright due to its pride of place within the Christian tradition.76 The immortal God became mortal for us, and those who are mortal
will be made immortal by his power in the end. The distinction between the
immortal God and mortal humanity is a necessary distinction that must be
made in order not to collapse eschatology entirely into the present. Entire
sanctification is apocalyptic; the resurrection unto immortality and glory
is eschatological. Immortality is a gift contained within the very nature of
God and this gift is only granted in the eschatological sense to those who
have participated in God’s vocation of holy love and allegiance. Hence, the
reason we ought to conceive of Paul’s anthropology in material terms is to
maintain the distinction between the Creator and the created order. Creation is marred by catastrophe and violence, whereas God is sinless and
without blemish, and this distinction must be made as we continue on in
our exploration of the doctrine of entire sanctification. The call into unity
with Christ calls us to envision the power of God through the Holy Spirit as
being that which attests to our transformation.
As we have seen above, several key texts seem to directly assert that
“perfection” in terms of sanctification is attainable in this life (2 Cor 7:1),
and other texts strongly imply it (Col 1:28; 4:12; Phil 3:12–15; Rom 12:2;
15:16). It also seems that large parts of Paul’s theology, particularly his eschatology and ethical stances, presuppose the perfective work of the Spirit;
Paul’s robust pneumatology presses directly against the notion that the
Spirit is incapable of empowering people toward perfection before their
death. The doctrine of Christian perfection also lies behind all of Paul’s
ethical injunctions to his various assemblies: the abandonment of sin is the
ultimate goal, to present people as being liberated entirely from the power
of sin and finally death (1 Cor 15:24–26). The biblical theme of emancipation from sin and enslavement is woven in the narrative of Scripture, and
the consequence of entire sanctification—for the purpose of empowering
others to live into Christ—is a likely pneumatic reality.
For all Christians, the ultimate goal is to be united entirely to Christ
without hesitation or partiality. Within the sphere of the human agent operating in the sphere of God’s calling and prevenient grace, the hope of
76. See 5.3 below.
the perfection of our faithful wills
69
glory is exercising persuasion upon people, beckoning them to God-inChrist. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the person is freed to respond to
God’s initiating call upon them, and the people who yield and freely unite
themselves to God will be sanctified. The call of holiness is not merely the
journey through the dark valley of the soul; rather, the call to holiness is
not to be reserved for one’s self. For those who are struggling with what
God has called them to be, there is hope. Christ’s own life—modeled in his
healings, his kindness, his subversive grace, and his sacrificial death—is
our life to live in faithful allegiance. The Christian life is a call to holiness,
unreserved in our love for God and neighbor, cooperating with the Spirit
to be the people whom God desires us to be. We are to reject the vision
the world asserts as providing moral and spiritual satisfaction. Rather, our
satisfaction is to be grounded in Christ through the Spirit, and this means
a life lived in active rebellion against sin and all that entails the life of the
world. Entire sanctification, for Paul, is an apocalyptic assault against the
worldliness and licentiousness and oppressiveness that encapsulated the
Roman Empire and the empires of today. Holiness is God’s weapon to wield
against what enslaves humanity, and Paul’s call to holiness is a call to arms.
The next two chapters of this work will focus on two test cases: specifically, the question of sex and marriage and the question about eschatology,
and how entire sanctification impacts both issues in light of what we have
seen above. For those who are in Christ and living by the Spirit, we will see
how marriage and the future break into our present reality.

 

2 Comments

  • Reply July 25, 2020

    Varnel Watson

    Jesse Morrell you will find this one interesting Thank you Nick Quient for allowing as to share with the group

  • Reply July 25, 2020

    Varnel Watson

    RichardAnna Boyce WHAT Repentance = 180 degree turn ? Do you even know how much of a turn is 180 or do you just do 360? Didnt know you now converted to believe repentance too

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