It is difficult to teach something that one does not feel she has a good grip on in her own thinking about it. I have generally been taught and have understood “justification” as occurring at a moment in time, an event, defined by the decision to trust in Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the Lord extends to us the same son of God adoption as heirs of the Kingdom with Christ. We ARE saved.
Sanctification, as I have understood it, is a more time-related process that begins at the moment of justification and continues as we are being, as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “wholly sanctified by the God of peace, and our whole spirit, soul, and body preserved blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ARE BEING saved.
Also, as noted in Philippians 1:6 , “…confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will not fail to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We ARE CONTINUALLY BEING saved.
For the sake of accuracy and to reflect the way in which I visualize how the sanctification process occurs, I always refer to this process in the same order as Paul does in this 1 Thessalonians verse, “spirit, soul, and body” rather than according to the world’s way of prioritizing the components of our humanity– body, soul, and spirit. Naturally, those most familiar with life in the flesh are prone to regard the body first (and all the attendant accoutrements of life in the material realm.) Only then does the world consider the soul and finally, oh by the way, if it is your cup of tea, the spirit.
For some the two aspects of salvation, event (justification) and process (sanctification), appear to occur almost simultaneously. For others their confidence in their justification before God happens first, then their “flesh” must be constantly brought into submission again and again as they struggle with the process of becoming sanctified. The first event, or surrender, we refer to as victory over the penalty of sin, which is death. There is only the one physical death which man has feared, but Christ’s victory on the cross made that immaterial by rising from the dead, ascending into an eternal heaven, and leading the way for all of us to do the same in time. That victory was accomplished as an event in a moment in time. Jesus himself said, “It is finished,” and nothing can change that. All an individual has to do is believe in him and it is granted immediately by God.
The second process we refer to as victory over the power of sin in our lives may require sequential attempts at victory over the same temptation or multiple victories (or multiple surrenders of differing aspects of our lives) as we encounter a variety of temptations and are strengthened in our faith, learning how to defeat the Enemy through various means – guarding our hearts through healthy boundaries, taking thoughts captive through transformation of our minds, and using the ultimate tool that God makes available as a means to overcome the Enemy, God’s Word.
I found Wesley’s succinct definition of Christian Perfection on page 7 of our Perfect Love book a bit confusing.
- That Christian perfection is that love of God and our neighbor, which implies deliverance from all sin.
- That it is received merely by faith.
- That is given instantaneously, in one moment.
- That we are to expect it, not at death, but EVERY moment; that now is the accepted time, now is the day of this salvation.
The only way I can understand this is that Christian perfection is evidenced by the way in which we express love, which is to be “perfect love”, i.e. that which is like God’s agape love- selfless, sacrificial, generous, unconditional, arising from pure motives, and always seeking God’s best for the object of our love, not fulfillment of our own desires. There is nothing we can do to earn or merit the presence of this Christian perfection. It is a gift of faith. It, like justification, is received instantaneously. But the phrase “in one moment” seems at odds with the next part which says to expect it in “EVERY moment”, as well. That implies that it both arrives in an instant AND is ongoing, like the endless stream of living water that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman at the well…. We are sanctified, we are being sanctified and we will continue to be sanctified (sanctified AND preserved as holy) in each moment as long as we continue on this earth. It’s like everything else in the Christian life seems to be, not either/or but both/and, is/is becoming. The moment we receive Christ, it is as though justification is being applied from the outside to us by Christ’s righteousness being “reckoned unto us” as our own. But then we receive also the refining work of the Holy Spirit in our spirit and it is accomplished as the “second work” of salvation, that operates from the inside out. Christian perfection then, is both “finished” and is also just begun, as the refining work moves from our spirit to our soul and to our body, too, from the inside out. But since God, having begun the work, will not fail to complete it, it is already a done deal, as far as God is concerned, that will be increasingly observed in us as the potential, which was a word Kevin Watson used, is realized through opportunities to exercise love occur moment by moment in our lives.