In 1777, John Wesley published a short work entitled A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. In it, Wesley gave a synopsis of his teaching on the subject of Christian perfection or — as it is known today — entire sanctification. The Church of the Nazarene is a denomination which comes from a Wesleyan tradition, so as a theology student and perhaps a future pastor understanding this doctrine is a must.

What did Wesley mean by Christian perfection? He summarized it as,

“nothing higher and nothing lower than this,–the pure love of God and man; the loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions.”

The direct simplicity of this is astounding: Christian perfection is simply love. For this reason, some refer to Christian perfection as perfect love.

The idea is that once someone has committed their life to Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit in their life begins a gradual process of transforming them to become more like Christ Himself. Day by day, the Christian is being perfected, in a process known as sanctification. As one continually pursues God, a condition is reached in which love rules one’s actions, mood, and words … as Wesley put it, “governing the heart and life.” When the motivation for all that one does is love, that is perfection. This does not in any sense mean that a Christian is done growing; in fact, a mature Christian will continue to improve at loving God and loving others as the Holy Spirit works in their life.

Christian perfection does not mean becoming perfect in the sense of being without flaw. Only God is flawless. John Wesley himself was quite clear that this was not the case, addressing this as part a series of questions and answers within A Plain Account …

Q. Do you affirm, that this perfection excludes all infirmities, ignorance, and mistake?

A. I continually affirm quite the contrary, and always have done so.

 To recap, entire sanctification refers to a Christian having reached a state in which the work of the Holy Spirit has transformed one to the point in which love motivates everything one does. I’ll be writing more posts on this subject, addressing some nuances of this doctrine, as well as discussing some common misunderstandings regarding it. Until then, I invite you to join me in a prayer that God might fill us with perfect love.

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