In my previous post, I began to examine John Wesley’s teachings from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Having established a base understanding of  entire sanctification as a state in which love rules a Christians heart and life, it’s time to address a major misconception that many people hold about the doctrine, which I touched on briefly in part one: Christian perfection does not mean one is perfect.

I realize that sounds a bit odd, so I’ll expound. As I stated in part one, the entirely sanctified Christian is not perfect in the sense of being without flaw. Entire sanctification does not mean the Christian lives without sin. Wesley himself rejected the idea that anyone could have such a sinless existence. He very carefully defined sin.

“Not only sin, properly so called (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law), but sin, improperly so called (that is, an involuntary transgression of a Divine law, known or unknown), needs atoning blood…Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself.”  — John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection

Close attention needs to be paid to Wesley’s definitions. He painstakingly distinguished between two types of sin, perhaps mindful that many people would call any misbehavior sin. Wesley, on the other hand, characterizes sin as an intentional action which goes contrary to God; i.e. “a voluntary transgression of a true known law.” If the action was unknowing or involuntary, Wesley did not believe it could be correctly labeled as sin.

Christians who have achieved entire sanctification —  who are filled with and motivated by love — will still be capable of making mistakes, but Wesley taught that such errors were not sin if indeed love was the guiding standard.

“all men are liable to mistake, and that in practice as well as in judgment.  But they do not know, or do not observe, that it is not sin, if love is the sole principle of action.”

I would like to say that it gives me great comfort to know that if the choices I have made in life (and I stress if )have been instigated by love, then I have not sinned in the sense in which Wesley defines sin. Yet it doesn’t really give me much comfort, because my mistakes can and do haunt me as much as they do anyone else. Wesley addressed this problem as well:

“For neither love nor the ‘unction of the Holy One’ makes us infallible; therefore, through unavoidable defects of understanding, we cannot but mistake in many things.  And these mistakes will frequently occasion something wrong, both in our temper, and words, and actions….The holiest of men still need Christ, as their Prophet…they still need Christ as their King…they still need Christ as their Priest… Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ.”

I’m captivated by one phrase here: “The holiest of men still need Christ.”    This is something that does comfort me, reminding me humbly that I will never attain Christian perfection without Christ, and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit He placed within me that causes me to grow slowly but surely. It reminds me that although I may stumble and fall (and I’ve done so many times), that Christ empowers each of us to stand up, brush off the dust of our mistakes, and begin anew. Wesley attributed the inevitability of such falls to the sin which is within each of us, Christian or not, which the blood of Jesus overcomes.

“But even these souls [who are filled with perfect love] dwell in a shattered body, and are so pressed down thereby, that they cannot always exert themselves as they would, by thinking, speaking, and acting, precisely right…yet as even in this case, there is not a full conformity to the perfect law, so the most perfect do, on this very account, need the blood of atonement, and may properly for themselves, as well as for their brethren, say, “forgive us our trespasses.”

 

Amen to that, eh?

 

Advertisements