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Usually a book ends with a summary chapter. This book starts with the summary. The hope is that the reader will see where the book is headed. This summary chapter uses a question-and-answer approach which was John Wesley's specialty.
Q: What is holiness?
A: Holiness is loving God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving my neighbor as myself. Simply put, holiness is Christlikeness. Holiness is not an "it" as in "have you got it?" It is Him I need. In Him I find purity, power, and obedience. Jesus Christ himself is the definition of holiness. He loved His Father and His neighbor perfectly-and thus was able to obey the Father perfectly. Love and obedience-one springs from the other. Holiness is perfect love.
Q: Isn't holiness just a goal for all Christians to pursue? Is it possible for a Christian actually to become perfect in love and obedience?
A: True, holiness is a goal, but it is an attainable goal for humans, not some pie-in-the-sky dream. In fact, God commands us to be perfect-as He Himself is perfect. What kind of father would demand something of his children that was impossible? How cruel! God is a better father than that. He callsus to holiness, then helps us become holy.
The message of personal holiness is radically optimistic-possibility thinking applied to spiritual growth. This idea marches into the midst of our pessimistic age with positive news. You can become all you were meant to be. You really can love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, being, and strength. You actually can love your neighbor as you love yourself. You really can walk in obedience to God's known commands. You are not stuck with an endless cycle of defeat in your Christian life. Holiness is possible in this life!
Certainly holiness is, or at least should be, the goal of every believer. But it is more than some unreal, far-off, unreachable goal. It is an attainable, present-day experience. It may not be common. Holy living may not be average. But it is possible. With God, all things are possible. God commands us, "Be holy." Won't He also provide the means for our becoming what He has commanded us to be?
Q: How, then, do we become holy? A: We become holy-Christlike-through sanctification. Sanctification is everything God does in us to make us more Christlike. Everything. Our sanctification begins at conversion, progresses as we grow in grace, leads us to the point of entire sanctification, and then continues beyond that point-until the day we die, perhaps even beyond. Sanctification is God's Spirit at work in our mind, soul, spirit, body-our entire life-changing and renewing our desires, thoughts, interests, attitudes, and behaviors. Sanctification is how God transforms us into His Son's likeness. It is God's grace-His action-in us that makes us more like Christ. Given our cooperation, sanctification will change the erring sinner that we are into the likeness of His perfect Son. This is the optimistic hope God gives us.
God commands us to be holy. But with His command, He offers the grace of sanctification, which, in both gradual and instantaneous ways, transforms us into an image of Christ.
Q: When does sanctification begin?
A: Sanctification begins the moment you accept Christ into your life. Remember, sanctification is all of God's inner work in you that transforms you into Christlikeness. For most people, the greatest leap toward Christlikeness happens when they are converted. This first great leap is called initial sanctification. It occurs when we are saved or born again. This is the beginning of God's continuing work of transforming us into Christlikeness.
Q: Does a person really need anything more than this?
A: Yes. God, who has begun a good work in us (initial sanctification), wants to continue it-even bring it to completion. So God continues to perform His work of sanctification in us gradually, day by day, making us more like Jesus. When we accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit helped us to want to be like Jesus. This new desire to be Christlike steadily draws us toward right thoughts, attitudes, values, associations, and activities.
But all too soon, we discover that our old drives and desires are not completely gone. We find in us a craving for some of the activities, thoughts, and attitudes of our old life.
So, we begin a struggle. Usually, we side with our new desire; we choose to speak or think the way Christ wants us to. But occasionally -perhaps even often-we vote with our old desire and find ourselves saying, doing, or thinking something we know is wrong. We are frustrated. We feel guilty. We repent and promise God we'll do better.
Progress during this period is often painfully slow. We may, at times, resist the Lord as often as we submit to Him. But we want very much to please Christ. And as we gradually yield areas of our life to Him, He moves in and we become overcomers, at least in those particular areas. When we examine large blocks of time, say a year or more, we can see that gradual spiritual growth has occurred. There may be many ups and downs. In fact, the downs can at times take us dangerously near our old life.
But the Holy Spirit helps us. And we increasingly choose with our new nature in Christ and die to the deeds of the old life. Periodically we are made painfully aware that our old nature still causes us to veer off in disobedience to God at times. We may especially have difficulty with secret, inward problems like stubbornness, lustful thoughts, self-will, sinful anger, bitterness, and selfishness. But as we grow closer to Christ, we can see progress, even though it is often not as much progress as we wished for.
What is happening to us? We are experiencing progressive sanctification-God's daily work in our life, bringing our thoughts, values, attitudes, habits, and activities into conformity with Christ's example. Our leap toward Christlikeness at conversion, or initial sanctification, did not end our need to grow. After being saved we will continue to experience a gradual work of sanctification: progressive sanctification.
Q: Don't most average Christians struggle like this all their lives?
A: Yes, many Christians do. In fact, most believers-even many in the so-called holiness churches-seem content to be "average." But the Bible clearly calls believers to more than an average commitment. We are repeatedly called to radical Christlikeness-a walk that is far above the average Christian walk.
The truth is that many Christians continue to struggle with mixed desires all of their lives. The Bible promises victory-even over the times of struggle with our old desires. It provides hope for complete victory. While this walk with God is possible for all, is not in any sense the average Christian walk. But it is for everybody. For this reason, the message of holiness is for average or ordinary people. It is, to them, great news.
If you continually consecrate areas of your life to God, you will grow in grace and gradually gain victory. At first, you may wrestle with powerful old desires, sometimes losing the battle. Then, as you commit more and more of your life to the Lord, new strength comes to suppress these unchristlike desires. You may even reach a point where there are long periods of peace and victory. It might seem like the old nature has been smothered to death. But then-just when you figure you've got it beaten forever-the old sinful nature roars back into control. Now you realize you are still inclined to disobey at times. There is another drive in your heart, and it is at war with your new nature.
So, the Christian continues to grow closer to Jesus Christ as she cooperates with God, who performs progressive sanctification. Even though this Christian is a "new creation" in Christ, she is still bewildered by occasional, or even frequent, drives and desires from his old self. These are contrary to God's will. True, many believers continue this way for years or even until the end of their lives. But it doesn't have to be that way.
We cannot deny the fact that a believer experiences a process of sanctification-perhaps for many years or even for a lifetime. Progressive sanctification is clearly taught in the Bible. But Scripture also clearly teaches that this struggle need not continue forever. God can, with our cooperation and faith, shorten His work and accomplish in a moment what may normally be the work of many years. Becoming converted is a work of God's grace in our life which is to continue until completion in entire sanctification.
Q: Most Christians understand initial sanctification and progressive sanctification, but what does it mean to be entirely sanctified?
A: When you become a Christian, you take a giant leap toward Christlikeness, which we have called initial sanctification. As you grow in grace, you will gradually kill off the deeds of the old life, putting on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is called progressive sanctification.
After months or years of this progressive growth, you will likely come to a new place-a point of decision.
What is this decision? The decision is whether or not to go on. Now you know that God wants everything-all of your life, offered to Him as a living sacrifice. No longer can you cast the Lord a tidbit of consecration now and then to satisfy His demands. God wants it all-your thoughts, time, talents, future, money, associations, hopes, possessions, reputation, habits, likes, and actions-everything! God wants it all. Give Him an inch and He'll ask for a mile! You can no longer hold back a secret sin, prized possession, or reserved habit. God wants to enter those private places in your life. Those areas where you have posted "no trespassing" signs. God wants to hear from you, "I'm Yours, Lord-everything I am ... everything I've got. I'm Yours, Lord." He wants you to say, "I surrender all." You come to a point where you must either go on or pull off the road and rest. He is calling you to complete consecration.
Now you are sick of part-time victory. You sense there is hope. Hope that there actually is power from God to enable you to overcome sin-all premeditated sin. So what do you do? You do what you are hungering to do. You place everything into God's hands, making a complete consecration of "all to Jesus." You hold nothing back. You make a total consecration. As a once-and-for-all matter. Your intentions are clear. You have decided to completely obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, whatever the cost. Your commitment is that from now on, you will obey the Lord. Every time. All the time. Not in your own power, but in God's power-the power He has promised you. You will go anywhere, say anything, do whatever God wants. No matter what people think. No matter what price you will have to pay. You are now 100 percent committed to Jesus Christ, as Lord. Your new daily prayer is, "Not my will, but Yours be done."
What does God do when you make such a complete offering as this? He accepts it. Immediately! Some struggle in their endless search for entire sanctification not because they must persuade God to give something He wants to withhold; rather, these seeking people are struggling with themselves about giving their all to God. It is the surrender that takes time, not the receiving of the surrendered life. God is in the business of accepting offerings consecrated to Him. If you put your all on the altar, God will accept your consecration.
What will God do with a totally consecrated man or woman? In response to your total surrender, God, through His Holy Spirit, will rush into the very center of your life. He will fill you with His Spirit. He will perform a major spiritual miracle. When you were saved, you received all of the Holy Spirit. But now the Holy Spirit receives all of you. The results are dramatic. This is entire sanctification. God completely and entirely fills you with His Spirit. God becomes your center-your whole life.
The Holy Spirit will now move into all areas of your fully consecrated life. You can consecrate all to God. God will then sanctify all of you in response. Once you surrender your all to God, He is unhindered by your internal resistance. God is free to perform a radical, internal cleansing and unleashing of spiritual power.
How will you know? The most noticeable result will be in the areas of desire and commitment. You might remember how, before you were saved, your life was largely dominated by a desire to please yourself. You lived for yourself and were, generally speaking, selfishly motivated. You might have been a nice-looking person, but inside you were dominated by sin. Sin had control of you. Perhaps you might recall how as a growing believer you struggled with two conflicting desires-sometimes wanting to please God, sometimes wanting to sin, often wanting both. But now you discover something new: a single desire dominates your heart-a powerful single-minded desire to be Christlike. Your consuming passion is to obey Christ. This is what you want with all your heart. You want to be holy. Christlike. You have a fresh hunger and thirst for holiness. You want to say the right words, think the right thoughts, do the right deeds. Your "drivenness" to disobey is gone. Your old nature no longer has such power over you. You want nothing more than to please God. Your heart is now filled with a fresh baptism of love-love for God and others. And since obedience springs from love, you now want only to obey Christ because you love Him so. Sure, you will still face temptation-Jesus faced temptation. Yet, like Christ, your will is already set. You are now personally committed and Spirit-enabled to live in obedience.
While your performance may still be less than perfect, your heart is totally perfected in love. Your commitment is complete. Your heart is magnetized toward Jesus Christ. Rebellion is gone. Your battle of conflicting desires has ended. Only one desire fills your heart and mind. You are now a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
If you have experienced this second work of God's grace (or more properly, the second half of the first work) you will find new power for service. You will now be used for God's work in new and more powerful ways. After all, God's plan isn't to bottle you up and place you on the shelf as a holy exhibit to be admired by others. God wants to use you in His work. Entire sanctification is always for service, not for show. The path to holiness always leads to the world and God's work there. What is God's work in the world? Bringing sinners to repentance and helping believers grow in Christlikeness.
Excerpted from Holiness for Ordinary People by Keith Drury Copyright © 2004 by Wesleyan Publishing House. Excerpted by permission.
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