Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Christian Perfection

I have begun work on my paper on Methodism, which consist of a 3-part paper: (1) Wesley’s Doctrine of Sanctification, (2) his methods to promote Christian holiness and (3) how it can be applied in our church today.

The doctrine of Entire Sanctification is the most distinctive aspect of Wesleyan theology and to begin with I was not sure if I even agree with it. I am doing quite a bit of reading and I am beginning to understand where Wesley is coming from. His understanding of Christian perfection is not one of absolute perfection but almost an antithesis of imperfect perfection, so to speak. He kept firmly to the doctrine of original sin and total depravity. He posits that a person is either a “whole Christian” or not a Christian at all. It is this perfection of a “whole Christian” that he is trying to explain – that a Christian is “perfect” in relation to his personal relationship with Christ, who is the Light of the world. Apart from Christ, there is darkness.

I know it is not easy to understand Christian perfection in this imperfect and fallen world. Even Wesley admits that “there is scarce any expression in Holy Writ which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whosoever preaches perfection (as the phrase is,) that is, asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican” (Wesley, Sermon 40, Christian Perfection, 1872). But if it is understood in relation to Christ, we can be holy as He is holy: to live a life that is dependent on His grace, in an unbroken conscious relationship with Christ, in an absolute conformity to the perfect will of God that there is a necessity for the Christian who is perfect in relation to Christ, to confess our sins and grow in grace.

In a sense, it is perfect but not perfect – here but not yet.



  1. This is interesting. I am very interested to know how Wesley's Doctrine of Sanctification is applied to the church today.

  2. Yes, Pearlie, could you put in the next blog re Alex's question. I need some points for that part too! Better still mail me where to get the source for that!

  3. Alex,
    Have not thought about that yet -- will let you in when I do :)

  4. Chee Ling,
    We join our brains together lar ... then bigger lor ... :D

  5. In the simplest of terms, I relate 'perfection' to 'completion'. We have (already)been made complete in Christ - yet it is still our task to 'work out' this completion until we are united with Him. I think we do this by 'abiding in Him' (John 15).

    "Life is in the Son"

  6. Ken,
    Yes, completion it is. I find in Scripture quite a bit of paradoxes - perfect but imperfect, here but not yet, burden but light, yoke but easy.

    Also interestingly, I am reading "Exploring Protestant Traditions", where one of the branches of Pentecostalism, which branched out from Methodism has this one group called the Finished Work Pentecostalism.

  7. There is no such thing as perfect except the word.The flesh is weak and we become perfect in spirit by the grace of God.

  8. Elizabeth,
    Thanks for you thought. Yes that is my take as well -- in ourselves, we can and never will be perfect -- only by the grace of God.