As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Holiness is a central tenet of Nazarene theology. However, there have been misconceptions about holiness and what it means in the lives of believers for many years. In many of his writings and sermons, John Wesley found himself clarifying what is and is not meant when we use words like “holiness” or “entire sanctification.”
Wesley particularly emphasized holiness in terms of Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” This passage allowed Wesley to explain to critics and to supporters alike that holiness was not about legalism—working our way toward God’s love and approval—since, according to Paul, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.”
It further allowed Wesley to emphasize that the faith by which we are saved “expresses itself” through our ongoing actions and reactions that are filled with the love of Jesus Christ as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
This is the essence of an ongoing relationship with God and therefore the essence of holiness.
We still believe this to be the case today. In fact, following what we see as the pattern of the entire Bible, we profess that we believe in this relationship with God often called “holiness” or “entire sanctification.” Broken down in detail, we really do believe the following:
- God takes initiative with us by pursuing us before we even know Him, because God desires that “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
- God, by grace (prevenient grace, as Wesleyans have traditionally called it), allows us the ability (freewill) to say either “yes” or “no” to His call to a loving relationship. He chooses us and grants us freewill to choose or reject Him.
- Once we respond to the grace of God offered to us, God makes us His children and adopts us into His family (Rom. 8:15).
- As members of God’s family through Christ and by the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we are called to the gift of full surrender of ourselves to the ways of God (1 Thes. 5:23).
- This full surrender allows the Spirit of God to produce “fruits of righteousness,” which are ongoing changes in our character that reflect the person and work of Jesus Christ (James 5:7, Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:18).
- As we are transformed, we become agents of God’s transforming kingdom, allowing His righteousness, justice, and love to become more and more prevalent through the work of His people, the Church (Eph. 2:10).
Thankfully, God’s call to holiness is not about what we offer Him but about what He offers us: participation in His loving, pervasive, eternal kingdom that will never end. When we make the choice to surrender ourselves and follow Him, we are accompanied by His own Spirit and by others in community (the Church) who are also being saved and sanctified to do His work in the world.
We really believe this! Let’s live it out together!
Prayer for the Week:
O Lord, may nothing dwell in my soul
But your pure love alone.
Till my every thought, word, and act be love.
Yes Lord, may Your love possess me whole;
You are my joy, my treasure, my crown! Amen. (John Wesley)
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today