Some born-again Christians believe that mankind can be “fully sanctified” or have “perfect unity” with the Trinity on this side of the grave. It is my view that we will not achieve that goal until Heaven.
Salvation is an event in the life of the Christian when one accepts Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-10). Sanctification, on the other hand, is a life-long process (sometimes better referred to as “progressive sanctification”) of learning who God is and what He expects of us as we prepare to spend eternity with Him. Mankind does not have the capacity to be “perfectly sanctified” as long as any sin remains in the believer’s life.
Definitions from Webster
- Sanctify – To set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use, to free from sin.
- Perfect – Being entirely without fault or defect.
- Unity – The quality or state of being made one.
The case for “fully sanctified” or “perfect unity”
If sanctification is a process, the question becomes, is there an endpoint? Can one reach a place where we are “fully sanctified” and in “perfect unity” with God? Again, there are some who believe a Christian can be so close to the Lord, in such intimate alignment with Jesus, that they are in perfect unity with Him and therefore their sanctification becomes complete while on earth.
Three of the Biblical verses used to promote this theology are…
- Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Hebrews 10:10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The three verses above are used to suggest that when God (actually the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit) comes to live within us, we have the capacity to be in perfect unity with Christ. Their argument continues that without that full sanctification, the believer is left impotent, unfulfilled, and unable to experience the full extent of God’s love. Challenging the verses above as proof-text for this theology, I would offer the following:
Gal. 2:20 is just an acknowledgment that the Trinity, through the Holy Spirit, comes to live in every born-again Christian as our Counselor (John 14:26). It does not speak to an endpoint of perfect unity.
Hebrews 10:10 represents the promise or covenant made by God to man that we will be fully and perfectly aligned with His will. However, that point will come once we cross over from physical death to eternal life, as believers. Just a few verses later (Heb. 10:14, the Bible uses the phrase “being sanctified” as a way of confirming that it is a continuing process throughout our lives on earth.
Finally, 1 Thes. 5:23 refers to the sacrifice of Christ for our sins to be “kept blameless” until the Lord returns to resurrect all believers at the end of the age. The context of this text is not while we are alive today, but more in line with Phil. 1:6, in order to “bring it to completion [on] the day of Jesus Christ”. If one rejects the view that this verse is referring to our eternal life following death, there remains the interpretation that Scripture is referring to the work of Christ, releasing us from the penalty of our sins, past, present, and future. In that sense, it is not man who becomes “perfectly sanctified”, rather it is the Holy Spirit within the believer that is without sin. Logically, no one can be perfect as Christ is perfect (i.e. without sin) without being God Himself. Our human nature constantly betrays us (Rom. 7:24).
Bible Translations Can Impact Our Understanding
Often, but not always, this theology of “perfect sanctification” is tied to Pentecostal theology on the “Second Blessing of the Holy Spirit’” which is an event separate from Salvation. Under that view, the Holy Spirit gives the believer the capacity to become perfect in this life. In the extreme, there are those who reject the salvation of believers who have not experienced this secondary infusion of the Holy Spirit.
This issue of “perfect sanctification” surfaced recently when researching the Asbury revival which comes from a Wesleyan-Holiness tradition that is a subset of the Pentecostal movement. Their teachings suggest that man can become “perfect” through sanctification. Beyond the verses cited above in support of that position is the KJV/NKJV translation of:
Eph. 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
All other modern translations use the term “mature” rather than “perfect” in that verse.
Sanctification is a process that will never reach unity or perfection in this life.
Sin Prevents Perfect Unitity in this Life
In my view, one can never be in “perfect unity” and still have a sin nature. To reject a belief that mankind no longer has a continuing sin nature after salvation is an entirely different subject, briefly, but effectively, challenged by simply observing the daily behavior of man, and, Scripturally, by studying Paul’s lament in Rom. 7:7-25.
One cannot have a sin nature (… Bible verses that challenge the born-again Christians to resist sin include – Rom. 3:10, Gal. 5:16-17, Eph. 4:30, 1 Thes. 5:19) AND have “perfect unity” with anyone, much less God, in my view. This is true whether one believes in a single indwelling of the Holy Spirit or an additional “second blessing” by the same Spirit.
The Danger in Believing One is Fully Sanctified
Salvation and sanctification are amazing gifts from God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit. The danger in assuming one can reach an endpoint in sanctification in this life includes:
- The sin of pride can take over one’s life, looking down on those who are not “fully sanctified”.
- The belief that one no longer commits sin, regardless of their thoughts or actions, and,
- A danger that our relationship with God is so close that theology rooted in the Bible can be ignored over one’s “feelings” about who God is and what He expects of us.
The prayer below was offered in our church service. From The Valley of Vision, A Collection Of Puritan Prayers edited by Arthur Bennett, it speaks directly to God revealing our sin nature and the need for a Savior, as we continue the process of sanctification.
A Puritan’s Confession
O Changeless God,
Under the conviction of the Spirit I learn that
The more I do, the worse I am,
The more I know, the less I know,
The more holiness I have, the mores sinful I am,
The more I love, the more there is to love.
O wretched man that I am!
I have a wild heart
And cannot stand before You;
I am like a bird before a man.
How little I love your truth and ways!
I neglect prayer,
By thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly,
By knowing thou hast saved my soul.
Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be a hypocrite,
Who sins more safely because grace abounds,
Who tells his lusts that Christ’s blood cleanses them,
Who reasons that God cannot cast him into hell, for his is saved,
Who loves gospel preaching, churches, Christians, but lives unholy
My mind is a bucket without a bottom,
With no spiritual understanding,
No desire for worship,
Ever learning but never reaching the truth,
Always at the gospel-well but never holding water.
My conscience is without conviction or contrition,
With nothing to repent of.
My will is without power of decision or resolution.
My heart is without affection, and full of leaks.
My memory has no retention,
So I forget so easily the lessons learned,
And your truths seep away.
Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace.
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