It is the will of God that each believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified wholly, being separated from sin and the world and fully dedicated to the will of God thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service. This is both a crisis and a progressive experience wrought in the life of the believer subsequent to conversion.
Article 7 of our Doctrinal Statement defines the Alliance understanding of sanctification. Although Simpson was known in own day as a "faith curist" and a missionary statesman, much of his energy and most of his writing addresses the importance of sanctification, the believer's ongoing growth in holiness through the indwelling Christ. It is interesting that Simpson's message was unabashedly Christocentric. It is Christ who is our Saviour, Christ who is our Sanctifier, Christ who is our Healer and Christ who is our Coming King. Yet the Doctrinal Statement which came into use by General Council action in 1965, does not mention Christ, and attributes the work of sanctification to the Holy Spirit. This would seem to indicate that by 1965 the denomination had moved away from some of its original sources of theological and pastoral insight. In this lecture we look to Simpson's teaching as a means of understanding what the Doctrinal Statement is affirming and for resources that might help us to understand how to lead women and men toward fullness in Jesus.
Your group discussions looked at a number of statements from Simpson and Pardington dealing with sanctification. Here we will review some of that material and attempt to firm up our understanding of the first generation's views before looking at a number of contemporary evaluations of the Alliance doctrine of sanctification next week.
For Simpson, the stunning reality of Christ's saving work is that Christ comes to live in us. He expresses this in the Fourfold Gospel in this way, "The heart and soul of the whole matter is seeing that Jesus is himself our sanctification... Sanctification comes through the personal indwelling of Jesus." This indwelling is accomplished by the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit. Thus Article 7 above correctly connects the filling of the Spirit with sanctification but for Simpson this was Jesus himself coming to the life of the believer. There was a dynamic relational quality to this understanding which led Simpson to make remarkable assertions about sanctification and the identity of those who are sanctified:
It is the Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart of flesh that God has given, so that every movement, every thought, every intention, every desire of our whole being will be prompted by the springing life of God within. It is God manifest in the flesh again.
As each of us is submissive to the leading of the Spirit in our lives, we represent God to those around us. This is a powerful understanding of a new intimacy between ourselves and our Creator and an awesome responsibility we bear to faithfully represent our merciful and gracious God. The motto of Simpson's life was "Christ in you the hope of glory" or as he personalized it "Christ in me the hope of glory."
This incarnational idea of sanctification focuses on the solution not on the problem. The focus is not on the sin. The focus is on Christ. We are directed toward modeling our lives, our conduct, and our day to day living on that of Jesus. When I first read the definition of sanctification as God manifest in the flesh again, it sounded ludicrous and challenging at the same time. In effect what it means to be sanctified, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, is to have the life of Christ in you, to be Christ in the world. This emphasizes Christ's identity with us in his incarnation. While on earth, Jesus was drawing on the same sources and resources by the Holy Spirit in His work on the earth, in His ministry, that are available to us. As the Holy Spirit comes to live in us and as every thought, every movement, every intention, and every desire is prompted by the springing life of God within, then God is evident. God is revealed. God is made manifest in the lives that we live as we reach out in love to those that we minister to, to those we have around us.
I think this kind of relational concept of sanctification is one that people can relate to. In my discussions with people of late, there is a longing for relationship and a connectedness with something transcendent, something spiritual. This idea of the indwelling of Christ, of God Himself by His Spirit dwelling within us and reshaping and remolding our characters into what He intended us to be directly addresses this longing, is the kind of language people respond to and get excited about. People want to hear, think about what this might actually mean in their lives and accept it. I am finding Simpson's call to relationship with an indwelling Christ is very powerful in explaining to people who God is and how they can relate to Him.
Simpson makes a distinction between conversion and sanctification which was very clear to him but often confuses people today. In the selections from the Fourfold Gospel which I gave you in the "Classical Statements" assignment, Simpson contrasts conversion and regeneration with sanctification. In the images Simpson uses, conversion and regeneration are to prepare the way, to make the heart of the believer ready to receive sanctification. Both Simpson and Pardington contend that they are separate events and each needs to be received by faith. Sancification must follow (or in the words of Article 7 be "subsequent to") conversion because first the heart must be cleansed and made ready for the coming of the indwelling Christ. Yet neither Simpson nor Pardington thought there should be a distance in time between conversion and sanctification. We are converted to be sanctified.
Confusion has arisen on this point at least in part because Simpson and Pardington defend a two-step process of coming to "full salvation" and argue that it is possible for a Christian to be converted and not sanctified. In defending this idea they are sometimes interpreted as favouring this state. Part of the confusion here is that we are attempting to break up something which really can't be broken up. The saving work of God in our lives really cannot be broken up into clear, concise or precise categories. Pardington acknowledges this: "From the experience of the Apostolic Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, we may learn that God is sovereign in His operations and that doctrinal distinctions made by man cannot shut Him up into set ways of working." God works in all sorts of ways to save and often He messes up our neat theological structures. This is really annoying of God but He gets to set the rules. We make the best of it.
However, the important thing is to ensure that in our life and in the lives of those we minister to, sanctification follows quickly after conversion. In the Reading from Simpson's commentary on the Epistle to the Romans he suggests the two experiences were intended to come together, "...in the Pentecostal experience of the Apostolic Church, it would seem as if all who accepted Jesus were at once taken into his fullness and received the baptism of the Holy Ghost..." So how did this two-step process come about? Simpson argues that it was the fault of the church in his day.
Through a lowering of the Christian standard, there has come about a kind of Christianity which has no scriptural warrant; a condition in which people are justified, and yet do not expect to live a holy life, and do not live it until through truer teaching and the preparation of God's Spirit, they are awakened to realize the true life of holiness to which God has called them, and, after years of wandering, they at length come into the experience of sanctification which they should have known from the first.
Simpson's idea here is that justification and sanctification should come together and the separation of justification and sanctification is not something which the Bible recommends. In fact, it's only because we have called people to justification alone, we've called people to cheap grace, we've called people to an easy Christianity, that we have this gap between what we call people to and what the Scriptures call people to. The solution which Simpson advocated, and which we need to heed, is to call people to what the Bible calls them: sanctification, the fullness of the grace of God.
What this means in our lives is we need to be sure we are moving into this fullness of grace and we need to lead those God brings into our lives into this fullness as well. Because we all begin at different points spiritually, the path to this fullness will differ. For some new to the faith we need to recognize that we are not finished leading a person to Christ until we have led them through justification to sanctification. That is really what is in view in Simpson's understanding of a full salvation. We should not take this idea of subsequence to mean that we are supposed to lead people to an initial experience of God's grace and leave them hanging or tell them to come back in five or ten years for this other thing called sanctification. Let's lead people into the fullest of God's grace right from the beginning. If they are starting from scratch, you take them the whole way.
The people Simpson really has in view in issuing a call to sanctification are the many evangelical people he saw in churches who were convinced that they had all of God they wanted. Their Christian commitment had been externalized and focused on going to church and not doing anything on Sunday and not drinking and working to stop those who do. Somehow the inner vitality, the spiritual dynamic in many evangelical churches was missing and Simpson wanted to recall them to what God really wanted for them. These were people who were good Christians. They did not need a call to conversion but they needed another trip to the cross, another experience of dying with Christ and rising with Him in newness of life.
What this means for our lives is that we need to be sure we are not satisfied with our experience of God. We need to know what it is the Psalmist means in talking about hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We may need to return to the cross ourselves and there reaffirm our surrender to God and our appropriation of His grace. In our ministry to others we need to recognize how far they have come and then in our ministry to them take them the whole way. The point is you take people from where they are into the fullness of the riches of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. That's really the call here. The two step understanding of conversion and sanctification provides a way of understanding pastorally what may be happening in a person's life when they are spiritually frustrated. We may be convinced that they are children of God but we may be able to lead them into an experience of sanctification or the filling of the Spirit which will take them deeper into God's grace.
If a person is a child of God then surely the Spirit is in them. What do Simpson and Pardington mean when they suggest that we are sanctified when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us? Many people are puzzled by what Pardington is saying in The Crisis of the Deeper Life with his use of the distinction between "with" and "within."
This second and distinct work of sanctification is connected with the definite and personal coming of the Holy Ghost to our hearts. After conversion the Holy Spirit is with us; but after sanctification the Holy Spirit is within us....
The implication is that the Spirit is not present in our hearts before we are sanctified. This leads us to question how we can even be converted unless the Spirit is in us.
Simpson develops a similar idea in the Fourfold Gospel where he speaks of regeneration as "building a house and having the work well done" and sanctification as "having the owner come and dwell in the house and fill it with gladness, life and beauty."
Both Simpson and Pardington want to tell us that something changes but it is really difficult to find language adequate to express this. I'm not at all happy with their with/within language. The distinction seems artificial and is not well grounded in Biblical understandings of the work of the Spirit. Even from the very beginning, even before conversion, the Holy Spirit has been working in us to bring us to the point where we can experience conviction leading to conversion.
I think the problem with the with/within language is that it implies a spatial distinction. With is somewhere around where I am, but within is right inside. What I think they are trying to get at is that there is a profound change of relationship and not make a statement about spiritual geography. It is something that takes place but I can't find the words to express it clearly. I think that is why this kind of imagery is used which in our context may serve to confuse more than clarify. We can believe that the Spirit is active in our lives and we may even know the Spirit convicting us of sin, yet there may also need to be another point of surrender as discussed above after which our experience of the Spirit is much more profound. When the relationship between your spirit and the Spirit of God is intertwined in such a way that you are in full surrender to the Spirit of God, a whole new dimension of intimacy in relationship with Jesus and with the Spirit is opened up. That is really what they are trying to get at here. I think what Simpson and Pardington are trying to convey is a new level of intimacy, a new level of connectedness, and a source of joy welling up from within. What they were trying to describe is really what the Christian life is about. We don't want to stop short of that. We don't want anyone else to stop short of that either.
Perhaps the most confusing idea contained in Article 7 of the doctrinal statement is its use of "crisis." In common usage "crisis" means a really bad event and most people reading the Alliance doctrinal statement assume that some really bad event must come along with sanctification. I have assigned Simpson's "The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: A Crisis or an Evolution" to give you a chance to sort out for yourself what Simpson might mean in his use of "crisis" in the context of sanctification. In my readings "crisis" means a turning around or a definite change. It is not clear that this "crisis" necessarily is a brief and definable point in time. In my own life this definite change came over a period of months and my reading of Simpson's biography suggests that his "crisis" came over a period of weeks and probably months early in 1874. So "crisis" in this context is not necessarily a bad thing but a decisive and definable change. What kind of change is in view here?
Pardington defines the crisis as coming into contact with the holiness of Christ.
The holiness of the Christian is the holiness of Christ... Our holiness flows from contact with God. This contact has both a divine and a human side. On the divine side there are two points of contact--the work of Christ on the cross, and the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost. On the human side there are likewise two points of contact, whereby we become partakers of the holiness of Christ--a step of entire surrender and an act of appropriating faith.
In coming into contact with Christ, God changes us. This change is brought about as Christ's atoning work on the cross is made alive in us by the indwelling Spirit. While God does this in us, we respond in surrender and in receiving by faith the grace that is offered.
In our earlier study of Simpson's experience we discovered an emptying followed by a filling, a surrender followed by a receiving, a death to the old that gave rise to life in the Spirit. This is the crisis, the change or point of turning that is essential to spiritual renewal and growth. There are a number of ways of expressing this, but there is always something we have depended upon which is given up and a gift of God which is received.
The really important thing about this idea of crisis is not the crisis but what follows. The crisis is merely the beginning of the progressive aspect of growth into the image of Christ. If we rely on the experience of crisis and expect that to do the trick we are missing the point. This turning faces us in another direction. We now begin our walk in the Spirit. Unless we begin that walk we spend all of our time having to turn around again. The idea of the crisis sanctification is to turn once, then to keep going in this new direction led by the Spirit within.
The crisis is really pointless unless we abide in Christ and it is here we encounter the heart of Simpson's pastoral theology. He called people to the crisis so they could begin anew, but it was the ongoing abiding in Christ that he was really interested in. This is what made the difference. This is what brought love and joy and peace. This is what motivates and empowers God's people to be involved in Kingdom work.
One of Simpson's most powerful statements about the nature of sanctification comes from an editorial written to distinguish the Alliance teaching from other popular views. The theme of sanctification as the indwelling Christ is made remarkably clear.
There is always a little danger of seeing our experience more than the source of that experience, the person and work of the Lord Jesus, we have ever been led to rise above all our experiences and recognize our new and resurrection life wholly in Him, not a fixed and crystallized state but an attitude of constant dependence and abiding so that our holiness is not self constituted but dependent every moment on our union and communion with Him.
Simpson is making it clear that he is not trying to sell an experience. Experience is important but the focus needs always to remain on "the person and the work of the Lord Jesus." Because of this we need to recognize that sanctification isn't something which you receive like a trophy or a plaque that you can put on your wall saying "Certified Sanctified." Sanctification is "not a fixed and crystallized state but an attitude of constant dependence and abiding so that our holiness is not self constituted but dependent every moment on our union and communion with Him." This is the essential understanding of the progressive nature of sanctification. It makes clear that sanctification is never something that you possess as an attribute. Sanctification is a way of life. It's a pattern of living the life of Christ. To use another of my favourite Simpson quotes "It is God manifest in the flesh again." It is a dependence on the life of Christ within us as the source of our whole life. We draw all of our spiritual energy from Christ Himself.
Thus sanctification is by its very nature ongoing. It takes a lot of practice to depend on Jesus Christ and to really experience the kind of intimacy so that "our holiness is not self constituted but dependent every moment on our union and communion with Him." This is something we learn to do over a period of time and we learn to do with the help of other people encouraging us and sharing their stories. This is a community enterprise as we move one another forward through the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit in the Christian community.
Once we begin this walk in the Spirit, we discover the joys of fellowship along the way. Simpson wrote: "Sanctification is not self-perfection. We shall never become so inherently good that there will be no possibility or temptation to sin. We never reach a place where we shall not need to abide in Him each day." As we move deeper into the grace of God, and know what it means to depend on Him more fully each day we discover that it is this relationship rather than the destination that is the key. Walking in the Spirit is a walk into the heart of God. This is inexhaustible.
There is an interesting pattern in the work of the spiritual writers of the Christian tradition. These great saints become more convinced of their sinfulness the less they are like me. The more the pattern of Jesus' life and love is evident in their lives, the more convicted they become of the sinfulness that remains. This is because the heart of God is awakened in them so that they are sensitive to aspects of sin in their lives and the world which I don't even see. As we grow in grace and as this Christ life becomes a reality in us, we suddenly are aware of things which were there all along but didn't bother us before. Progress in sanctification means we feel the effects of sin even more profoundly. It is this that keeps the great Christian saints from being self-righteous and self-satisfied.
Clearly it would be presumptuous to claim that this idea of constant growth in grace is an exclusive possession of the Alliance. This is what the Church of Christ has called people to throughout history and no one can claim a monopoly on the grace of God. What does it mean then to claim sanctification as an Alliance distinctive? I think it means that we first of all call ourselves to live this out. If we were to embody this teaching in our local churches and in our ministries it would be revolutionary. Simpson and the Alliance have not and cannot claim to possess this truth any more that we can possess our own sanctification. We can be witnesses to it. Indeed Jesus has called us to be witnesses to what he has done and what he wants to do even to the uttermost parts of the earth. Here is my witness.
My Dad is a pastor. My Mom and Dad were both CBC grads in the late 50s and went into ministry the year I was born. So I grew up in the church and I grew up understanding the world from a Christian perspective. From the very beginning I was grounded in a reality where you put your socks on your feet and mitts on your hands when it's cold out, and Jesus lives in your heart. I grew up knowing that Jesus lived in my heart. I assumed that everyone had Jesus living in their heart and it wasn't until I was seven or eight that I came to the rather startling realization that not everyone had Jesus living in their heart and not everyone believed the same things about the world that I believed.
In my theological, spiritual understanding, there was a model of conversion which didn't seem to have anything to do with my experience as I have described it. The model of conversion was a dramatic change. The more dramatic the better. First you have a really, really bad life and do all sorts of horrendous things and then you meet Jesus and everything is fine from then on. This was problematic because I hadn't done any really horrendous things, yet I knew in my heart of hearts that there was all sorts of bad stuff going on in my life, stuff I wasn't happy with, stuff I knew Jesus wasn't happy with. As a result of this, I answered an altar call and expected that all that stuff would go away and the next day I would be happy and carry on from there. However, the next day nothing was any different and so I did it again and then I did it again and I did it again and I did it sixty-two thousand times and it just didn't work. By the time I was fifteen, I decided that this conversion thing really didn't work because I tried my best and did what I was told I needed to do. I prayed the sinner's prayer all those times and nothing worked. At fifteen I took a vow and decided that I was never going to answer another altar call in my life and so far I have held to that.
From about fifteen to twenty-five, I was consciously trying to reject God and trying to get away from God. Interestingly, my journey away from God circled around and I landed right back at God. I think by God's grace I could never let go of a conviction that I was somehow a child of God. I felt I was on a very short leash but God was always right there, right behind me, no matter what I did to make Him mad. All through my undergraduate years I was interested in religion and understanding the nature of Christianity. I studied medieval and reformation history so I got to know Medieval mystics and the Lutheran and the Anabaptist reformers and discovered a much wider understanding of how the grace of God comes to His people. This all brought me to an understanding that God was present even though I had been unable to find that presence. I had wanted God to work in a particular way, that is, I wanted God to make me completely good all at once so that I wouldn't have anything to worry about for the rest of my life. That was the image I had of what salvation had to be like and because that didn't happen I concluded that God was not interested or maybe even not there.
A change began to take place in me when I finally recognized that my attempts at surrender were really me telling God how He needed to work in me. At the same time I couldn't see the activity of God, the grace of God that was already in my life because I was looking in the wrong place. That was a point of turning and I don't know when exactly that happened but it happened sometime when I was 24. Over a period of about eight months, I became settled in the fact that I was a child of God, that despite the fact that God didn't do for me what I had always expected Him to when I went forward all those times, God was present with me. God had made me His own.
Once I settled the fact that I was a child of God, that God loved me, that God accepted me, then I could relax and trust God in a way that I never trusted God before. I had always said, "God, I'll trust you if..." Once I was able to rest in the grace of God and relax there and feel at peace, then suddenly all this stuff which had been so much of a problem was released. It was gone. I would say that that was a "crisis of sanctification" experience in my life. Through it I came increasingly able to rest and trust in God for my full salvation. Even though I laid it "all on the altar" those sixty-two thousand times, I didn't know what it meant to surrender to God. In my understanding of salvation, if I went forward and gave everything to Jesus, I was doing what God required and I didn't really need to trust God. I understood this as a kind of exchange where if I did my part God had to do His. Although I was there and was saying I was surrendering all, I was still demanding from God that He had to do this for me, my way, because I had done my part. It took a long time for me to say "Okay, God you love me. I am your child. I am no longer making any demands on you. Let's start walking together rather than making deals." Then we were able to make some progress. For the first time I felt there was a degree of maturity, a new source of spiritual vitality. There was, what I can only describe as, new life which was something I was longing for, and demanding from God all those years. Suddenly I stopped demanding a particular kind of spiritual experience, and started to trust in God. I don't know why I couldn't come to that point earlier. It was only over a period of time of saying, "I'm tired of this fight," "I'm tired of me running away and you chasing me," that I was able to say, "Let's start walking together."
I don't have a definite conversion experience. I don't have a definable, clear-point in time which I can call my crisis of sanctification but I do have a period in my life after which I felt a whole new level of intimacy with God. After that there was a change in my relationship with Jesus to such an extent that the Christian life was not just something to be worked at or thought about. The Christian life became something to be lived, to be enjoyed, to be cherished.
That's how I understand my own life and in the end when I came back to trying to make sense of how God had worked in my life, it fit this two-step process. My conversion experience happened before I can even remember and I believe that from very early in my life, I was a child of God. God honoured that. I didn't honour it because I thought I needed something else and as long as I was pursuing that something else it was beyond my grasp. As Simpson expressed in the hymn Himself, it is in finding Jesus for himself that all the stuff we sought after in his stead comes to us.
What can we take away from this discussion of the Alliance "tradition" regarding sanctification. It seems to me that many problems arise in attempting to systematically distance conversion from sanctification. However as a description of how many of us experience the grace of God in our lives, the two-step, or second work of grace model has real merit. It is really a pastoral issue we are dealing with. Simpson's evaluation of evangelical churches in the late nineteenth century concluded that something was missing in the Christian experience of many of these people just as there was something missing in his own Christian experience for a long period of time. During that period he was involved in ministry in Hamilton and was very successful. He had no reason to doubt his salvation (remember his rather dramatic salvation experience which brought him assurance of God's acceptance). Likewise, he would not say that his parishioners, who were active in the church and had been seeking after God, were not Christians. He had to find some way to call them to the richer experience in Christ he knew. What Simpson was looking for was some way of calling people to a deeper life, some way of calling people to a new experience of the grace of God which went beyond their experience. A work of God had begun in their lives but it was not yet completed. He called his generation to experience the sanctifying work of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thousands responded to this call. They found the quality of relationship with God they had been seeking and were motivated to serve God in the streets and alleys of New York and all across the world as Alliance missions moved this message of the full grace in Jesus to places that had never heard the message.
Who needs to listen to this call to be sanctified? In the Alliance tradition to be sanctified means to surrender to Christ, to empty yourself and to replace your own agenda with Christ who indwells by the Spirit. By this definition it is clear that we all need to be sanctified. This is what it means to saved, to be a Christian. Alliance tradition suggests that, when we bring people to Christ we need to be sure they know they are not just escaping hell, they are entering into a whole new life in the Spirit which will radically change them. Grace is free but it is not cheap. It will cost everything you have and are. But this is good news because the new life is the life God intended and is lived in right relationship with self, with others, with God's creation and with the Creator Himself.
But beyond that, the tradition teaches that there may be some self-righteous, self-satisfied Christians who are carrying on without the quality of spiritual life God intends. Often like Simpson and like me, these people really want what God wants for them but can't find the way. They may be frustrated with their Christian lives and unable to figure out why it's not working, why they are constantly falling in temptation, why they can't follow through on what they believe God is calling them to do, why God seems distant and uncaring. For these people our message is that they need to meet Jesus once again at the cross. They need to surrender their efforts to make God happy on their own merits and receive once again the grace of Jesus Christ. A prayer for faith to trust God with their whole being and a resolve to be submissive to the witness of the Spirit can be the beginning of a new and exciting life of victory in Jesus, a sanctified life.
Let me suggest four criteria that you can use as evidence of
the sanctified life and the presence of the indwelling Christ. It
is always a little dangerous doing this. This is not a scientific
test or measure but an aid to spiritual discernment which you can
use to evaluate your own life or if appropriate the life of
others who come to you for counsel. So here they are.
In assessing these, many people will be able to say that all of this is in place. They know they are loved by God, they are slowly becoming more like Jesus and while they still sin, sin is not overwhelming or defeating them and they are secure in their ability to serve God. For these we should not be concerned that they have a particular kind of two-step spiritual crisis. We are not called to press people into a particular mold but to call them to God. However there may be some people, maybe even you, who find that there are serious lacks here. To these we need to counsel prayer for a baptism of the Spirit that will be a new beginning in Christ.
And the Alliance tradition speaks to all Christians with a strong reminder that this process of sanctification is never over. There is a beginning to this new life in Christ but the completion awaits the final revelation of Jesus as our Coming King. Until then we need to grow in grace and in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me conclude with two quotes from Simpson I have already used. These constantly challenge me to remember that the point of sanctification is not sanctification. The point is communion with Jesus. Sanctification is never really ours, it is our connection with Him.
There is always a little danger of seeing our experience more that the source of that experience, the person and work of the Lord Jesus, we have ever been led to rise above all our experiences and recognize our new and resurrection life wholly in Him, not a fixed and crystallized state but an attitude of constant dependence and abiding so that our holiness is not self constituted but dependent every moment on our union and communion with Him.
Sanctification is not self-perfection. We shall never become so inherently good that there will be no possibility or temptation to sin. We shall never reach a place where we shall not need to abide in Him each moment.