Christian Perfection - Condensed Sermon by John Wesley
The distinctive doctrine of Methodism is Christian perfection as taught by John Wesley. This series of sermon detailed outlines is a help to
John Wesley's text: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." Philippians 3:12
“There is scarce any expression in Holy Writ which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear… [so] some have advised, wholly to lay aside the use of those expressions… But are they not found in the oracles of God If so, by what authority can any Messenger of God lay them aside, even though all men should be offended?"
I. In what sense are Christians NOT perfect?
A. They are not perfect in knowledge: they are not so perfect in this life as to be free from ignorance.
B. They are not perfect as to be free from mistakes (on things non essential to their salvation)
C. They are not perfect so as to be free from infirmities and weaknesses.
D. They are not perfect so as to be wholly free from temptation.
E. The correct definition of Christian perfection.
1. “Christian perfection… is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.”
2. This does not imply “any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection … which does not [allow] a continual increase.” We will always “need to ‘grow in grace.’"
II. In what sense ARE Christians perfect?
A. They are perfect in the sense of completeness of their “stages in the Christian life.”
1. They are like the “fathers” in the passage from 1 John 2.
a) It is beyond simply not committing sin, since any Christian may do this. (Romans 6:1, 1 John 3:8-9, 5:18)
i) We cannot judge by the popular ideas about sin.
ii) We cannot judge by the Old Testament way of thinking of sin.
iii) In conformity, therefore, both to the doctrine of St. John, and to the whole tenor of the New Testament, we fix this conclusion -- A Christian is so far perfect, as not to commit sin.
B. Secondly, they are perfect in the sense of being “freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers.”
1. 'For every one that is perfect shall be as his Master.'" [Luke 6:40] But his Master was free from all sinful tempers. So, therefore, is his disciple, even every real Christian.
2. Jesus "saves his people from their sins:" [Matt. 1:21] And not only from outward sins, but also from the sins of their hearts; from evil thoughts and from evil tempers.
3. Thus hath the Lord fulfilled the things he spake by his holy prophets, which have been since the world began;
a) (Deut. 30:6.) I "will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul;"
b) "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me;" [Ps. 51:10]
c) "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; …I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it." (Ezek. 36:25, &c.)
Further reading and study on the topic of Christian perfection:
40 days of Holiness:
Christian perfection is the belief in the sincerity of God's promise & the ability of His power to make his people holy & Christlike.
It is the belief that what God promises he also provides, and does not merely wait until the gates of heaven click behind our heels to do it.
It is the belief that God does something more with sin than forgive it. He also breaks its power in our lives, and destroys its presence in our hearts.
It is the belief that Christ has come to destroy the works of the Devil, not only in the world around us, but the world within us.
To learn more about John Wesley's distinctive doctrine, check out Pursuing Holiness.