II.D.4 Application to Christian Perfection

Part  II –  Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology

Subpart D  –  Wesleyan Methodism

Article 4 – Application to Christian Perfection

By Daniel Irving

a.    The Witness of Blood in the Building of God’s Temple

b.   Attainment unto the Resurrection from the Dead

c.  Christian Perfection in the Body

Lamps & Virgins 04

Section (a)  APPLICATION TO CHRISTIAN PERFECTION

a.  The Witness of Blood in the Building of God’s Temple

As related in Subpart A, which constructed the lamp-stand model, Christ expressed the building of God’s temple in terms of a three day progression:Christ Teaching 02

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”      John 2:19

There is a progression of three which pertains to the building of the body of Christ, which is also reflected in the Johannine Pause:

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the Water, and the Blood, and these three agree in one.”     I John 5:7-8

Heaven’s witness is the eternal spiritual truth that is the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  Earth’s witness constitutes the manifestation of heaven’s witness within the material realm of creation.  When we receive from God, we receive of that finished work of Christ.  We do NOT receive any one of the Lord’s life, death, or resurrection, without possessing all three.  At the same time, the revelation of that finished work involves a progression pertaining to our spirit, our soul, and finally to our body.  These are: justification, sanctification, and glorification as operations of faith.  This is the three-stage redemption of the body of Christ.  Thus while in heaven, the “three are one,” on earth they “agree,” rather than constituting a singular truth.  The implication of John’s words is that while the manifestation of the kingdom of God in the earth is consistent in its parts, it is divisible.  This is further indicated in John’s words of caution to those that would follow Christ:

This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ;   not by water only, but by water and blood.  and it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.                                     I John 5:6

Jesus came by “water” and by “blood.” The strong implication of John’s words is the church is to do the same.  What is meant in Jesus coming by “water and blood?”  Consider the symbolism of Pilate’s actions in turning Christ over to his murderers:

  When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude,  saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.             Matt 27:24

What was symbolized in the “water?”  Cleansing.  We are cleansed by the witness of Christ’s Word brought to us via the Holy Spirit’s witness.  Therefore Peter writes:

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently:                                                                                      I Peter 1:22

On the other hand, what did Pilate mean when he referred to “blood?”  He referred (although unknowingly) to the sacrifice the Lord was about to make.Sacred Ht 05  It is this matter of blood we are cautioned not to reject.  What is John’s meaning when cautioning the Church that the earthly witness of Jesus Christ was characterized “not by water only, but by water and blood?”  He tells us:

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us:  and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.                      I John 3:16

There is a sacrifice to be made in Bozrah.[1]  Christ’s sacrifice was knowing, and had purpose in redemption.  It had foundation in the Father, and led Him to embrace those outside the knowledge of God.  Once brought within the knowledge of God, they themselves would be empowered and equipped to follow their Lord’s course in bringing the life of God to others.  Therefore John writes:

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us:  and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.                I John 3:16

There is no other way to offer the acceptable sacrifice than one that is both knowledgeable and founded through the atonement of Christ.  Therefore, if one is inclined to assert the new birth as constituting the completion of the work of God, this would be to say, “Jesus was perfected prior to His cross.”  But Jesus rejected such a statement.  Think of it!  Even the Lord, Jesus Christ did not count He had attained unto perfection until the happening of an event!

And He said unto them, “Go ye, & tell that fox,  ‘Behold, I cast out devils, & I do cures to day & to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.                                                                            Luke 13:32

Christ’s life in the earth, His true testimony, and the purposes in His coming, were not complete until the sacrifice in blood was made.  Christ came by blood, else the there would be no Gospel and the Church would have no life from God.  In faithfulness to this testimony the Church is to walk.  Therefore we read:

  For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.                                    Heb 2:10

There is a third phase of the true witness of Christ, ie. His perfection through suffering.  Christ was “perfected” by blood.  And so are we perfected in Him, through this means. This is our calling if we belong to the heavenly host that is referred to as “Mount Zion”; “the spirits of just men made perfect”.[2]

b.  Attainment unto the Resurrection from Dead

While the doctrines of Justification and Sanctification have been widely taught over the past several hundred years, the doctrine of Glorification has not been widely taught or understood.  But the Gospel would not be complete without it.  Heaven 01Rather than teaching Glorification as an essential component of theology, the Church as sufficed itself with speaking of Resurrection, generally limiting this principle to resurrection for the physical body.  That the doctrine is broader and runs much deeper into the fabric of the Gospel is clear from the prophets, the teachings of Christ, and the Pauline epistles.   Christianity has not rightly assimilated this redemptive principle into belief and doctrine, presuming it to constitute a mere synonym for the bodily resurrection at Christ’s return, as a natural event.  But this is oversimplification. The redemptive principle of Glorification, which culminates in redemption for the body, is a doctrine ready for restoration to the Church.

Because the body is a material thing, we presume its redemption to be a straightforward matter.  We assume the resurrection is without need of the involved theology we devote to Christology, to Justification or to Sanctification.  Because of this, we view the resurrection from the dead as a sort of final act, somewhat removed from the requirement of representation and treatment within a theological system, when the opposite is true.  The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is tightly interwoven within the theological structure of Redemption and that of Witness.  The hope of a resurrection for the body begins with the oracle that the earthen body would die.  Of the man, God said, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  Further, the hope for a bodily resurrection finds expression in the last words of the Bible, where the Lord assures us, “Surely I come quickly.”  The principle of resurrection is exemplified in the Hebraic Feast of First Fruits, and the application of First Fruits to the body lies within the Hebraic Feast of Tabernacles.

Just as the resurrection of the body is a concept we presume to understand, it is also a concept we presume upon in its fruition to men.  What funeral have we attended wherein the doctrine of the resurrection is not mentioned, if not specifically preached?  But Scripture teaches the opposite of such presumption.  Each believer, if he/she is truly that, has a “course” he/she must “finish”,[3] and upon which they must strive for perfection.  In this way the believer attains unto the resurrection from the dead.  Thus Paul writes:

. . . that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship in His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.                 Phil. 3:10-12

After stating he did not count himself as yet “to have apprehended,”[4] Paul goes on to write:

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.        Phil. 3:15

After reading Paul’s words to the Philippians, we are left without basis to presume upon the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead.  To presume a place in the resurrection is contrary to the teachings of Paul, who said that if we count we have attained, we should not do so.  To consider ourselves to have attained, is to establish for all outside observers that we have, in fact, not.  Paul equated the resurrection to a perfection which he was striving after.  If we are not striving for perfection in this life, we have no right to presume even upon the hope of a resurrection.  If we are in fact, striving for perfection in the body, we have the right to hope.  Even so, we are without a basis to count ourselves to have attained.  The Pauline view is a far cry from the presumption we see today.

c.  Christian Perfection in the Body

The strength of Wesleyan teaching which kept it at the fore of spiritual revival for more than 150 years, was the doctrine of Christian Perfection as well as the doctrine of a Second Definite Work.  In fact, one particular reason early Methodism stood out in its day as a peculiar vehicle for revival seems to have been these two key doctrines.  The hope of a Christian Perfection sets men upon a course of striving after that which we are commanded of Christ to strive after.  We are commanded (lest some forget):

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.                                                                                      Matt 5:48

The Lord even taught of a perfection for His disciples to attain to:  Christ Teaching 02

The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.                                Luke 6:40 

As men were inspired to attain unto perfection, God was able to move in their behalf in terms of His covenant to sanctify.

Wesley was severely criticized by the Church of England and ministers far and wide for this novel doctrine.  Wesley - John 02Religionists considered it blasphemous to believe a Christian could be in any sense “perfect.”  While Wesley stressed this perfection to be a perfection of heart,[5] he may have been giving up too much ground to his detractors!  For when we consider what the apostles actually wrote on the subject, they were clearly speaking of something extending beyond a perfectly clean conscience before God.  They wrote of perfection as tangible as well; the complete ruler-ship over one’s carnal nature, as something quite different from a pure conscience.  Consider Paul’s words:

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.   Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.   I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air;  But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.                       I Cor. 9:25-27

Paul strove for the mastery over his body, to which one might protest that by this he did not mean to signify he was striving after a perfection in terms of his body.  Such a person may be corrected by James, who clearly equates the mastery over the body with the perfection brought through the Gospel:

For in many things we offend all.   If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man and able also to bridle the whole body.         James 3:2

Therefore the various members of this present flesh and blood body, are to cease and desist from their control over the man.  The man, guided by the new principle of the perfect “law of liberty”,[6] is to bring that principle to bear upon the body so as to bring it under subjection to Christ.  This is the positive-control of the “perfect man.”  They which have attained unto the perfection purchased of them by Christ have the mastery over their:

–          eyes, in that they do not settle on what unclean or what would tempt,

–          tongue, in that they speaks only what is appropriate and edifying to the listener,

–          ears, as they refuse the unclean communication,

–          thoughts, in that they flee from evil imagination, passions, and vanities,

–          body, in that its behaviors are held in check by the growing presence of the Spirit of Christ within.

This is called sanctification and holiness.  It is striven after legalistically when we do not have the Holy Spirit, or it can be striven after effectively, when we do have His presence.  It is something we are given by God, but also something we “perfect” by stirring up faith through praying in the Spirit, receiving the Word of God, continuing in patient obedience to His Word, and through resisting sin and the temptation of Satan.  Thus the perfection of the Gospel is not the perfection of the body, but perfection over the body.

Clearly, the apostles did not dilute the concept of Christian Perfection by limiting it to a perfection of heart as may have Wesley!  Wesley - John 02However, Wesley is rehabilitated when we bring his second controversial doctrinal into view; the doctrine of a Second Definite Work.  In this doctrine, Wesley asserted that God would meet the man sometime following conversion in order to deliver him from sin’s bondage in a real event of sanctification.  If we bring these two doctrines into focus together, Wesleyan teaching is suddenly redeemed, as now is expressed a tangible perfection pertaining to control over the body in this world.

Christian Perfection is not to be confused with the perfecting or attaining of the natural man.  Rather, it is the attaining of the spiritual man over the natural man; the fulfillment of the prophetic oracle given Rebecca concerning the twins within her womb:Rebekah at Well 01

And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels;  and the one people shall be stronger than the other people;  and the elder shall serve the younger.       Gen. 25:25 


[1] Isaiah 34:6, 63:1

[2] Hebrews 12:23

[3] II Timothy 4:7

[4] Philippians 3:13

[5] See A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, by John Wesley.

[6] James 1:25

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About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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