Question:

I read a few posts on the web site where you talked about how Christians are not to expect sinless perfection in themselves. This was very encouraging to me! I have been raised in the Nazarene church. Nazarenes have a lot of really great strengths, but sometimes it can be tough, as they believe that Christians can get to a place in their lives where they no longer struggle against sin. They honestly believe that one can be sinless. This is hard for me, as I still see sin in my life. I see moments of sexual desire, selfish or prideful thoughts, and moments of disrespect toward my parents when I'm in a grouchy mood. I've walked with the Lord in close fellowship with Him for close to six years, and I still see struggles with sin. In the Nazarene church, this would indicate a problem. What do you think?


Answer:

The Nazarene church subscribes to the idea that there are two levels of salvation: the regular salvation when you become a Christian and one they refer to as being sanctified. To come to this conclusion, they treat sanctification as different from justification.

"In order that we may preserve our God-given heritage, the faith once delivered to the saints, especially the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification as a second work of grace, ... " [Church of the Nazarene, "Articles of Faith"].

"We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service." [Church of the Nazarene, "Articles of Faith"]

The problem is that the New Testament does not make a distinction between believers who are sanctified and those who are not. All believers are sanctified, "that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18). Being saved at baptism is interconnected with all aspects of salvation, including sanctification. "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11). "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:25-26). The Nazarenes try to side-step this issue by claiming there are different types of sanctifications. That is why you see them refer to "entire sanctification." The phrase is derived from "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:23). So an elaborate system of multiple level salvation and the accompanying doctrine is created from what is imagined Paul meant by his prayer.

Nazarenes don't claim that an entirely sanctified person cannot sin, but rather that they are less likely to sin. However, they also claim that it is possible for a person to reach a level where a person does not sin. "The possibility of deliverance from all sin and of renewal in God's image permeates Holy Scripture" [Howard Culbertson, Roger Hahn, and Dean Nelson, "How Entire is Entire Sanctification?"].

There is a flaw in this idea. Christians are warned against thinking they have conquered sin. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Corinthians 10:12). The reason is that Satan isn't going to give up on Christians. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (I Peter 5:8-9). While Christians work hard not to sin, the fact is that sin can and does happen despite our best efforts. Hopefully not often.

"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 1:5-2:1).

Notice that this cleansing from all sin is not based on obtaining a special level of sanctification, but for all Christians who are willing to humble themselves and confess their sins to God.

What I think is that the Church of the Nazarene is well intentioned, but it is not accurate in all its teachings. See Why I Am Not a Nazarene for some details. I've always been puzzled by this group. I have had a few polite discussions with members of this group, but I get far more vicious notes than from most other groups. See Questions and Answers regarding the Church of the Nazarene. I would like to invite you to consider being just a Christian without the denominational trappings. See: We Are Simply Christians Without Being Members of Any Denomination, You Can be Too!