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What Should You Know About Baptism and Holiness

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In his article “From Aldersgate to Azusa,” Henry H. Knight discusses the Wesleyan roots that both the Wesleyan and Baptistic wings of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements are founded in. Wesley’s understanding of holiness and the power of the Holy Spirit was accepted by every wing of the Holiness movement and, as a result, found its way into Pentecostalism as well. It is possible that his experience at Aldersgate can be credited with the shift in Wesley’s theology that led to the characteristic beliefs that would later be integrated into the Pentecostal movement. According to Knight, “Aldersgate was the point in Wesley’s spiritual pilgrimage at which he experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.” This power saturates Wesley’s theology of both justification and sanctification being a work of the Holy Spirit. Wesley preached that the Holy Spirit draws all men to God allowing them to see their sin, and when that revelation is combined with the Gospel, men respond to God. He also taught that once a person received salvation, they were to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit back into the imago Dei. The nineteenth century Holiness movement retained Wesley’s hunger for holiness and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, but in some cases they placed an emphasis on man’s free will in attaining this goal. The Pentecostal movement also strayed from Wesley’s theology in the way that it taught a “second blessing” which not only fully sanctified the believer, but also equipped him for active ministry. In addition to this contrast, the Pentecostal movement placed less emphasis on the spiritual disciplines encouraged so strongly by Wesley for growth in sanctification. When studying the Holiness and Pentecostal movements, we must attribute the content of holiness to Wesley even if the means of attaining it differ from his theological viewpoint. Even though Wesley may not fully agree with everything preached in the Bapticostal wing of the Pentecostal movement, he would agree with many of its views on gradual growth and spiritual discipline. Despite each wing’s contrasting views of grace and faith, Pentecostals on both sides understand God to be active and involved in the present, fully at work in His people through the power of His spirit. This was the understanding that Wesley supported in the eighteenth century awakening and this is his greatest impact on the Pentecostal movement.

I would like to spend some time interacting with one specific thing said by Knight in his article. He writes,

“An overemphasis on human free will diminishes the sovereign agency of the Spirit; a de-emphasis on original sin gives the spirit less to accomplish and makes entire-sanctification easily attainable; an over-emphasis on original sin limits the Spirit’s power and locates Christian perfection in the life to come. In addition, the immediacy of sanctification and its identification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit raises the issue of the relation of holiness to power, which did not trouble Wesley but becomes a key question for the emerging Pentecostal movement.”

I do not believe that anyone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit would say that to be filled with the Spirit implies immediate sanctification. I do believe, however, that anyone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit would say that to be filled with the Spirit implies an outpouring of power on one’s life. Therefore, I believe it would be inaccurate to say that there is a direct relationship between the baptism of the Spirit and immediate holiness. However, I believe there is a strong relationship as it pertains to power for holiness. When a person receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit comes and begins to do an even greater work in the life of the believer. As the Spirit is powerfully at work in the heart of the believer, and as the believer allows the Spirit to become the dominant ruler of his life, sanctification gradually begins to take place. There is an aspect of this process that I think is dependent on human-will. Man must decide who will inhabit the throne of his heart and whose leading he will follow. There is also the reality of our fleshly nature that often leads us straight into sin. This is the part of our being that the Spirit continuously works to sanctify. Whether or not sanctification takes place here on earth or in the life to come is a topic on which I have not fully chosen a side. I believe that we have power through the Spirit to overcome sin in our lives. The Word is clear in Romans 7 that we are no longer slaves to sin and that freedom from our sins has been purchased for us on the cross. I do know, however, that though the Spirit continues to transform us into the image of Jesus, we still miss the mark. In our thoughts and our actions we continue to sin against God. Though the Spirit is powerfully at work in my own life, I cannot imagine that I will ever reach a place while I am here on earth that I will be able to say with confidence that I am fully sanctified.

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