Sunday, July 19, 2009

Deneff on Temptation: A Wesleyan Reflection

Steve Deneff preached a good sermon this morning on temptation. You can listen to it on iTunes in a day or two. Check back at the College Wesleyan website.

What made me think of posting was the fact that he really ignored the Wesleyan question of entire sanctification. If we're honest, few Wesleyan pastors preach this doctrine. Few people in the pew understand it. Forgive the imagery, but this morning sermon struck me as something like a by-pass around a blocked artery.

Deneff's sermon took off from Genesis 4 and the line that "sin crouches at the door." He made very healthy distinctions between evil and sin. He had a helpful section on avenues by which temptation come (personality, physical issues, environment). He had a practical "to this" start toward solutions (practice the virtue opposite the tempting vice).

He warned the entirely sanctified not to forget that still "sin crouches at the door." Crouches, not as in we "fall" into sin but that it is looking to get us.

How am I as a Wesleyan to map this sermon to our historical doctrines? Is this Keswick? Sin will always be a struggle, even though you can beat it through the Spirit. That's not historically Wesleyan. What about entire sanctification? Where the power of Sin over me is defeated over the whole?

For good or ill, those aren't the questions Christians are asking and I suspect if we were to dwell on them, we simply consign ourselves to irrelevance. I believe Deneff has hit the nail on the head this morning and has, intentionally or not, boiled down the Wesleyan tradition in this area to what people need to hear and will actually help them.

1. Sin crouches at the door of all our lives, no matter how long you have been a Christian. No one dare think they have arrived or ignore the constant possibility of having and yielding to temptation.

2. No one need be defeated by Sin or temptation, through the Spirit's power. Sin may crouch, but it never need catch.

3. Implicit, although it was not the focus this morning, is the possibility that God can "break the power of cancelled Sin." I personally think it is more problematic than helpful to debate the breaking of the power of Sin for the entirety of a person, since we are constantly changing all the time. In principle, I completely agree that a Christian should be able to say at any point of their life that, for their part, they are as surrendered to God as they know how to be and would obey Him whatever He might ask them to do.

But what matters today--and as humans we only ever have today--is that the power of Sin be broken in the area where Sin is crouching today. Wesleyans believe that God can shoot the lion crouching today to where that particular temptation ceases to crouch so threatenly tomorrow.

The blood will flow through this artery.


Ryan Wright said...

i remember recently asking former GS Dr. Robert McIntyre how he felt about the apparent absence of the topic of entire sanctification in Wesleyan churches today and his response was tears.

you're correct in saying it's largely overlooked and my hope is that it's something pastor DeNeff will spend some time on during this series.

Anonymous said...

I think entire sanctification is not a sound biblical doctrine from the perspective of the Holiness Movement. Add that with the reality of this doctrine not actually being lived out by real Wesleyans in their lives makes anyone who preaches it sound unrealistic or a "fundamentalist." In the old days you could demonstrate your sanctification by the way you dressed, what you didn't do (i.e no movies, TV, jewelry, drinking and other tangible legalisms). Today, other Wesleyans would consider you a nut if you practiced your sanctification in this way.

I think being controlled by the Holy Spirit instead of one's sinful nature is a good replacement for the eradication of the sinful nature of the entirely sanctified.

Ryan Wright said...

so entire sanctification is not a sound "biblical" doctrine because of the way it was lived out during the Holiness Movement? That makes it sound like something is discredited as a "biblical" doctrine on the basis of human performance rather than on the basis of biblical support.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I thought this sounded a lot like Luther's 'you can't keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep him from making a nest in your hair"....sounds like Wesley is a lot like Luther...but perhaps, we should be more concerned that truth is truth....

Evil is inevitable, but the question about crouching is, "are we standing against evil" or "are we using evil for good", as we cannot do away with evil.

The latter view would be defended by "understanding redemption", while the former view has a more static understanding...

Whether we stand, resist,or redeem will depend on circumstances and what we find needs to be "discovered".

Anonymous said...

The inability of humans beings to live up to the holiness movement's understanding of entire sanctification does not invalidate this doctrine. Entire sanctification that Wesleyans used to teach falls because it is simply not a sound biblical doctrine. Eradication of sin and a 2nd work of grace is a fuzzy doctrine. I think most Wesleyans see that today, but don't want to admit it.

Ryan Wright said...


I'll agree that some individuals involved in the holiness movement may have taken the original idea of a second work of grace in a direction it was not meant to go. For example, while I can respect the work she accomplished, Phoebe Palmer introduced this "shorter way" which was basically a shortcut to sanctification bypassing all the unattractive work it takes to get there. But maybe the command to be perfect, not in the common understanding of the word but rather "whole" or "complete," should be taken literally. i speak as one who buys into Wesley's idea of a second work of grace, but has not yet experienced that, but believes there is something beyond this that I can hopefully attain some day only by the grace of God.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what you mean by "bypassing all the work necessary to getting" to entire sanctification. If it is in fact a work of grace, I don't this we can work our way toward it. If in fact it does occur, it would have to be a work done by a sovereign God who chose to "entirely sanctify" a person.

You are right, I think Pheobe Palmer and the Holiness Movement have messed up Wesley's doctrine. I see Wesleyan's moving away from this error.

Ryan Wright said...


by "work necessary" im considering the fact that sanctification is given by grace after a relationship with the Lord has been cultivated and time and energy has been invested in that relationship. While sanctification is given only through grace, a growing relationship requires giving on both ends. Wesley described sanctification as "perfect love" which comes only through giving on both sides of the equation.