If God is really in us in the form of the Holy Spirit, shouldn't it be easy to love one another?
—Margo Shelton, Victorville, California

There are two ways to approach this question. One would be to focus on the issue of love. The other would be to ask why it takes so much effort to live out any Christian moral obligation, whether love, or sexual fidelity, or economic generosity, or racial justice.

Let's place the question within a broader issue—historic Christian thinking about sanctification.

The most pessimistic stance, attributed to some strains of Lutheranism, is that the New Testament promises simply that God declares believers righteous on account of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). In this view, our sinful condition is so profound that little if any actual moral progress can be expected in this life—indeed, the effort to make such progress actually draws us away from a trusting faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice on our behalf.

This view is untenable, however, because it fails to account for the hundreds of moral commands that the Bible does lay upon us, and the apparent expectation that we will at least attempt to obey them.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification. According to this view, a total cleansing of sin from the heart through the Holy Spirit is available to believers (1 Thess. 5:23). As sin is purged from the heart, and the heart is instead filled with the Holy Spirit and love for God, dramatic moral change and real holiness become possible.

Thus some Christians have believed that the change could and should be so far-reaching that it is even possible to speak of moral perfection for the sanctified Christian. I find any use of the word perfection to describe Christian ...

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March 2003

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