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Holiness Is Being Ceaselessly Crucified With Christ: The Path to Perfected Ecclesia

Pastor Jeffrey Grupp, Church of the Nazarene

INTRODUCTION

In this paper I will discuss the mission and holiness of believers as being derivative from God’s holiness. It will be assumed in this paper, as has been for hundreds of years among holiness believers/worshippers in America, that holiness is at risk of decline, and therefore our response should be to push radically in the opposite direction of decline. I will argue that the art of being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) is the specific direction to push, since it is the pinnacle of holiness, the pinnacle of living a life of trust in Christ, and thus the life of fullest surrender to the Trinity. For holiness is about victory over sin, and that happens via the Cross. So our purest dip into holiness is also via the Cross: being crucified with Christ. Noble writes:

Only by meditating on the doctrine of the cross can we be captivated by the love of God in such a way as to love him with that full and whole-hearted love of mind, soul, and strength, which is the essence of “entire” sanctification. The question, therefore, can be formulated like this: what happened on the cross that makes it possible for believers to be “entirely” sanctified now in such a way that they love God with an undivided heart. (Noble 2013, 137)

In developing this thesis, I will need to discuss how holiness relates to the atonement of Christ on the Cross, which allowed for the gifts of sanctification (crisic and progressive sanctification), and this will all point to the conclusion that this bursting surrender to the Trinity—which is what Galatians 2:20 level of surrender is—can lead to significant ecclesiastic Kingdom expansion and sanctified congregations.

HOLINESS: CEASELESSLY RECEIVING GOD’S LOVE INTO THE HEART

First, I will explore how holiness relationally imparts onto humans via God’s holiness, mission, and triunity. Holiness comes from God, and when imparted into a human, God’s holiness in the person gradually deletes and crucifies the self, gradually replacing it more-and-more through time—via letting go of self, deepening communion, and surrender—with a new self (2 Cor. 5:17) of holiness: the person is a new creation, which is Christ living in the person (Gal. 2:20), and being the Mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5). Initially, the crucifixion with Christ exists in the person only partially. To more fully deepen into proper surrender to Christ, the person must live on the Cross with Christ.

Scripturally, our thesis is pervasive throughout the Word. Consider the following verses:

Philippians 1:21 (NIV)

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Philippians 3:10 (NKJV)

10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,

Romans 6:6 (NASB)

6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin…

2 Timothy 2:11 (NIV)

11 …If we died with him, we will also live with him;

1 Peter 4:13 (NIV)

13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

Our task as Christians is to be in constant faith, ceaseless unity, and unbroken fellowship with the Trinity, as the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:16-17, Galatians 5:25), King David (Ps. 112:7), Isaiah (Isa. 26:3), the author of Hebrews (Heb. 12:2), John Wesley (2005), and many others clearly have pointed-out. When a human is in this constant communion with the Trinity, one has the capacity for being crucified with Christ. As Noble pointed out in the introduction, we are (paraphrasing) to focus on being crucified, carrying our cross, meditating on nails going through our hands, our life ending, in perfect surrender to Jesus. Holiness is imparted and implanted by the Holy Spirit into the human’s deepest inner being by the gift of Pentecost, but it has varying levels of intensity into which the Trinity reveals it in us, and the most intense level is via meditating on our Cross with Christ (being crucified with Him): the thirst, the laughter at us, the moment of death, and after, the sword going into our side.

By being in constant communion with the Trinity—which is to be in the ceaseless relationship of faith with the Trinity—the holiness and Christlikeness of the Trinity is implanted into a human, they undergo automatic heart changes that lead the surrendered ceaseless praying worshipper of Christ into both spontaneous and decision-based repentance, forgiveness, loving of enemies, loving God with all our Heart, fiercely trusting Him, and fearing Him. In other words, by being in the relationship of receiving God’s infinite love, He changes one’s innerness (heart), and a person is recreated in His likeness. But the purest moment of Christ’s ministry on earth was the Cross, and most specifically, the moment of death on the Cross, and so, if one were to be in a maximal state of likeness to Christ, they would be in a state of being crucified with Christ, at the most intense points at the end, and at that every point of death on the Cross. This is to be in a state, a life of maximal love, of highest loving and compassion, due to being in a state of sinless/perfected total giving of self to others.

By the word “surrender,” used multiple times up to this point in this paper, I mean the aforementioned constant communion with Jesus. This starts gradually at conversion, where a self starts the progressively sanctified processing (before perfection starts, see below) of becoming crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), where one gradually obtains the Mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5): One gradually becomes the opposite of their previous life in the world (weak instead of strong, loving instead of hateful, pure rather than fleshly, etc.). Leclerc writes:

If holiness is anything, it is absolute dependency on God. We have done well through the decades to explore the meaning of holiness under the following rubrics: holiness as instantaneous experience; holiness as progressive character development; holiness as purity; holiness as perfection; holiness as relational; holiness as love; holiness as empowerment. These are all appropriate ways to get at the content of what holiness looks like. But holiness might be further expressed if placed under the rubric of weakness. (Leclerc 2010, 250)

THE MISSION OF THE TRINITY

The Trinity’s mission is to create a holy fellowship of believers, that starts on Earth, and who are chosen to populate Heaven in maximal joy forever. This ecclesial creation of fellowship occurs via God’s supernatural grace and love, where undeserving hearts of stone are replaced with hearts of flesh and of praise inside of people, where people then have the capacity to fellowship with one another and have love between one another, unlike before surrender starts. The new heart starts at conversion, progresses to entire sanctification (unless a believer falls away from the Lord), and the Christian Perfection that exists after entire sanctification, and which is where a person has the capacity to be fully crucified with Christ. The Trinity does this by revealing infinitesimal aspects of Himself to humans, via confirmations, answered prayer, the feeling of His presence, prophecies, dreams and visions, cloud and/or light experiences (for example, Matthew 17:1-6), and the aforementioned heart change (heart replacement). Eventually, the response of the surrendered believer will be to fully let go of their prideful self and allow themselves to be crucified with the Trinity. According to our class syllabus:

His self-disclosure to us is free expression of his holy living. This is the principle fact of revelation—God spoke, God has spoken, and God speaks because He is holy love—and in this speaking, He communicates Himself… and He continues to speak the Word of redemption in the Church by the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17, 15:26), thereby creating for Himself a community that shares in His own holy loving. God’s mission in the Son and the Spirit, is to create holy fellowship. In His fellowship-creating mission, God discloses Himself freely and capacitates his church to know Him and worship Him. Herein is divine holiness made visible as mercy, loving-kindness and Lordship: He imparts knowledge of His own loving, disclosing His essential condescension and self-giving in Christ… (Class syllabus)

God, in making the surrendered, faith-filled believers like Him, prepares us for His mission, by putting His Spirit into us via personal Pentecost. With personal Pentecost, the Cross of the Son allows us to be like Him so that we can again have Him living inside of us, wherein we can again have fellowship with Father. Our job, as humans, is to cancel our lives, be crucified to Him in constant faith-awareness of Him, and receive His ever-present reaching out in grace and love to us. God’s infinite love spreads into and through existence, out of nothing, it cannot be contained and controlled, and it is responsible for Creation and salvation. By the overflowing of His love, His essence, this love spreads out from Him and results in the creation of worlds, and in grace, peace, joy, and the capacity for fellowship among the surrendered believers, His chosen ones (Rom. 8.29), that He reaches into, extracting sin and implanting love, to create His holy community. Full Ecclesial explosion, in Upper-Room-like prayerful intensity, stems most productively out of fully crucified congregants.

If the capacity for fellowship requires full surrender, to the point of living ceaselessly as crucified with Christ, then the focus of much of the Body of Christ is in need of intensification—the Body is contaminating itself with world, sin, pride/ego, self, and with being un-crucified (and likely to the point of being fearful of being crucified, where fear, which is sin [Rev. 21:8], replaces Galatians 2:20-level holiness). As stated, the surrendered believer most aptly participates in Ecclesial power by merely meditating on the Cross, trusting Christ infinitely, and being crucified with Him—where without these, the perfected loving-compassion of the One Mind (Phil. 2:2) of the Mind of Christ is replaced in part or in full by dysfunction. Being crucified with Christ will reveal the Light of God, His peace that transcends all understanding, most purely, and thus will lead to the most intensity among the Ecclesia. Anything less than fullest holiness, fullest surrender—being crucified with Christ—will lead to a non-maximal devotion to Christ and His Ecclesia, and thus the Church will contain dysfunction and darkness, instead of light and love.

HOLINESS IS LOVE; HOLINESS VIA THE CROSS

There is no greater gesture of love than to give one’s self, one’s essence away completely, giving it to another who does not deserve it. The maximal holiness mindset, of being crucified with Christ on His Cross, is the maximal point of love. In Wesleyanism, the number-one quality of holiness is love. Leclerc writes:

…any definition of holiness must include love. We could go so far as to say that holiness is (holy) love,… both in reference go God and to the holiness that God works in us…  And yet the scriptural message of salvation is that his holy God comes near to us, most powerfully in the incarnation of the Son and most perpetually through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Wholly Other becomes “just as we are” because of love (Heb. 4:15)… Holiness without love is no holiness at all… If we simply define human holiness as sinlessness, we have defined it only by an absence (namely, the absence of sin). But holiness is never a passive state; nor is it vacuous. There must be the presence of love in the  holy life to which God calls us. Holiness and love cannot be separated. (Leclerc 2010, 274)

Ipso facto, the maximal life of love is being crucified with Christ. It is the beautiful Cross of Christ that allows holiness to be implanted and imparted into humans. Put most succinctly, Christ’s atonement relates to Wesleyan holiness in that the atonement broke the power of sin within humanity, within us, and this allowed holiness to exist in the hearts of humans: since sin and holiness cannot exist in the same heart, the eradication of sin (to put it in a way more in church tradition, rather than in the Wynkoopian tradition) ushered in holiness. Because nature contained a perfect God-Man—functioning as the opposite of the virus of sin that contaminated all of Creation into sin via Adam—the atonement established that personal Pentecost could occur, and thus there were places in Creation where the curse of sin was displaced out of—namely, in surrendered human hearts. The displacement is only completed when a person is in union with Christ (Christian Perfection)—and I would assert further that this union is most holy and Christlike when it is a union of surrendered self with Christ crucified: in His most genuine existence, which is the moment of death on the Cross, arms spread out, embracing the entire world with His supernatural, sub contrario love. Our lives are to be like Him, like Christ, since in our fullest (self-crucified/Galatians 2:20) surrender we become like God: sinless, perfected, overflowing with love, diametrically opposite of the world. We are to pray, and we ask God to crucify us with Him, ceaselesly. Noble writes: “Christ’s victory for us, Greathouse explains, is not only a victory over Satan, but a victory over the power of sin entrenched within us. This means the crucifixion of the old man (anthropos, humanity), that is, our existence in Adam, the head and representative of fallen humanity” (Noble 2013, 139). To sink into the end-of-life, with Him, on the cross, is to fully absorb into Him, and into all other people in the world, by reaching out, and into them, via supernatural love and sacrifice.

SANCITIFCATION

The crisis of sanctification amid the processes of progressive sanctification and perfectedness, are the course-map for a person’s ever increasing in God in their life of increasing surrender to, crucifixion with, and existing within (John 15:5), God. When a person rejects the self and for the first time invites Jesus Christ to take over their life, they are initially sanctified, wherein they enter into the process of progressive sanctification. That first moment (conversion) is the crisis point, or transition point, from being fleshly and pre-surrendered, to commencing into a life with Christ of ever-increasing surrender to Christ and oneness with Him. The conversion moment, that breakage point, ends the life of the pre-saved/pre-surrendered person, where it is replaced by another life: the life of deepening in surrender to Christ, and existing in His will and His Being: a moment splits a life, from being unholy to holy, as a new creation.

Conversion / initial sanctification leads to progressive sanctification, but temptations, and occasional sin and disobedience (pride, separation from God, love of the world) will remain and nag at the person during progressive sanctification (which is the time between initial and entire sanctification). If the person does not fall away from the Trinity during the time of progressive sanctification, their deepening commitment and surrender to God will eventually prompt God, at an unexpected time, to bless the person again with a second gift of grace, called entire sanctification. Entire sanctification is a second crisis / breakage transition, wherein which a person’s indwelling sin (original sin) is extracted / removed, and the power of sin is broken in the person. The capacity for perfected (sinless) obedience is lived-by thereafter. The life after entire sanctification is called Christian Perfection. Fullness of communion with the Trinity is the perfected life after the entire sanctification crisis, made possible because God has given us “a heart to love Him” (Carole 2013, 35). This is the life of having the Mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5), Christian Perfection. Professor Carole writes:

It is the singular reign of pure love in the heart and life… The believer who is made perfect in love is freed from self-will and desires nothing but “the holy and perfect will of God.”[1] Thus, fullness of communion is a life of love and obedience to God, which finds expression in love for one’s neighbor. (Carole 2013, 31)

In this life of one desire, the person will have the discernment of Christ, and Christ will guide the person to living His Cross, His atonement.

HOLINESS AS THE ENGINE FOR ECCLESIAL KINGDOM PERFECTEDNESS

Most succinctly put, humans do not have the capacity for fellowship until perfected holiness overtakes a person’s life, which above was argued, is only fully realized when a person’s life is equal to ceaselessly being crucified with Christ: ceaselessly living that moment of death on the Cross of Glory! That being the case, entire sanctification and Christian Perfection are of utmost importance. Before that, “sin and death… are… ‘powers’ holding humanity in captivity… internal[ly]” (Noble 2013, 138). And the Galatians 2:20 level of ceaseless worship and surrender that I have discussed above, is the communion needed with God for believers to fully eradicate dysfunction that can act in opposition to the church, even among those who claim they are entirely sanctified. So, it would appear that in this paper I am arguing that being crucified with Christ is a type of holiness and surrender that is a subset of perfectedness of post-entire-sanctification living, a type of profound surrender that is not merely removal of inborn original sin, but further, is a way of having  union with Christ where we are unified with Him, at His most important moment, so to speak; we are united with Him in the most appropriate way.

The love that a person lives in this meditative life of the atonement is overpowering; the person is overtaken in joy-love, powered by Christ possessing the heart. This love can give rise to perfected Ecclesia. Love is required for fellowship, all love comes from God, and thus inner holiness and personal Pentecost is required for the body of Christ to have fellowship, by being one mind (Phil. 2.2) by each member of the Body having the Mind of Christ (Phil. 2.5). Carole writes: “…for Wesley, fellowship with God is an ever-flowing wellspring, which finds deepening expression in love for God, and one’s neighbor… Thus, personal knowledge of God imparts the capacity to engage in fruitful relationships.” (Carole 2013, 30) Without holiness, we are the antithesis of God’s love, and we are in the image of the Devil: hate, spite, gossip, lust and adulterousness, prone to suicide and murderous thoughts, driven by self-interested pride.” Leclerc writes:

We are, as a community, holy people. We are the holy, though the broken, body of Christ. And when one part suffers, all suffer… We empty ourselves out for each other so that all are seen as real persons, as part of the community of faith, as parts of the body that are just as valuable as we are… And as we are truly the church, the image of God shines forth precisely in the weakness of us all… Holiness then, down to its very foundations, is about God’s kenotic love for us. (Leclerc 2010, 251)

If one suffers we all suffer, and therefore conversely, if one is crucified with Christ then that profoundest of perfected holiness has a chance to pull others towards it.

CONCLUSION

When believers co-surrender, in co-self-crucifixion with the King, in constant prayer, like the Upper Room, then Christ will come to us supernaturally and implant the words “peace be with you” into our souls, and deliver us His Pentecost. When they are fully crucified with Christ, the Ecclesia exists purely, genuinely, sanctified, as the most powerful Beacon of discipleship: maximal holy giving of self to save the dark, damaged, fallen world and the mob of sinners inhabiting it in a state of death.

-Pastor Jeffrey Grupp, August 18, 2017

Works Cited

Carole, Susan B., 2013, Called Into Communion: A Paradigm Shift in Holiness Theology, Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Leclerc, Diane, 2010, Discovering Christian Holiness: The Heart of Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, Kansas City: Beacon Hill.

Noble, T.A., 2013, Holy Trinity, Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfection, United Kingdom: James Clarke and Co.

Wesley, John, 2005 (1872), John Wesley’s ‘A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Fenwick, MI: Alethea in Heart.

 

[1] This is a quote from John Wesley, from Plain Account.