In April of 2004, however, I had an encounter with God unlike anything I had ever experienced. This encounter caused me to reevaluate what I believed about holiness and the experience of entire sanctification. Before anyone accuses me of heresy let me stop here for a minute to say that I believe in the sanctifying power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God now more than ever.
For several years I had been struggling with the issue of holiness. It was not that I didn’t believe in a second work. My problem was with the people I had encountered, many of whom sat in seminary along side me, who testified of the experience openly, but in secret, when the “masks” were off, struggled with sin just as much as people who didn’t believe in the work of holiness. I guess what disturbed me most is that, the more I saw this in others, the more I determined in myself to live a holy life. Yet the more I tried to be holy, the more I found myself lying at the feet of Jesus in failure. I was convinced that when I failed, it wasn’t because God hadn’t sanctified me, but because I had not spent enough time in prayer or the Word. Every time the Lord renewed me, I would rise more determined than ever to be the man God wanted me to be.
This continued cycle of failure, victory and resolve, lead me to the place of desperation I found myself in as I drove down highway 36 two months ago. I had been dealing with attitudes in my life that I knew were not pleasing to God, but no matter how often I “consecrated” them to Him in prayer, I continually found myself repenting of them.
So alone in my car I began to have a very honest conversation with God. “Father,” I said, “I am tired of this and I don’t know what to do.” Then I said, “It’s not that I don’t trust You; I trust You completely. The problem is that I don’t trust myself.”
Then, in the secret places of my heart I heard God say, “And that, my son, has been your problem your entire Christian walk. You have trusted in your prayers of consecration and your ability to commit yourself to me to make you and keep you Holy. I know you believe I can do it. What I’m asking now is do you believe that I will do it?”
Then it happened. As my heart answered, “Yes Lord, I believe.” The Holy Spirit descended upon my car, and somewhere between Rockville and Danville, I encountered the living God in His sanctifying and liberating power! In an instant, the war was over. Attitudes I had unsuccessfully strived so hard to conquer, He destroyed with no effort. Battles I had fought my entire life, He ended without lifting a finger. For the first time in my life, I knew the meaning of the words, “If the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.” This happened on a Wednesday. The preceding Monday morning, God had awaken me to tell me that He wanted me to preach on entire sanctification the following Sunday. Little did I know that He was planning to use me as the illustration.
So what is different now? Prior to this encounter, my beliefs about holiness, though sound theologically, were based on what I had been taught and what I had been told I must have experienced. I had studied this doctrine throughout scripture and could effectively argue its biblical soundness and validity. I had prayed prayers of consecration to God and, though I didn’t feel sanctified, had accepted “by faith” that God must have done the work. And so, I had gotten up from the altar many times intensely determined to live the life of holiness.
Now I realize that this is something that we are unable to do but that God is more than willing to do if we let Him. He does sanctify, but not because we have prayed the right prayers, spent hours on our knees or had the strength to conquer temptation. He sanctifies because He promised us He would. Our part is to present ourselves as a sacrifice, but it is God who wields the knife.
Does this mean that I am perfect? I would like to say yes, but you may talk to my wife and find out otherwise. No, it means that I am dead. Do I have the strength to live a holy life? I repeat; I am dead! Dead people don’t have anything. Nor do they do anything. The life I live, I live in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The strength in me is not me it is God. Does temptation still knock on my door? You better believe it does! But now it is the Holy Spirit who answers and not me. And trust me, He is far more effective in dealing with temptation than I was.
Why do I write this? I write this to those who, like myself, have struggled with the doctrine of holiness their entire Christian walk; struggled, not because they didn’t believe it, but because they have hungered for it so much that in their desperation to reconcile what they believe with how they live, they have stopped short of the actual experience. Instead, they have settled for a holiness based on human effort and “spiritual acts” performed under the guise of faith and not on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me assure you, the experience is real! I have come to know in a new way the truth of that old chorus,
“There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.”
There is freedom unlike any you have ever known! There is a work of grace that makes the heart content and ends the war of the soul! There is a living God who in one second can shatter chains you have spent your life trying to free yourself from! No only can He do it, but He wants to do it, and He will do it! And believe me, ‘If the son sets you free, you will indeed be free!”