What Does Holiness Mean?

(Taken from “Pressing On!” Los Angeles Holiness Church 70th Anniversary — 1921-1991 Booklet)
“Holiness” is a good biblical word.  Unfortunately, it is an often misunderstood word today. 
“Holiness” in our tradition does not mean “Holy-Roller Pentecostalism.”  Although the Pentecostal Movement (begun in 1901) is an offshoot of the Holiness Movement, its emphasis on speaking in tongues never figured in John Wesley’s teaching nor in the birth of the Oriental Missionary Society.  What both movements affirm, however, is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to renew human life.


“Holiness” does not mean “perfect in every way.”  Wesley’s holiness doctrine (or “perfection” or “entire sanctification”) is often misunderstood to mean that a Christian can achieve sinless perfection in this life.  While some of Wesley’s followers have exaggerated their founder’s teaching in this way, Wesley himself never taught such a thing.


Wesley’s perfection meant a perfection in love.  Wesley taught that becoming a Christian launched a person on a process growth in Christian love, empowered by God’s grace, but also to be pursued with vigor by the believer.  “This process of sanctification…culminates in an experience of ‘pure love’ as one progresses to the place where love becomes devoid of self-interest…It is important, however, to note that this perfection was not static but dynamic, always improvable…


“Although Wesley talks about an instantaneous experience called ‘entire santification’ subsequent to (conversion), his major emphasis was the continous process of going on to perfection” (R. G. Tuttle Jr., “John Wesley” in

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, ed., [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984]).


In fact, Wesley’s sermon on “Christian Perfection” had as its text Philippians 3:12–“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  This is the same portion of SCripture from which our 70th Anniversary theme is taken: “Pressing On!”


Wesley spoke of people being “happy and holy.”


“Why are you not happy?”  Wesley would ask.  “The main reason,” he would then declare, “is because you are not holy” (Lovett H. Weems, Jr., John Wesley’s Message Today

, [Nashville: Abingdon, 1991]).