Sanctification & the Second Blessing?

by. W. Jackson Watts

It has often been thought that there was a fundamental core of Christian teaching that has united orthodox believers through the ages. I tend to think this is not only historically the case, but theologically essential. Indeed, while we may debate the relative importance of certain issues, those doctrines which are tied most closely with the call to “repent and believe” the Gospel are those which should always occupy us the most.

However, Christian theology is much like a web of interlocking spiritual commitments. Pull one strand, and tension or slack will appear in another part of the web. The point of the metaphor is simply that doctrines tend to ‘hang together,’ which means that we want to think carefully about the relationships between our beliefs, even when diversity is evident on particular doctrinal questions among evangelicals.

In a 2014 monograph entitled Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice, theologian Kelly Kapic has edited a fine collection of essays on sanctification. My interest was especially piqued by the French theologian Henri Blocher, and his unique essay in this volume.

Blocher’s essay is entitled “Sanctification by Faith?” and largely sets out to explain the nature of faith in the process of sanctification. However, as a bit of a theological foil, Blocher includes a foray into Keswick and Wesleyan thought as it relates to questions of sanctification. Specifically, he is interested in those forms of perfectionism (or spirituality more generally) that emphasize a second blessing or second work of grace that follows conversion. Essentially, the question is whether or not sanctification is to be seen as the necessary and unavoidable consequence of salvation by grace through faith, or tied to a later spiritual crisis or experience that ensues after a person has accepted Christ as Lord, and not just Savior.

One can quickly see that the tentacles of this specific issue reach in several different theological directions. I would simply call attention to Blocher’s straight talk on the issue.

In speaking of Christian maturity, it is certainly appropriate to talk about a process that unfolds in the life of a believer, consisting of natural steps of growth (including experiences). Blocher calls attention to the many metaphors for growth or progress in the New Testament. Plants grow. Infants mature. Yet he additionally warns that due to the metaphorical nature of this language, we can only press them so far. As he notes, sometimes we slip back or regress in our walk. Or, “In the sense of covenant renewal, we start again and again on the Christian path.”[1]

Yet just a few lines later, Blocher more directly speaks to the “experience-driven” accounts of sanctification.

Like life in general, sanctification knows a combination of special moments, seasons of intense transformation, critical transitions as well as more linear continuity. If one claims to have had a second blessing we may rejoice but add that God also has in store a third, a tenth and a seventy-seventh blessing along the way.[2]

In other words, a biblical view of sanctification will not repudiate the idea of receiving God’s blessings throughout one’s journey of faith. However, a biblical account will also not reduce sanctification to a single blessing, experience, or crisis that comes through additional “faith acts” down the road that are substantially different than the faith that justifies.

As Blocher poignantly surmises, “faith receives him, and in him everything is ours.”[3] God does indeed grow us in His grace over time. And this process will include numerous stages of life, transitions, and key moments of decision. Yet this does not mean that those truly in union with Christ today are consigned to wait for a second blessing that was not already built into the fabric of their very salvation.


[1] Henri Blocher, “Sanctification by Faith?” in Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice, ed. Kelly Kapic (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 74

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 72.

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