A few summers ago, we went on a family vacation to Disneyland. We had the privilege of taking advantage of convenient the “fast pass” which makes standing in long lines a thing of the past.  I hate standing in lines—any lines. We see this impatience all around us in our culture—from fad diets, high speed internet, to overnight express mail, and I-phone apps.  We live in a micro-wave magic world. We get impatient when we have to actually watch a television program in “real time” instead of fast forwarding through the commercials once we have recorded it on our DVR.  Our culture demands instant pleasure. We want things yesterday! And yet how does this translate into the area of growing in godliness?


            Another weakness of the Keswick doctrine of pursuing holiness lies in its claim that sanctification is instant and victory is complete over all known sin. Through the use of techniques such as “letting go and letting God” or “ceasing from striving” or “absolutely surrendering” a believer can experience a higher level of spirituality.  A person struggling with the sin of pornography for instance through a crisis of belief and a moment of surrender can be instantaneously free from this sin and achieve complete victory. One of the key early proponents of the Keswick view said, “A victory gained … by a gradual conquest over evil, getting one sin after another out of our life, is counterfeit victory.”[1]  In other words, if Christians struggle over a long period of time to kill indwelling sin instead of defeating it through an instantaneous surrender, that victory proves inauthentic.


            Does the Bible teach instantaneous and complete victory over all known sin in this life? Can we through a simple process of “letting go and letting God” never ever have to struggle with sin again?  My wife and I enjoy hiking in our home state of Colorado. A few years ago we decided to face a challenge we had wanted to do for a while–climb a 14’er! For those not from Colorado, that means a mountain that is over 14,000 feet above sea level. So early one Saturday morning, we began the trek up Grey’s Peak which we were told was a relatively easy climb. After four hours of stopping to catch our breath every fifteen feet, wincing in pain, and seeing all of these 20 something’s pass us by, we came to reinterpret the term “mountain top experience”. Our hike up the mountain was a visual allegory for the Christian’s journey through life. There are peaks and valleys, twists and turns, rocks and hills, steep cliffs and flat meadows, but in the end, it is all uphill. There is no instantaneous arrival at the top of the mountain unless you fly in by helicopter. The Christian life is not a casual helicopter flight with immediate results, but as John Bunyan has so vividly captured– a “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  We as Christians are on a life-long journey full of adventure, struggles, heartache, doubt, and at times victory on our way to the Celestial City. Bishop J.C. Ryle said this: “The theory of a sudden, mysterious transition of a believer into a state of blessedness and entire consecration, at one mighty bound, I cannot receive. It appears to me to be a man-made invention, and I do not see a single plain text to prove it in Scripture.”[2]  B.B. Warfield also warns against the expectation of instantaneous sanctification promised in the “victorious life” teaching by saying, “Its glowing and ‘romantic’ overtures that offer life on a higher plane are ultimately offers of victory to the impatient.”[3]


Instant Yieldedness or Constant Warfare?          


We find Scripture’s emphasis on the reality of indwelling sin sprinkled throughout the New Testament. Let us examine two passages which shed light upon this issue of instantaneous sanctification.  In Galatians 5:17, Paul writes, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Again, once God has saved us by His sovereign grace, He does not eradicate sin out of our lives. We still have the desires of the flesh. But by the same token, He has graciously given us the Holy Spirit to take up residence within us. The desires of our indwelling flesh wage war against the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This opposition that Paul addresses is a continuous warfare. The desires of the flesh are continually on an ongoing basis opposed to the desires of the flesh.[4] Paul nowhere intimates in this passage that a believer will achieve complete and instantaneous victory over all known sin. Instead, he guarantees us that we will have a lifelong internal battle between our fleshly desires and the desires of the Holy Spirit. This battle will finally end the moment we step foot into heaven. 


            In addition to Paul, the apostle John addresses this issue in his First Epistle when he writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10) We can never get to the point where we can say that we are somehow without sin. John does not espouse the idea that we can be instantaneously free of all known sin. He simply tells us that when we confess our sin, God is faithful and just in His forgiveness and cleansing. The word for “confess” again denotes continuous action. In other words, the life of a believer is one of continual confessing of sins because we will always have sin in our lives.  As we progress in holiness the sin in our lives will become less habitual and grievous.


            In reality, the Keswick method confuses the historic Protestant distinctions between law and gospel. In essence, our holy God demands absolute obedience to His moral law. We see these all throughout the Scriptures as the moral imperatives codified in the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and the ethical axioms in the New Testament. The law exists to show guilty sinners that we can in no way uphold this law perfectly and that we have fallen short of God’s standard. The gospel breaks in as the good news which announces to us that Christ actually lived the perfect life that none of us could live and obeyed every single command of God perfectly in thought, word, and deed.  Through His victorious life (not ours), His vicarious death on the cross, and his triumphant resurrection, by faith we are united to Him and His absolutely perfect record of righteousness is imputed to us. As a result, we stand not only innocent before the Father, but also clothed in the positive righteousness of Christ. The grounds for our acceptance with God comes from both the life of Christ in keeping the law for us and the death and resurrection of Christ in purchasing us as His people.


            The Keswick theology has subtly shifted the emphasis on law as God’s standard and moved it to “surrender” as God’s standard. The problem with this is that God’s laws have been clearly stated in Scripture so that there is no confusion. “Surrender” is such a nebulous term that becomes difficult to even define or quantify.  Michael Horton says this, “No longer did God require absolute perfection, but ‘absolute surrender’. It was not external works of obedience that God required, but ‘complete consecration’ and ‘yieldedness’. Those, however, who attempt to ‘yield’, ‘surrender’, and ‘love’ as God commands soon realize that this is even more difficult than conforming outwardly to divine commandments.”[5]


Introspective Frustration


            Ultimately, the Keswick movement leads to an unhealthy introspection where believers constantly wonder if they have surrendered or yielded themselves enough to God. This in turn leads to frustration when the struggle with sin continues to ensue.  Christians who have tender consciences often wonder why they still struggle with sin even after many attempts to “let go and let God”.  They wonder if maybe they haven’t let go enough. And then how does one know how much to let go? How does one know if he or she has surrendered enough? What is the basis for this? Is it external obedience to the revealed law of God or is it some internal and subjective prompting or impression? And why are we in the driver’s seat in this process? Why do we have to “let go” before a sovereign all-powerful God can be allowed to do His work in our lives?


            Frustrated believers begin to question their faith and wonder if something is truly wrong with them. Did they do the technique correctly? Was it consistent enough? Were they truly serious about it? Frustration leads to despair as they begin to compare themselves to others who have so called “reached” this plane of higher victorious spirituality. The “have nots” are told by the “haves” to stop striving and start letting go in order to truly arrive at this crisis of surrender like they are supposed to in order to achieve immediate victory.  Instead of practicing gospel repentance in truly killing sin (which we will address in Chapter 13), the defeated Christian falls into a trap of endless trips to the altar for a time of re-consecration. Frustrated with guilt, they rededicate their lives to the Lord for the thousandth time hoping that this time it truly sticks and that they have yielded enough to finally have victory. They wait for that moment of emotional crisis in order to yield to God so that they can subsequently be filled with the Spirit. But what if that crisis never comes? What if every day is a crisis of battling doubt and that living in a state of warfare is actually the normal part of being a Christian? Michael Horton writes,


War with sin and doubt, guilt and depression, are not signs of defeat, but proof of Christ’s victory. After all, those who are not baptized into Christ by the Spirit are at peace with sin and unbelief. The absence of war within is true only of people in one of two states: unregenerate or glorified. The believer is presently neither. Such conflict is not the evidence that one is a “carnal Christian” but is the genuine experience of every true believer throughout the course of this life.”[6]


If you have struggled with sin and have not experienced this immediate victory, do not think of yourself as a second class Christian, but as a pilgrim on the long and winding road to heaven. Be encouraged that what God has begun in you He will sovereignly complete (Philippians 1:6). In your frustration and desire to see growth in the battle with sin, find hope in the fact that our great Savior will bring you to completion in His perfect timing.


 In the end, the Keswick teachings on sanctification leave believers with an inadequate answer to help them in their quest to truly kill sin. Instead of passively surrendering to Christ through a fuzzy technique called “letting go and letting God”, Paul gives us a different instruction. He writes in 1 Timothy 1:18: “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.”


In our next post we will shift gears and understand the expulsive power of a new affection in gospel repentance….


[1] Charles Trumbull, “Victory in Christ”, 36

[2] J.C. Ryle, “Holiness” (England, Evangelical Press: 1879), xxv

[3] B.B. Warfield, “The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Volume VIII, Perfectionism Part Two” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, Reprinted 2003) , 464

[4] The word “opposed” is a present middle  indicative middle 3rd person singular which signifies continuous action or ongoing warfare

[5] Michael Horton, “In the Face of God”, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1996), 167

[6] Michael Horton, “In the Face of God”, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1996), 193



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