Reckoning Faith

Steve Irons evaluates the holiness teaching of George Geftakys. There are two related articles, Is God's Grace Suspended Until We Act?, and Two Natures that provide further understanding of George's teaching on perfectionism.

In the booklet, Once-for-all Reality, George Geftakys claims that the Christian who "takes a position of faith" enters into a "once-for-all reality -- the once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated achievement and reality of Christ's cross." The Christian in this state "does not have to sin" and enjoys "a life of power, vitality and victory". On the other hand the Christian who is "unbelieving" and "hesitates" to act in faith is in "a state of paralysis and impotence -- a state of defeat". He calls them "wretched people". It's a binary kind of thing, like a switch. The Christian can be either in a state of victory from sin by turning on the switch of faith or the Christian can be in a state of defeat by not believing (or even hesitating to act in faith).

It was John Wesley who first introduced the notion of "entire instantaneous sanctification" and has since become known as "holiness teaching." Clearly George Geftakys has fallen prey to the "victorious Christian life" and himself teaches a form of sinless perfection. Benjamin B. Warfield in his book, Studies in Perfectionism, lists certain common characteristic features of this teaching:

  1. Justification and sanctification are divided from one another as two separate gifts of God.
  2. Sanctification is represented as obtained, just like justification, by an act of simple faith, but not by the same act of faith by which justification is obtained, but by a new and separate act of faith, exercised for this specific purpose.
  3. The sanctification which comes on this act of faith, comes immediately on believing, and all at once.
  4. This sanctification, thus received, is complete sanctification.
  5. However, it is added, that this complete sanctification does not bring freedom from all sin; but only, say, freedom from sinning; or only freedom from conscious sinning; or from the commission of "known sins."
  6. This sanctification is not a stable condition into which we enter once for all by faith, but a momentary attainment, which must be maintained moment by moment, and which may readily be lost and often is lost, but may also be repeatedly instantaneously recovered.

These common features are found in George's teaching on holiness as well.  Let's see if this is not the case by considering some quotations from the Once-for-all Reality pamphlet.

Two separate gifts?

George does indeed teach "that justification and sanctification are divided from one another as two separate gifts of God." Forgiveness, he says,

" the beginning of a glorious life in the Savior, but there is much more.  Jesus Christ not only took our sins to the cross, He took the sinner to the cross... How do we acknowledge the reality that we have died with Christ?  The same way that we received the forgiveness of sins -- by faith" (page 9).

Here George denigrates forgiveness of sins and tells us it is just a "beginning"; there is "much more" to enter into.

However, we find in Scripture, that justification and sanctification are never separated; they are indissolubly bound together.  We cannot have sanctification without justification.  When we first believed we received a whole Christ; not Christ initially as our righteousness and then later as our sanctification.  We received both when we first trusted in Christ.  To separate these two great truths of one salvation is to divide the person of Christ.  We cannot have Him as our righteousness and at the same time not have Him as our sanctification.  "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -- that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption" (I Corinthians 1:30).

A separate act of faith?

George clearly teaches that we are sanctified by a separate act of faith, an act of faith that is different from the act of faith that brought us forgiveness.  Actually, many such separate acts of faith are required.

"We have accepted the forgiveness of our sin by faith, but we have not accepted daily deliverance from the power of sin by faith" (page 15).

"We may still feel the wiggle of the sinful nature, but we know the victory over it.  So, we are told to put ourselves at the disposal of God.  Here is where the victory is gained or the battle is lost.  We must respond by faith, by a once-for-all act and at once... God is handing us His victory, and we can receive it by faith.  Isn't that how we were saved in the first place -- by simply accepting His gift?  Even so, we can acknowledge our deliverance and freedom and victory by faith" (pages 25-26)

In contrast, Scripture teaches that it is by one and the same act of faith that we take Christ as our righteousness and sanctification.  Paul and the apostles did not preach two messages to be separately believed: one to the lost sinner and then another to the saved sinner.  Consider the message that Paul preached.  "But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23).  When Paul corrects the Galatians about the gospel he reminds them of the message he brought to them from the beginning.

"Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified... Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gal. 3:1-3)

Paul's gospel from the outset was about a crucified Christ.  From the beginning the Galatians heard only Christ crucified and from the beginning this is what they believed.

Immediately and at once?

Does George teach that sanctification comes immediately, all at once, upon a second act of faith?  Most certainly.

"To be in Christ is to take a position of faith because it is only by faith that we identify with the victory of His death.  When we do that, we automatically will know the release of His life" (page 11).

"Once we say this ['I have taken a position of faith'], God enables us, because to be in Christ is to be in grace.  His grace gives us freedom of power." (page 12).

"When sin has been put away, death can no longer have a grasp on us.  Therefore, if we have been permanently united with His death, it follows logically that we are permanently united with His resurrection.  So all we have to do is take the position of faith that we have died with Christ and then, automatically, we will live with Him" (page 23).

Notice, the words "automatically" and "once".  Just take the position of faith and presto God releases His life in us and gives us "freedom of power" to do as we wish.

Furthermore, George states that the "normal" Christian life is without struggle.  To struggle in the Christian life is to live in a state of defeat.  A simple "acknowledgement" from us is all that it takes to move from a state of defeat to a state of victory.

"This, they say, is the normal Christian life -- a state of defeat in which we cannot do the things that we want to do... until the day we die, there will always be a struggle between the things we want to do but cannot, and the things we do, which we do not want... It is easy to identify these wretched people because they have no joy, they are always battling and at a standstill. But this paralysis is not the normal Christian life" (pages 18-19).

"Notice that this does not mean continually putting off the old man and putting on the new man. No, we acknowledge that we have been crucified with Christ, once for all" (page 20).

However, Scripture is clear that the sanctification we receive in Christ does not come all at once;  it is a process.  There is a struggle involved.

"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13).

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Sanctification is a gradual process.  This is God's way of bringing about his purposes and it should not stress us out that we are not yet perfect.  He could, no doubt, perfect us in a moment; but He does not.  The removal of the stains and effects of sin is a slow process.  We will continue to struggle with the remainder of indwelling sin until the day we die.  To us this is a weary process; but it is God's way.  To the weary, Paul gives hope: "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."  After a while, God will do it.  So be patient and stop looking around for a short cut.

Complete and entire?

Make no mistake.  George claims "complete and entire" sanctification in this life.  His language is quite bold:

"So what we need is not freedom of choice but freedom of power.  When we, by faith, choose that which we cannot do, we position ourselves in Christ's death.  When He died, He released the resources of His grace to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves... By taking our position in faith, we can know the reality that we are free...  To be free indeed is to be free as God is free.  God is free to be all that He needs to be" (page 13).

"When we say that we have been crucified with Christ, He puts us into the mold of His cross.  He thus gives us the grace to only go His way.  Just as before we could do nothing but sin, now we can do nothing but righteousness" (page 29).

We become as God to be all that we need to be!  Since we are now as God, we can do nothing but walk in holiness and righteousness.

When we compare these quotes with I Thessalonians 5:23-24 again, we learn that God does not promise complete and entire sanctification in this life.  Christian perfection ("blamelessness") is not already in the possession of the believers.  Paul does not congratulate the Thessalonians for having attained it.  For Paul their sanctification is a matter of petition and prayer.  Perfection is yet to come.  There isn't even a hint from these verses that it will be completed in this life.

The completion of sanctification is at the coming of our Lord Jesus, at the end of the world.  The reason (among others) is because this perfection includes not only the inner man (spirit and soul) but the body as well.  The perfected body is given to the believer only at the resurrection, at the last day.  So we must wait until that day for a complete and entire sanctification.

Freedom from all sin?

George doesn't want to be accused of teaching "sinless perfection," so we see him fudge a bit about what it means to have this "reality" of victory over sin.

"As we thank Him, we are abiding in Him, and this is what enables us to no longer sin... As long as we abide with God, we maintain our union with Him.  It is only when we do not abide in Him, that is, when we don't walk by faith, that we sin.  As long as we abide in Him, we do not have to sin" (page 28).

Notice the phrase "we do not have to sin."  He doesn't come right out and say "we do not sin."  The reason for this is that George has to deal with the problem of remaining sin in our lives -- "the wiggle of the old man in us".  Here's what he has to say about the "wiggle".

"It is like a snake when you cut off its head.  It is definitely dead, but the body still wiggles and may continue for hours. We may feel the wiggle of the old man in us, but he was severed and crucified" (page 23).

"We do not have to kill the old man again. We simply need to take our position of faith, acknowledging the once-for-all reality that we were placed in the death of Christ.  Then we have victory over the wiggles that remain.  Then we are not dominated by our sinful natures" (page 23).

This points out one of the defects in George's teaching on holiness.  It fails to provide any real deliverance from the corruption in our hearts.  Shockingly, the heart remains corrupt despite the egotistical claim that we are in a state of victory over sin.  The corruption is still there; it is still wiggling around.

Every believer is still "captive to the law of sin" (Romans 7:23).  He can will what is right but he "cannot do it," (Romans 7:18).  His continual cry is, "wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24), and longs for deliverance.  God assures the believer of deliverance from indwelling sin through Christ Jesus, but not while living in this body of sin.

A momentary attainment?

Finally, to George, this sanctification is but a momentary attainment.  It is not at all stable and is readily lost.  Because of that we find George explaining to us how it was that we lost it.  We weren't repentant enough, or we weren't truly abiding, or we hesitated to immediately act in faith.

"Unless we fully repent, unless we are completely willing for whatever God wants, we will never have victory over sin.  The issue is not a clearer knowledge of God's will, but rather a willingness for His will, whatever it might be" (pages 14-15).

"Why do we hesitate? Because we really love our sin.  It is depraved, but we don't want to give it up... Hesitation will cost us the victory.  But if we, by a once-for-all act and at once, put our members at the disposal of God, "the sinful nature will not exercise lordship over [us]" (pages 26).

Why is it that the way back into the state of victory is to "fully repent", "be completely willing", or "give up our sin?" These are not acts of faith, but acts of our own self effort to regain the victory.  So is it by faith or by my own effort?  George is inconsistent here with his earlier pronouncements that it is all by faith.  He now resorts to self effort to regain the victory.

To George, our very union with Christ is momentary and readily lost.  He says, "As long as we abide with God, we maintain our union with Him" (page 28).  On the one hand, we are in union with Christ by virtue of Christ's "once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated achievement" (page 8), but on the other hand that union exists only so long as we abide in Him.  It is quite possible then for us to slip in and out of union with Christ.

Yes, George "bewitched" us.  Instantaneous, entire sanctification has great appeal.  How can we be free from the spell cast over us for so many years?  Paul's impassioned appeal in the book of Galatians to hear again the simple gospel of Christ might be a good place to start.  The gospel -- declared righteous (justified) by faith alone on account of Christ alone -- is still for Christians.

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