Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury --http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .
From: Holiness for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1983 Wesley Press
Sidetracks from Holiness
Many doctrines of the church are abused, misunderstood, or taken to the extreme one
way or another. there is a "main line" for every doctrine. However, human beings have a
tendency to take some good truth and ride off into extremism. Doctrinal emphases frequently
This chapter traces some of the sidetracks from true biblical holiness. It is not done
with any intention to be negative or critical of any person or group, past or present . Rather, the
purpose is to offer the reader a helpful description of what we are NOT talking about when we
speak of holiness in the remaining chapters. Every generation has had its holiness sidetracks.
These are some of the more common ones.
Some holiness people left the main track and took the tangent of legalism. They came
to identify holiness with certain selected "standards." In the most radical manifestations,
submission to a lengthy list of taboos was considered to be sound evidence of true holiness.
These unwritten rules often dealt extravagant clothing. The list also included a variety of
forbidden activities commonly considered worldly.
Many of these standards were for some woman and especially related to avoiding
tempting men toward impure thoughts. In some groups it became commonly agreed that these
standards were "the outward sign of the inward work." Such legalism can easily be a sidetrack
from the sound truth of entire consecration.
The trail of how this legalism happens is intriguing. The sidetrack does not happen
until step 4. It goes something like this:
1. Entire sanctification requires a total and complete consecration of my all - I
must be willing to sacrifice anything to God.
2. God often focuses on one or two of my problem areas in making His total claim
on my life These one or two areas of holdout become the test of my willingness to say, Not my
will, but Yours." If I am unwilling to submit to whatever God wants in these areas, I am not
entirely consecrated, thus not ready to receive entire sanctification.
3. When I do totally surrender all to Jesus - even those secret areas of holdout -
He does respond with a sanctifying work in me.
4. (Here is where the trouble begins.) I may therefore assume that these two areas
must be the universal "price" of entire sanctification to specific "things," they make their area of
obedience the standard for everybody.
It is equally interesting to see how entire groups (congregations, areas, or even
denominations) adopt certain taboos as outward signs of holiness:
1. At some point a person testifies, "When I finally gave up X and Y (you pick
what X or Y is), the Lord fully sanctified me."
2. Another (still "guilty" of X or Y) says, "that's absurd - I'll never give up X or Y
- not even to be entirely sanctified." Thus, he sets up his own test of submission. X and Y
become more important to him than being holy. He continues to do X pr Y, but he recognizes
that he lacks power; his heart is not right. His problem is not necessarily X or Y - it is his
3 Finally, sick of his inward disobedience, he or she says to God, "You can have
all of me - my will is in total submission to yours - even if I have to give up X and Y." God
cleanses him and he experiences victory.
4. (Here comes trouble again.) He now shares with his friends, "I refused to
sacrifice X and Y. For years I said I'd never give those up. When I finally did, the Lord entirely
5. Soon this group is filled with people who faced the same "test issue" for their
willingness to do whatever God desired. The whole group comes to accept that a person can't be
entirely sanctified if they are wearing or doing X or Y!
6. The whole thing calcifies into legalism when these outward "test issues" are
considered to be proof of the inward work.
God requires entire consecration -- willingness to submit to God in all areas of our lives.
However, we can't set up our own tests of submission. If a whole group does this in concert, they
are in danger of legalism.
Legalism becomes a problem when I impose my own "convictions" on others. Though
often done innocently, the consequences can be serious.
The greatest negative consequences that legalism frequently becomes stumbling block
to others seeking holiness. They stumble over the false tests set up by "more mature Christians."
We must always trust the Holy Spirit to do His convicting work in the lives of believers. The
Spirit will point out to each individual areas of holdback.
A delayed consequence of legalism is what happens to the next generation. History is
replete with illustrations that the following generation will either be lost from the kingdom
altogether, or will reject all corporate standards of behavior, heading off on the opposite tangent
of "anything goes." This tangent is at least as dangerous as legalism. Both are sidetracks.
God does require a total consecration -- a willingness to be, say, or do all that He desires
of me. But, what He specifically requires of me, He may not require of you. We can trust the
Holy Spirit to faithfully convince each believer in a personal way. Insisting that my convictions
must become yours is one pathway to the sidetrack of legalism.
In college I worked for a building contractor who did some construction on a "holiness
campground." The camp featured a large pavilion complete with a floor-covering of
woodshavings. During my first day on the job, a young laborer asked, "What do they do in that
big building over there?" A swarthy old carpenter immediately replied, "Well, Peter, that there is
a holy roller tabernacle. You see, them holy rollers get in there and roll all around in those
shavings 'til they come out of there looking' like shaggy dogs. Haven't you ever seen people 'get
I had attended that particular camp meeting for several years and had never seen
anything so startling or entertaining! In fact, the meetings could have had a bit more
enthusiasm, in my opinion. But the old carpenter was sure that holiness was somehow connected
with holy rolling.
Where does this misconception come from?
All down through history there have regularly been a variety of emotional
manifestations when the Holy Spirit does a special work among His saints.
John Wesley was distraught about such an emotional sidetrack in 1762. He desired the
outbreak of "enthusiasm" among a holiness group in London who when off the deep end,
supposing they would never die, assuming they would never again be tempted, or feel pain,
claiming gifts of prophecy or discerning of spirits, all amid "much noise and confusion." This
outbreak of emotionalism brought a flood of reproach on Wesley and the doctrine of holiness.
Through history there has been a variety of emotional manifestations related in one way
or another to entire sanctification, the filling of the Spirit, and holiness. There has, at various
times been quaking (hence, the "Quakers"), shaking ("Shakers"), "shouting," "funning the
aisles," being "slain in the Spirit," "getting blessed," and "Holy parades." At least one fellow
built quite a reputation for running at full speed all over the church on the tops of the pews!
How did this kind of emotional exuberance become identified with holiness? Easy.
People do respond emotionally to God's work in their lives. The joy, peace, love, happiness, and
enthusiasm are great. It is natural that humans express this joy in some way.
How emotion is expressed differs from person to person, group to group, and has
changed in different periods of history. But an emotional response to God's work, especially His
purifying work, is natural. People generally express this gratitude and praise to the Lord in
socially acceptable ways. Each group has its unwritten standards of what is an 'acceptable way"
to praise the Lord. Each individual has his own limits, largely established by his background,
reaction to his background, or temperament. The emotional expression may be quiet tears, a
raised hand, two raised hands, a smile, a soft "thank You, Lord," a "testimony," a boisterous
"Hallelujah," a shout, "applause for Jesus," or other distinctly individual expressions.
The point is this: people will always respond emotionally to deeply moving experiences
-- including religious ones. But they generally respond in a way that comes naturally to their
temperament (more on this in chapter 10) and what is socially accepted or expected.
Emotionalism can be misleading. It is an appealing sidetrack from the main truth of
holiness. The emotionalism sideline sometimes gets people seeking a "Spiritual Mountain Dew"
to "tickle their innards." Emotionalism can be whipped up by preaching, song evangelists, or
musical groups, giving a false sense of God's blessing when it is nothing but froth. Sometimes
emotionalism can be a false indication of spiritual truth or maturity. Those who focus on
mystical experiences are inclined to extend their own particular emotional response to others,
expecting all who "really have it" to act like them.
Finally, like legalism, emotionalism can have grave effects on the next generation.
Sometimes the children of those living in an era of emotionalism shift their gears in reverse and
exclude all emotional from their religious experience. To them "respectability" is foremost, and
all meetings must be held "decently and in order.' They reject any pull at emotions and consider
those who respond outwardly as "shallow," "baby Christians," or "interested only in froth."
This may be one reason why a large segment of the current holiness movement has so
soundly rejected the practice of tongues speaking -- they acutely recall what they felt were abuses
of overt emotionalism in their own past and fear any return. (There are, however, other good
reasons to question an emphasis on this practice.)
Men and women are emotional beings. Wee do not want a relationship with God
without emotion any more than we would be satisfied with a marriage without emotion. But we
can ride off on a tangent until the manifestations of our emotions take center stage. Jesus, not
some emotional ecstasy, must always be at the center stage of holiness.
Some have spun off on the tangent of "now-ism." They have insisted that the options
are clear: (a) holiness, or (b) hell. Their logic goes like this:
1. God wants me to be holy.
2. If I am not now holy, it is because I am resisting God's will for my life.
3. Resistance to God's will is willful disobedience -- sin.
4. Willful sin leads to a broken relationship with God.
5. Therefore, I must become holy now, or go to hell.
The "holiness or hell" proponents have taken a good idea and run down a sidetrack with
it. True, continued resistance to the Spirit's demands will bring serious consequences to a
believer's relationship with God. But there is also a danger of pushing others into a hasty
"consecration" which may become a substitute for true and entire sanctification. Believers have
been pressured into claiming a work not yet received, just to escape hell. Some sincere seekers
may simply give up when the promised deliverance does not happen immediately upon their cry
A worse outcome of the holiness or hell notion is what happens to those raised under its
influence. As often is the case, they return to the main track and promptly head off the opposite
direction -- into "optionalism." they make holiness "possible, but unlikely" for believers,
reserving the experience for a select elite of God's children. They don't talk about holiness, read
about it, testify to cleansing, or preach about its possibility. And, if they do, they never call it
"holiness" or "entire sanctification."
The middle ground is:
1. God does want me to be holy -- to love and obey Him perfectly.
2. To be holy is possible in this life.
3. I should seek to become holy -- now.
4. Continued resistance to God's will can result in a loss of relationship with
5. But, as long as I am hungering for righteousness -- walking in the light given
to me -- I am not headed for hell.
God does not threaten His children, "Be holy . . . or else." Instead, like a Father, He
takes us by the hand and leads us toward the perfect image of his Son. He does not scare us into
holiness, but calls us forward to complete commitment and cleansing. our job: obedience. If we
are walking in obedience to Him, He is anxious to do everything possible to help us grow more
For some, holiness has been watered down to a mere "second trip to the altar." People
testify to being "saved and sanctified" referring to two "events" in their Christian life. Entire
sanctification is truly an epochal event. But to speak only of that event is a sidetrack from the
main line. Holiness is predominantly a daily walk with Christ -- "walking as He walked." When
sanctification is treated merely as a one-time event, we depart from the scriptural idea of God's
Combining "two-tripism" with "now-ism" has caused many serious saints to dutifully
take their second trip to the altar. This way lulls them into a false sense that they now "have all
they ever need." Not true. Yes, there is an "event" side to entire sanctification -- a specific time
when we make a total consecration, and in faith accept God's cleansing. But sanctification is
more than a crisis event.
Take marriage, for example. Certainly "the event" of marriage -- the wedding -- was an
important crisis to me. I stood before witnesses and publicly proclaimed I was forsaking all
others and taking Sharon to be my wife. our wedding was important -- we have a whole book full
of pictures about it. But our wedding did not make our marriage. our marriage is a life lived
together in light of our wedding commitment. Our wedding event initiated a rich, growing life of
So it is with entire sanctification. The event is monumental. But holiness is a living out
of the covenant consecration we made to God at one point. It is as present and fresh as my last
thought, word, deed, or motive.
A few have gone off on the tangent of "holiness creedalism." They emphasize
"understanding" and "accepting" correct holiness doctrine, more than experiencing complete
sanctification. "protecting our heritage" may become a fetish with them,; and they are fastidious
about "checking out what these new people believe about holiness." They may jealously claim
they belong to the only true holiness group and may reject as heresy any thought which disagrees
with their firm position.
Holiness creedalism sets in when a person discovers that his daily life does not measure
up to his beliefs. His head is right, but his heart is not. His first inclination is to become a
seeker, "going on" toward what he believes in or once had. But that would require confessing
need, something pride keeps him from doing.
The second option is to dwell on the "head knowledge" side of holiness, engaging in
preserving the doctrine, hairsplitting debates, technical studies, and checking out others' beliefs
on the subject. Such a person will seldom talk about his daily walk in holiness. He avoids
descriptions of inner sin like pride, envy, jealousy, impure thoughts, selfish ambition, bitterness,
holding grudges, malice, sinful anger, materialism, and self-will. He knows, too well, that his
heart is generously endowed with some of these. He becomes more concerned with doctrinal
purity than heart purity.
However, our concern must not be only for delineating a position on God's sanctifying
work - but also for bringing people into this life of obedience.
A few have left the main track and retreated into "pietism." They emphasize prayer,
Bible reading, total separation from worldliness, fasting, and other disciplines of the spiritual
life. Like those who fled to medieval monasteries, they place the highest stakes on being separate
- "set apart" from the world. The world doesn't touch them. They don't touch the world.
The work of entire sanctification has two sides to it:
purity from sinful attitudes and inner evil inclinations, and power for evangelism and ministry to
others. Those on the pietism sidetrack focus on the cleansing side. Thus, they become morbidly
introspective, withdrawing from a needy world and boasting that their group is "small, but pure."
However, there are others who ride off in the opposite direction - to the power side.
These emphasize only the infilling of the Holy Spirit and new power for witnessing and service,
downplaying any purity from inner sinfulness.
Both, of course, are sidetracks. Holiness is a two-sided coin: one side is purity from sin,
the other is power for service God does not want His people to retreat into cloisters of perfection.
Neither does He want His people to invade a needy world while ignoring the sinfulness of their
The Main Track
The main track of holiness keeps Christ a the central focus of holiness. Holiness is
Christlikeness. It is not primarily what you don't do or what you abstain from wearing. It is not
some special emotional feeling. It is not a second trip to the altar to escape hell. It is more than
a statement of doctrine, and it is not fleeing all contact with the world. It is Christlikeness. As
long as Jesus Christ is the central thrust of holiness teaching, His "gravitational Pull" will keep
us from flying off on a tangent.
All doctrines have sidetracks. Most of the people who travel off on them are well
intentioned. You may be tempted to say, "So many people mess up this business of holiness, how
can I ever figure it out?" Remember that these sidetracks have taken centuries to develop. Some
are quite well worn. To avoid sidetracks you need to stick to the Word and keep Christ in the
center of your spiritual focus.
Holiness is clearly taught in God's Word. The Bible is our primary source for learning
about holiness. Enjoy the following Bible study in 1 Thessalonians.
1. What kind of people were the Thessalonians?
1 Thessalonians 1:3
1 Thessalonians 1:4
1 Thessalonians 1:6
1 Thessalonians 1:7
1 Thessalonians 1:8
2. Would you say that there is evidence that they were already believers?
3. What does Paul then tell these people?
1 Thessalonians 4:1
1 Thessalonians 4:3
1 Thessalonians 4:7
4. Paul concludes the book of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 with a prayerful promise. What is he
talking about here?
a. What does he want to happen to the Thessalonian people?
b. How extensive is this sanctification to be? How far should it go?
c. What does it mean to be "blameless"?
d. Who does Paul believe will do this work?
e. How certain is Paul that it can actually be done?
For Review and Discussion
1. Why do you think some have gotten sidetracked in their holiness teaching?
2. Most sidetracks are a result of taking a good truth or idea to extreme. What are the sound
truths taken to extreme in each sidetrack in this chapter?
3. Some sidetracks are a reaction to other errors. List several sidetracks and their corresponding
4. To which sidetrack are you most vulnerable? Your local church? Your denomination?
5. What are the best deterrents to going off on a "holiness sidetrack"?
From: Holiness for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1983 Wesley Press
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To contribute to the thinking on this issue, or to contact the writer e-mail Tuesday@indwes.edu