If any of you read the prior post, "Lessons from life," you are fully aware that I do believe a perfect unity is possible among Christians this side of heaven. Whether that does or does not amount to my personal belief in the above title is more or less insignificant. Obviously despite what you or I might presently believe is possible, we still ought to seek in eanest that which still eludes us. This much we know.
My personal beliefs aside, the purpose of this post is to address what many these days are claiming and whether those claims are based upon reality or not and the problems that occur due to those who make such claims.
It's somewhat ironic that just prior to meeting some local folks who believe they can live free from sin I had wrote the prior post. Sadly, having withdrawn myself from formally meeting with them, I'm now writing this post. Hopefully I can shed a little light on the subject matter without leaning to one extreme or the other. That's where the problems among believer's usually reside, with a portion of truth taken to one extreme or another.
What is meant when a person claims "sinless perfectionism" for themselves?
The terms "sinless perfection" derived from the so-called holiness movement and the beliefs of John Wesley who believed and promoted "a second work of grace" after one's born again experience of salvation. This belief is still widely promoted today with varying twists and changes through the roots of what became Wesley's beliefs through the Wesleyan, Methodist and Nazarene churches (called therein at times "entire sanctification") and within the Penecostal movement ("baptism of the Holy Spirit"). Strickly speaking, a second work of grace in either form above does not actually exist as so many suppose. This error results from failing to recognize the book of Acts as historical in nature (in which many transitions were taking place) and not primarily a doctrinal book as many of the other New Testament books are known to be. The only difference between the camps above is the one side believes in the "supernatural gifts" (miracles, speaking in tongues etc) while the other camp generally does not. Another story for another time. One thing is sure though- their are not parts or portions of Christianity that are supernatural while others parts are not. ALL of the true Christian life and experience is supernatural, for Christianity is Christ Himself believed and lived out. For to me to live IS CHRIST. (Philippians 1:21).
1. Although Wesley used the terms "sinless perfection" he did not prefer them, nor did he define the words as many do today. For example, he did not teach salvation by perfection and that it was no longer possible to violate the will of God as a Christian. He did not equate perfection as sinlessness.
2. Any professing Christian who claims that after conversion they no longer sin. (this could mean they don't ever sin or it isn't possible for them to sin). Within the groups or individuals who claim such, still there are a few who do believe they make "mistakes" but don't label those mistakes as sin. Others in this camp separate willful sinning with sinning in ignorance.
3. Professing Christians who do believe they can still sin and do on occasion, but their salvation is contingent upon their confession of any and all known willful sin. These folks obviously reject any believer being eternally secure in their faith and often quote the book of Hebrews in an attempt to scare people into living an ongoing obedient life.
I'm sure their are other varient explanations although I'd like to focus upon #2 and #3. These are the folks we're most likely to meet these days- many of whom have become bold street preachers for Jesus' sake- or so they like to posit themselves.
My personal short lived experience
For a few weeks I met with some local folks who by all appearances were very serious about serving the Lord. I had been praying about meeting some people to do some "street ministry" with and one day I happened upon a couple of these guys standing outside a local church. They really weren't protesting anything about this church in particular and held signs which said things like, "Sinners go to hell" and "Saints go to heaven." I later discovered at least part of the reason why: they took issue with the multitudes of people they would meet who claimed to be saved and yet continued to sin if it really didn't matter at all. I also take issue with people who seem to minimize sin in their lives which prompted a couple of meetings with these guys and eventually with those with whom they regularly met with during the week.
Initially I had little reservation as I find professing Christians who take God and His Word seriously very refreshing. They followed a similar pattern of worship, fellowship, service, sharing and outreach very much like I would and do myself. I really had no serious concerns until one of the elders offered me a book by someone he knew in another state who he was obviously in touch with. It goes without saying that he would likely endorse the majority of the content of a book he recommended as would those in this fellowship he is a part of. I read the book and found these serious concerns within it:
- On page 2 this confident statement is spoken: "If Jesus is the answer to every question (in your life), then nothing in this book will offend you; but only help you overcome faithfully to the end and be saved" This quote gives the appearance that the author is speaking directly from God and that the contents in the book are most assuredly from God Himself. This made me pay all the more attention to what the author was stating therein.
- In chapter 2 I have my first serious issue with his supposedly speaking from God where he writes: "Forsaking the assembly is willful sin against the Savior, and will result in our damnation" The verses he uses to prove this are some of the "sinless crowds" favorites in Hebrews 10:23-29 which read;
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near."
"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?"
First, the author makes several assumptions in his logic which cannot be proven such as:
- To leave what he (the author) believes constitutes a properly established local New Testament church constitutes sin or willful sin. This text doesn't state this at all. It aslo assumes that all Christians either are, could be or should be part of a New Testament assembly where they live- and that such an assembly has been previously established. This is another assumption that cannot in any way be proven.
- Nor do these verses equate any willful sin with damnation. That is also a far reaching claim not established in these verses.
- The actual warning in this text refers to the willful sin of "apostacy" and not to any particular willful sinning. When one turns their back on Christ who is their only hope, that is synonomous with blasheming the Holy Spirit and would no doubt include a neglect and refusal to continue in fellowship with true believers. This is what these Jewish Christians were being tempted to do….yet the author of Hebrews ends this chapter with this;
"But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" [Hebrews 10:39]
Note: Regardless of whether one believes "once saved, always saved" or not, (something the author I'm quoting rejects), it still doesn't change the actual text. I agree with him that the real Christian will persevere in faith, I disagree with the remainder of his conclusions which these texts do not prove. This alone is a serious problem for him based upon his original statement above in his book (the first quote above in blue type). Personally, I now have a problem with his book- and with him, and maybe even with fellowship with him! Frankly, whether I or someone else investigates him, what he claims in his book or leaves a fellowship he might endorse and find Scripturally based, that just makes us wise and cautious. That hardly makes one apostate or damned.
- The author continues later in chapter 2: "You need it, your family needs it, and you don't qualify as part of Christ's bride unless you are striving to obey ALL His will according to His program"
Here the author is once again referring to being part of a local church (ekklesia)- even if one has to start one or move to another location where one exists. Note above how he adds striving to "obeying ALL" (his caps) and being a part of a local church as a condition for membership in the body of Christ. In other words, he's saying that you cannot be a Christian unless you are part of a local church. Is this what the Bible teaches? I remember some others in the book of Galatians who were also adding conditions to the gospel of grace alone- Paul didn't speak too well of those guys if you recall. The author reiterates his point on the next page by adding this:
"The bottom line is that Christ's present program is the local New Testament Church, and unless we are striving to follow Him through His program, we will be counted an offender and unbeliever" Again, I agree that a New Testament ekklesia is God's program for this and every age (what he wrongly calls church), but just because someone either ignorantly or even willfully attends a church does not make God count them as an unbeliever! Almost every Christian I know was saved by the means of the Word in a church! That doesn't make church right or justify it in any way. It does prove God as being much bigger and wiser than we're ever going to be though. Even despite the warnings of remaining in Babylon (or the parts of it within institutionalized religion) and receiving plagues as a result- those results (ends) haven't occurred yet. To make the judgment above by the author is neither wise, nor is it correct. It is once again an exaggeration of his own mind and theology, not by any means Scriptural fact.
- In chapter 3 the author attempts to address order in the local assembly by stating some basic characteristics he believes constitutes such. In his description he makes three false statements:
- "The head elder is called the bishop or pastor"
- "The associate elders are called Deacons"
- "Taking up the collection of tithes and offerings"
NO. No single religious title ever existed for any member of the body of Christ. They are called by their first name and should never be given any special significance by using a title. Has the author never read Matthew 23:8-12? A title is associated with pride which verse 12's summary of this passage makes evident:
"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted"
Furthermore, tithes and offerings have nothing to do with New Testament Christianity. The warnings in Hebrews are specifically given to those people who would hold to what was passing away in the Old Covenant for that which was better in the new in Christ. Granted, this may have been a mere slip wherein he meant "giving generously" (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7). Nonetheless, this is a serious error a mature believer ought never to make as it confuses people as to their actual obligations before God.
Finally I want to touch upon the authors views on authority by once again quoting some of his own words within this particular chapter.
- "God has ordained five realms of authority: parents over children, husbands over wives, bishops and deacons over churches….."
- "God is testing to see if we can keep rank, or if we will revert to self-preservation and self-government when the going gets tough"
Sadly, the author isn't the only one who confuses what Hebrews 13:7 actually says. The whole concept of one Christian being over another or obeying other Christians is not what the Bible teaches. Christians are family, they do, and should submit to one another and respect the elders among them. That said, Christians do not obey men but God alone. The whole concept of "over" is what had led to our modern day religious hierarchies and the false clergy/laity distinctions. Rank is also an Old Covenant practice- one which Jesus roundly condemned in Matthew 20:25-28;
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many"
Despite my concerns over the book, I didn't make issue over it, for the author was not part of the local fellowship, nor did he have any direct influence upon my life. My real concern was whether the local folk believed these things and how that would affect my ability to worship, serve or fellowship with them all.
In time, all things come to light
As a Christian I am very quick to grant others the benefit of the doubt and I'm slow to voice my concerns unless I believe them to be absolutely necessary. I know that in time people will speak what they really believe in their hearts for that comes about as naturally as breathing.
I began meeting with the local folks and enjoyed the simple times we spent together on Sundays and during the week. Little by little I met the few families and eventually came to see and understand what they really believed- or at least what I needed to understand.
A few weeks in and after Sunday morning fellowship, we sat around the table after brunch and had our usual chat among the men. As is typical, one by one the guys start talking about what they believe, and up arises the perfection rhetoric. As is my custom, I ask a few questions and out comes an answer I was hardly anticipating: you must be perfect to go to heaven. Huh? Did I hear you right- you others agree with that too? Yep, all of them. Right then and there I knew there was no going forward from here, not with them anyways, but for reasons I don't think most of them presently understand. Hopefully they will read this, if for no other reason, to understand why I cannot continue along the trajectory in which they are pointed and traversing. Here's why.
The message of reconciliation
I think I mentioned earlier how I appreciated these folks living in a practical manner that appeared to be Scripturally supported. There were many things these individuals put into practice that few other professing Christians have or will do. By all appearances these folks seemed very sincere and desirious to be obedient to God. The way they lived was commendable and I can see how I was attracted to this type of devotedness. All this said, why was I still concerned? Why did I wake night after night lacking peace and wondering what was wrong in the midst of it all?
Thinking back, and despite the practical expression of Scriptural Christianity being so evident, I starting thinking about what these people were proclaiming to others. What message were they sharing and what was the result of that message?
In what I believed was likely a providential appointment I was afforded an opportunity to watch a few of the street preachers these men in this group looked up to. Afterwards I watched a few of their own videos on U-tube- something I find highly suspect in itself (posting one's self and preaching publicly). What did I discover? Pointing out lots of people's apparent sins, telling them to repent and numerous rushes to judgment even as far as telling individuals they would be going to hell. Is any of this the gospel? Just what part of all this was good news I wondered?
Here's the facts
To this day, I don't even know what any of these people believe the gospel actually is. I know this for sure- it's not telling people to repent or threatening them or making judgments against them. None of that is good news. I'm not saying there isn't a place and time for saying some of these things, although they alone do not comprise the gospel itself.
- The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. That Jesus came to save sinners and to declare them righteous in His sight within the framework of a relationship with Him. Jesus declares sinful men righteous and that's really good news for those who own their own sad state before God as He sees them. Sure, the bad news of being hostile before God and alienated from Him due to sin must precede this, nevertheless, their is no gospel that tells people they must stop sinning in order that you can or might be saved. That is not the gospel.
- The repentance that God requires that accompany's the good news of the gospel is not a ceasing from sin. That of course is God's ultimate intent for each of us, but the message of repentance in the gospel has more to do with owning our sin, seeing it as God sees it and being willing to renounce it. God is after a changed mind in relation to sin, initially as a sinner outside of Christ and an ongoing renewal of our minds as His children. Until an individual comes under the conviction of sin, owns it and is willing to renounce it, there is no reason to offer Christ as the solution to their hostility toward Him. That would be like trying to cover a severely sliced limb with a band aid- the ailing person will still die unless they treat the wound properly. Jesus isn't calling men who still view themselves as right or good or think they can solve their own problem with sin(s) – He's calling those who know they have sinned against Him and are willing to own that fact and who learn to rely upon Him to rid them of their sin.
I don't sin
Yes, we have regular guys out there claiming they no longer sin. This would hardly be an issue if these guys standard for such a judgment was God's own and not their own reasoning and what they think and surmise to be sin in one's life. The truth be told, "it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends." [2 Corinthians 10:18] For example, just because an individual is unaware of present sin in their life does not make that a fact or equate to them being sinless. Many people claiming sinless perfection differentiate between willing sin (sin that some claim will damn a Christian if unconfessed) and sins of ignorance that they choose to call mistakes. Does God Himself make such a distinction? What about the people in these texts? Are they responsible for their sin even though they are blind and are acting in ignorance?
"And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of flogging, will receive but few" [Luke 12:47, 48] Was only the one who knew his master's will responsible?
"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge" [Romans 10:1, 2] Does Israel's ignorance of God's righteousness excuse them? Of course not- that's why Paul prayed for their salvation.
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing……" [2 Corinthians 4:3, 4] Does the fact that our adversary the devil has blinded the eyes of these people excuse them of their sin or its punishment? No it does not.
All sin has consequence and a penalty must be paid for sin. Those who claim "sinless perfection" now or have a similar understanding also believe things along these lines:
- Jesus only forgave past sins prior to an individual being born again. Any subsequent sin must be confessed in order for God to forgive it. Unconfessed sin leads to damnation.
- After an individuals conversion to Christ, they are expected to live conditionally perfect. Some verses quoted are 1 John 3:6-9 and 1 John 5:18. Needless to say their explanations for these verses do not take into consideration the totality of the book of 1st John.
- Any willful sin leads to damnation. They quote the verses in Hebrews 10:26-29 often which is not referring to any willful sin but specifically the sin of apostacy to which the book of Hebrews speaks toward.
- They differentiate willful sin from sins of ignorance and often justify the latter as if these are either insignificant sins or not even sins at all.
- They reject the depravity of mankind and that all men are born with an inherited sinful nature.
- They strongly emphasize the "free will" of mankind even prior to conversion. This often includes a rejection of the doctrine of Biblical Regeneration which grants us the ability to please God via a new heart and new mind; via a new creation.
- They reject the exchanged life concept, the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement (that men receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ upon believing the gospel) and that Jesus bore the full wrath of all mankind's sins on the cross thus receiving the wrath of God in our place.
- They believe every person must be conditionally perfect to go to heaven- therefore those who believe such also reject the cardinal Biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith.
- Needless to say they do not believe and rally against the security of the believer (what some call "once saved always saved"
How people come to their own conclusions
I once wrote the following heading and quote:
The Bible or you: Only one is both right and reasonable
"The only real Christians are those who are presently trusting in what Jesus Christ has in past history done on their behalf. For anyone and everyone else, their "faith" is a mixture of speculation, conjecture, superstition, promises of men, religious practice or tradition, various experiences and false hope. As such, this faith is not grounded upon what God has said, but rather upon what seems right and reasonable to them"
I really believe this is what lies at the heart of the problem. We look about us and we see the rampant problems about us. We long to resolve these issues, whether those be practical or spiritual. It all seems so overwhelming. We know as believers we so often fall from what we claim and what our Father expects us to be. We see people everywhere professing His name and yet neglecting His words and failing or even refusing to be obedient. And just as we naturally want to do what is in our own best interest, so we attempt to use our natural thoughts and resources to serve God the way we think is best. That's the problem. Haven't we seen this time and time again? More church attendance for the neglectful? More threats of judgment for the wayward? More human and mechanical controls to keep order? More degrees to be wiser……more laws, more rules etc.
One of the wisest statements ever said, or in this case sung was this:
"Blessed are the ones who understand, we've got nothing to bring but empty hands"
If we are ever to understand the true Christian life, if we are ever to become what we ought, we will have to leave our ways, our ideas, our very selves behind. Jesus must become all. God is never, was never and will never be looking for our contribution. We either believe and obey what God has said and set in motion or we don't.
I can't sin
"For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me" [Romans 7:15-17]
Obviously those claiming perfection cannot tolerate these verses applying to a regenerate person or to Paul the apostle as a believer. It would blow their claims right out of the water. It would mean that there is no longer a struggle with sin or either their is no source of sin where the struggle would originate. Of course such a claim by them is entirely disengenous if not an outright lie. We know for certain that sinners like to sin and only one born of above desires and practices what is good and righteous.
"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me" [Romans 7:18-20]
The only part of a Christian that cannot sin is the new creation in Christ, the source from where all goodness must stem. It is a matter of working out what God has worked inside of us……work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Paul is not negating his responsibilities for rejecting sin….."do not let sin reign" [Romans 6:12, 13], but is recognizing the source of sin within him as no longer having the principle rule over his life due to what Christ has done. That is no longer who he is……a man subject to the law, but rather dead to it and freed from it. (Romans 7:4) (Romans 8:2).
"I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good" [Romans 7:21]
Here is where these same folk seem to get lost and subsequently live in perpetual denial. Even if a soul were to reject this entire passage as it relating to Christians as a whole, the principle of sin still resides in every human being due to the corruption of humanity itself. Where does sin originate? Is our sin merey habits we have learned we need to alter? Is our sin the product of our upbringing or environment? Or rather, is their a principle of sin residing in our very being- a nature of sin albeit crucified, which can still rear its head and tentacles if we fail to reckon it dead (Romans 6:11) and walk in the Spirit?
Now obviously if an individual threw out of Scripture "men being dead in sin" and having inherited a fallen nature through the first created man (Adam) then we can also see how he could reach his conclusions about sin and even his own primary responsibility in ridding himself of it. We could furthermore see how a neutral man? might use his free will in an attempt to do as God commands- even as far as renouncing all known sin or wrongdoing. Frankly, I would find such a man exceptional as to his character, yet even more exceptionally deceived. If this were possible, what would be the point of Jesus dying for sins in the first place?
First, such a man would be deluded about the origin of sin.
"All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:23)
"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" (James 4:1)
"But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14)
"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…" (Romans 7:18)
"….for although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more…" [Philippians 3:4] (sinful fleshly confidence was a possibility even for Paul himself)
What purpose would denying oneself or reckoning oneself dead to sin have if our flesh/old nature had no detrimental effect upon our lives as Christians? But they do! (Galatians 5:17) The commands in these verses do not take into consideration whether we think we sin or not, they are commands which aid in restraining the sinful aspects of our lives that hinder our service in Christ. If those tendencies/possibilities were not real or did not exist such commands would be unecessary.
"Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. EVERY good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17)
"Blessed are the ones who understand, we've got nothing to bring but empty hands"
If we are ever to understand the true Christian life, if we are ever to become what we ought, we will have to leave our ways, our ideas, our very selves behind. Jesus must become all. God is never, was never and will never be looking for our contribution. We either believe and obey what God has said and set in motion or we don't.
What Jesus set in motion: I cannot sin
I can remember a time, not all that long ago when my life was steeped in sin. I had no desire to know God, no desire to serve Him and in fact for the most part deemed Him insignificant in my life. As long as things in life went the way of my own desire and direction, I had no need nor desire for Him to be part of it.
Then something changed. I started facing some serious adversity and found myself in a place where I couldn't fix what I had done. It was only at this point did I begin to acknowledge that I may need the help of something or someone other than my own ingenuity.
In what only seemed like a coincidence, a complete stranger entered my life. He told me a story about something God Himself had done for me. If you knew me up to that point, most of my friends had already abandoned me and my wild ways and hardly had a known a time of feeling so alone. God used the weakness of that moment and the care of a complete stranger to open my eyes to see myself for who I really was and where I was heading.
As we all know, there is something about coming face to face with adversity that makes an individual look at life differently, to see things as they really are. That's what began in me on November 25, 1985 at 10:30 that evening. I saw, I believed and I've never been the same since.
Rest assured, I have not lived a perfect life, far from it. And even where some of my convictions have changed over the years, there has always been this underlying current that has sustained me all along- that My Father would be faithful to me in relation to what He has promised- and He has been. Not necessarily as I had thought necessarily, but faithful nonetheless- to what He started and what He promises He'll bring to completion.
"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died on their behalf."
Understanding what Jesus has done in a finished work on our behalf motivates us in serving Him. He's calling us together in a work with Him-
"And working together with Him, (carrying the message of reconciliation), we are urged not to receive the grace of God in vain- and furthermore to-
"give no offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited……" [2 Corinthians 5]
This is the life that "cannot sin," (not because sinning is not possible) but because we no longer want to sin due to the reasons above. It is a changed heart that understands the blessing God has given upon ones life and how much better that is compared with the temptations and sin all about us. In Genesis 39:9 Joseph faced a similar situation as us and explained it as such:
"There is no one greater in this house than I, (Joseph reiterates the blessing of God upon his life through his earthly master) and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. (Joseph here recognizes that despite the blessing of God that that blessing has limitations) How then could I do this great evil and sin against God? (Joseph recognizes that giving in to sin is an offense primarily against God Himself and that this would discredit him and God were he to sin in this manner). This is the attitude every professing Christian ought to have in the midst of trial and temptation.
Jesus came to put away sin- how is what matters
The three options:
1. I put away sin
I once saw a Bible tract tiltled, "The Greatest Lie" and it spoke very succintly of what this lie was. Just as almost every unbelieving person would believe this same lie, many today, even among those claiming to be Christian believe it as well. That lie is believing that somehow if the "good" in their lives outweighs the "bad," that therefore they will be justified before God when they die- that God will not simply overlook their "sin," but furthermore reckon their "positive" traits or actions as "righteous."
The fact is, most people believe that provided their good deeds outweigh their bad ones, everything will be ok the day they face God Himself on judgment day- and their dead wrong! The only real difference between the average sinner outside of Christ and a perfectionist who claims to know Him is this: the worldling hopes in vain their good will outweigh their bad, while the perfectionist has even a more daunting reality. They believe they have to live practically perfect to gain God's favor and think by their own will they can make this reality.
My point in sharing this is this: Just as the unbelieving world predominately thinks that it is their own primary responsibility to make it to heaven, so do most if not all those with these perfectionist views believe the very same thing. Whether they believe "unconfessed sin" or any "willful sin" will keep one out of heaven, either way these people's confidence for salvation resides WITH THEM and THEIR ACTIONS. To them what seems to matter most is not the promises of God nor faith in the finished work of Christ, but simply their own willingness and effort they exert through willpower in their attempts to live perfectly. I won't speak for you, but when I read verses such as (Galatians 5:2-4) and (James 2:10), that isn't even remotely good news but the worst news of all! Not just because a soul could never have any real assurance of knowing God or staying within His favor, but worse- because the very merits of Christ are being rejected for lesser things! This IS the warning the book of Hebrews continually repeats and warns of!
The Bible is clear- salvation is of the Lord- "who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." This is the good news the perfectionists are still hoping to earn by their own works. It's the salvation of God, a salvation that the unbelieving world hates because they cannot earn their way into it. If a man can put away sin, Christ died needlessly.
2. He put away sin
The Bible states in 1 John 3:5;
"You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin"
John states this with this truth in mind found in Hebrews 10:11;
"Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified"
As we can easily discover, their is much talk of the word perfect by those among the perfectionist crowd. Contrary to what is all too often assumed by some, the word perfect in the New Testament does not mean "unable to sin" or "sin free" even as if for a season of time. The word perfect is more accuratey rendered complete, mature, to accomplish God's ends in mind. It speaks of the ultimate goal God is after.
In the verse above we have this dual aspect: on one hand "God has perfected" (a past tense statement) due to what He has done (finished) (See Hebrews 9:26) for those who are sanctified (who have trusted in Christ by faith). And although these people are sanctified now (set apart for God) the text literally says, "are being sanctified" (as in the sense of a progressive sanctification). These people have entered into Christ's perfect work and share in thus, though they themselves have yet to become practically perfect as of yet- they have yet to reach the goal God has in mind. The apostle Paul said as much in Philippians 3:12-14:
"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which alaso I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus"
Obviously Paul was not claiming to have become entirely free from sin in this life or even making that the focus of His attention. He was however throughout this passage speaking of our need to know Christ personally- and that despite our human tendency to place confidence in both the flesh and our present state or some former experience. To the contrary, Paul emphasizes our need to mature in the faith, die to self interests and trust Christ to ultimately conform us into His perfect image.
Jesus has put away sin by the one perfect sacrifice of Himself. The only question is whether we have accepted His sacrifice by faith, or whether we have or do revert back to our own worthless and lesser sacrifices in exchange or in addition to His sacrifice. We are called to enter into His perfect provision, not to add or detract from what only He can provide. Our confidence must remain in Him alone.
3. We put away sin
"Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude, (a continual focus upon Christ and fellowship with Him) and if anything you have a different attitude (such as a focus upon my own supposed sin free lifestyle) God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same (mature) standard to which we have attained" [Philippians 3:15, 16]
I don't know of any real Christians who think they can do as they please in this life because they "believe in Jesus" or said some prayer or walked down an isle in church. I know a lot of those people, yes, but those people are not Christians. Those are people who likely never came under the conviction of sin at all and were promised something from men that God had no obligation to honor. When we consider that neither churches, alter calls or even the religious hierarchy running them were ever a part of New Testament Christianity, we really shouldn't be suprised by all the false converts and religious sects spanning the globe. Men as a whole have rejected what Jesus died to establish- one Spirit filled body of interconnected living stones for which He alone is the head.
Real Christians may not be perfect, but they do seek God's will regularly and will be growing from one season of faith unto another. They will have both failures and victories and will no doubt be disciplined at times as all God's children are. They will take God and His Word seriously and have a reverent fear for Who He is and long to discover their place among the family of God. And yes, they will no doubt be separated from their sin(s), sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly and learn to rely upon Jesus as their friend, brother and sole source of everything they need for life and godliness.
The Christian life is not an effortless life……but there is a vast difference between what stems from our inherent corruption and from what God desires to produce from the Spirit of God within all true believers. Everything we need has been provided, and as we take the time to know our Father personally we will no doubt also learn to trust Him more and more as each day passes. This is not something we have to do, but something that becomes more and more precious to us as would any loving relationship we have known. To have Him is to have Life, to known Him is to trust Him and to be used by Him is to be trusted by Him. Let's not fail to press on as well my brothers and sisters.
Speaking or preaching isn't proof of anything
I mentioned earlier how we as professing Christians have a tendency to overreact to our environments and as a result take various Scriptures out of their proper place. We have an epidemic of this in our day, from those who entirely reject any notion of being assured of salvation now, to those who practice a form of antinomianism (the belief that because salvation is of grace that Christians are no longer required to live by moral law- which in many cases leads to licentiousness). The perfectionist crowd has their own extremes as well, including their extreme view that those who claim to be sinners will ultimately end up in hell. Although it is true that only "saints by calling" will end up in heaven, just because someone claims to still sin periodically or calls themselves a sinner does not mean they are not a Christian or that they have "lost their salvation." It may simpy be an individuals manner of remaining humble before God. That is something most street preachers know very, very little about- not because they raise their voice or even dispute with others or defend what they believe is true. It's because they're not being honest about what is really going on inside themselves or being willing to identify with sinful human beings. Anybody can yell and scream at sinful people, very few can and will identify with their sin and struggles and help them get free from them. True love does tell people the unvarnished truth, but that must coincide with a willingness to die for others. That's the example Jesus set, not just speaking the truth but living that truth before others.
"Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" [1 John 3:18]
When I originally met the street preachers that day outside of the church holding their signs, I thought to myself: What message are these guys sending? What is the purpose of holding signs that say, "Sinners go to hell" and "Saints go to heaven?" Every Christian already knows this. You see, I didn't understand what they were actually trying to say by using those signs. That's the problem with crowds and refusing or failing to explain one's positions- people misunderstand our message, ignore the message and often even get angry over what they don't understand. Needless to say all of this could be avoided by simple smaller one on one or small group discussions with unbelievers.
It took me three weeks and several interactions with these guys before I realized what these guys meant by the sign "Sinners go to hell." They didn't mean those individuals who were yet to know Christ personally, namely the unbelieving world, no, but they meant any person whatsoever that sinned- at all! That any unconfessed sin would instantly rekindle God's wrath against them until it was confessed and then subsequently forgiven by God. Needless to say such a lifestyle would lack any assurance of salvation whatsoever and likely turn a lifetime recipient of such a "faith" into a schizophrenic. Saved one day, unsaved the next, saved one moment, permanantly damned due to willfull sin the next. God being my Father one day, rejecting His son or daughter the next. If this doesn't sound quite right that's because is isn't. It's not the gospel at all, nor is this good news. That's because it places one's salvation clearly and almost exclusively upon an individuals works and their ability to live a sin free lifestyle. That's what happens when any person overemphasizes something such as "free will" in the lives of human beings.
Whether there is or can be anything resembling a Christian being perfect or sin free in this life is not the issue. The Scriptures never tell one to focus upon one's own life as if their own judgments are what constitute proper or righteous judgments about what is or is not Christian living. A person whose focus is themselves will only become more self centered and more self righteous- albeit with a religious veneer. These were the people who alienated Jesus the most and turned those seeking Jesus into twice the children of the devil that they were.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is about what He has done-period. It doesn't matter what particular thing an individual might add to His finished work- circumcision, baptism or a perfect conditional lifestyle. Any addition to the gospel is not good news, it is not the gospel that Jesus died to impart and to which true believing Christians embrace. The gospel is good news and speaks of the gift that cannot and could not ever be earned or bought with anything we as human beings might offer. It is a free gift solely of grace and by which individuals receive exclusively by faith.
The perfectionist crowd in my opinion is summed up perfectly within the framework of this verse in Colossians 2:23;
"These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are no value against fleshly indulgence"
In other words, despite what it seems, their claims and actions cannot restrain the sinful nature of one's flesh. These individuals act as if Christ's finished work has little to no efficacy- they fail to recognize the manner one is freed from sin is not by "doing or not doing this or that" but by having died with Christ to their former manner of living. Just as its always been, one's faith must always be anchored in what Christ has done and never in what we do….. for God.
No individual can believe in conditional acceptance by God via perfection and the following verse:
"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…" [Romans 4:4, 5]
These two positions are polar opposites and cannot be reconciled. One must renounce not only himself but his own efforts if one is to believe rightly upon Christ and His merits on one's behalf.
A true born again blood bought saint will follow in the following footsteps in contrast to one's own attempts to earn heaven:
"Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God"
And with the following hope that no man nor devil can take away…..
"When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory"