THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
By Beth Hyduke
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The dictionary defines perfection as "the condition, state, or quality of being free from all flaws or defects." When the Bible tells us to be perfect, it is specifically referring to a standard of moral or spiritual perfection, a perpetual state of moral purity and holiness that is never marred or tarnished by any degree of sin — a state which God Himself eternally inhabits and embodies: "He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He" (Deuteronomy 32:4). It is this same God in view whose perfect being is the standard against which He measures our lives and beings. So, perfection is not just an ideal we are to strive after, but an essential qualification, a prerequisite for entering into God's perfect presence. "Therefore, you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
Can such a stringent definition of perfection be accurately applied to the Christian believer? Is it possible for us to meet this demand by obeying this command?
To answer this question, we need to first ask ourselves another question. If a Christian is already perfect now, when did it happen? When does the Christian become perfect? If we theorize that it happened prior to our salvation, then we run into a big problem right away. If we are perfect beings, why did Christ die? We can toss out this theory fairly quickly. Romans 5:6-8 says, "At just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us." The Bible says that Christ didn't die for us because we were in any way good, much less perfect. In fact, it says quite the opposite — that when Christ died for us we were ungodly, unholy, unspiritual, rebellious hellions — the antithesis of spiritual health and moral perfection (Mark 2:17; Romans 8:7; 1 Timothy 1:15).
So, assuming that we are perfect now, if the attainment of our perfection did not predate our salvation, it must have come afterwards, as a product of our salvation. But there's a problem with coming to this conclusion, too. If we have been made perfect after our salvation, why does the Bible command us over and over again to root out sin in our lives (1 Corinthians 11:31; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Lamentations 3:40; Job 13:23), to put it to death (Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5), to confess it when we fall into it (1 john 1:9; Proverbs 28:13; 32:2-5), and to repent of it (Mark 1:15; 6:12; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; Revelation 2:5; 3:3)? To a perfect person, this advice would be nonsensical as well as unnecessary. A person who is perfect has no reason to confess or repent, no need to be cleansed of sin, and no responsibility to turn from sin either because if they are perfect it means that they are without fault, without guilt, without blame, without sin.
Romans 3:23 announces the totality of the extent of the fall away from God and the resulting plunge into sin: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In other words, no one has escaped the curse and consequence of Adam's first sin; sin is a congenital disease we are all born with (Romans 3:12; Psalm 51:5). Further, the Bible teaches that while Christians have been set free from the guilt and condemnation of sin (Romans 5:9; 8:1-4; 8:30; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:7), we are not magically purged of our sin nature nor are we immune to the presence of sin in our lives. We still have a sin nature and all too often, we are guilty of feeding it: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). Acknowledging our sins, weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings is a crucial part of humbling ourselves before God (James 4:6, Micah 6:8), confessing to Him who forgives and purifies us of our sins (1 John 1:9).
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