Can We Be Perfect?

So why does he command it?

With all of our objecting to this command (Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect; Matthew 5:48 & like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior; 1 Peter 1:16), we have missed the point and excused ourselves away from sanctification. How many times have you heard or used these excuses:

  • I’m only human
  • Everyone makes mistakes
  • We will always sin
  • No one is perfect

I see this as a totally unbiblical pattern of thought. The command to be perfect is not a phrase that needs to be explained away, rather it should be used as the goal for which we continually strive. It is essentially no different from the goal of the Christian to attain to the stature of Christ. No one would object to the statement that we need to be like Christ, but they squirm when called to “be perfect.” Christ was perfect. Be like Christ.

When we adopt any of the above excuses, we short-circuit a God-given process of sanctification. Here is a better statement to put into your thinking patterns:

“I don’t have to sin anymore.”

What a novel statement. I don’t have to sin anymore. It is true, biblical and helpful. It is my interpretation of “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God.” To consider means to regard as accurate or true. Telling yourself that you aren’t perfect is the opposite of considering yourself dead to sin. It is regarding yourself as still alive to sin, at least a little bit. It is unholy wiggle room.

Can we be perfect? I think it is the wrong question. How does perfect (insert Christ here) act? That is a better question. I can be like Christ. The Spirit of God dwells in the believer and is able to keep me from falling. I can submit to the Spirit. This could work. I could stop sinning.

I cannot figure out what is wrong with the above line of reasoning, therefore I am going to let that idea rule in my head for a while.

Here are John Calvin’s comments on 1 Peter 1:15-16:

He who has called you is holy. He reasons from the end for which we are called. God sets us apart as a peculiar people for himself; then we ought to be free from all pollutions. And he quotes a sentence which had been often repeated by Moses. For as the people of Israel were on every side surrounded by heathens, from whom they might have easily adopted the worst examples and innumerable corruptions, the Lord frequently recalled them to himself, as though he had said, “Ye have to do with me, ye are mine; then abstain from the pollutions of the Gentiles.” We are too ready to look to men, so as to follow their common way of living. Thus it happens, that some lead others in troops to all kinds of evil, until the Lord by his calling separates them.

In bidding us to be holy like himself, the proportion is not that of equals; but we ought to advance in this direction as far as our condition will bear. And as even the most perfect are always very far from coming up to the mark, we ought daily to strive more and more. And we ought to remember that we are not only told what our duty is, but that God also adds, “I am he who sanctify you.”

It is added, In all manner of conversation, or, in your whole conduct. There is then no part of our life which is not to be redolent with this good odour of holiness. For we see that in the smallest things and almost insignificant, the Lord accustomed his people to the practice of holiness, in order that they might exercise a more diligent care as to themselves.

Stop making excuses.

 

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  • Daniel

    I did not see you mention 1st John 1:8
    “if we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves”

    How do you deal with this passage in light of your sinless perfection view?
    because this is the one that everone quotes to me when i try and tell them that as a saved christian there is no temptations that you cant overcome given to you. to me, being free from sin means free from sin, not mostly free from.
    But my arguments must not be convincing.
    what does 1 John 1:8 mean specifically that allows for no room for intrepretation as cotridictory to the teaching of sanctification?

  • stevebag

    Daniel,

    Thanks for reading and replying.

    I am cautious about admitting that I adopt a “sinless perfection view.” In this post, rather than attempting to present a theological position regarding sanctification I was attacking what I feel is a debilitating negative mindset that short circuited a believers attempt to be holy.

    I do think the natural and logical end result of sanctification is perfection, we persevere to the end in this process, we may not achieve it in our lifetimes journey, but it is our rightful goal.

    As to 1 John 1:8; I don’t think it excludes the natural effects of sanctification. It simply affirms the undeniable truth that we are sinful.

    John was addressing the Docetists, who believed that the spirit was good and the body was evil, and as a result concluded that Jesus did not come in physical form as that would entail a necessary sin connection for Jesus. He only “seemed” to take on a physical body.

    Some Gnostics/Docetists would take the notion of a sinful body and sinless spirit to mean that they were not sinful in the spiritual realm, only the physical realm. This idea was the foundation of antinomianism: the material body is inherently evil and sinful therefore it didn’t matter what the body did, as it is sinful. Salvation is seen as release from the body into the spiritual realm.

    So the verse really has nothing to do with whether or not we can move toward perfection rather that we cannot deny our inherent sinfulness that is in need of redemption, and the inclusion of our body in the process of redemption as opposed to it being a disposable and undesirable prison that the “real” me resides in.