A human being lives, but he is given life.
May times I have heard people using 1 John 3:9 (see the Bible verse below) to say that they cannot sin if Jesus is abiding in them. “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.”
Well I guess the question is: Do Christians continue to sin? Of course, we do. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we constantly sin every day of our lives. We sin in our attitudes, omissions of duty, lack of love, pride, self-righteousness, ingratitude for God’s many blessings, unkind or lustful thoughts, complaining, selfishness, and by many of our actions every day. If we all sin several times every single day of our lives, is this not a practice of sin? We must remember perfection is not perfectionism; too often perfection and perfectionism are confused.
The Bible teaches perfection of character and not perfection of the flesh or nature. Perfection is significant to every aspect of the saving act of God. It took a perfect sacrifice to purchase the human race. But understand that perfection is not holy flesh. Our sinful nature will not be changed until the moral puts on immortality, and the corrupt puts on incorruption at the return of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:42, 51-53).
I do believe that God expects perfection (you know the EGW quotes!), and that there will be a group of people that will be perfect, when Christ comes. They will be settled in the truth, and they love like God loves (Matthew 5:43-48). At the same time, ironically, the closer we get to God in this manner, the more profound our sinfulness will appear. We will in the end tremble over the thought of one unconfessed sin.
But trying to understand this concept of becoming perfect is not easy; as we can very easily make mistakes in both directions: First, there are those that tell people that they can never be perfect, but this leads to license to sin. It cheapens both sin and sanctification, then we’re stuck in a church that is a hospital for sinners. Are we to say “Everybody makes mistake, nobody’s perfect and who are you to judge, etc?”
But, secondly, telling people they have to be perfect is an incomplete picture, as well: Without some context and the assurance of grace, people will fall into despair. They will say, “No mater how hard I try, I just cannot stop, so might as well forget it!” But the thing is when you love someone (in this case God), it’s not about “having to be perfect”, it’s about “wanting to be perfect”. Matthew 5:48 speaks about a horizontal perfection in how we treat our neighbor, not sinlessness. This is the very love that will keep us from becoming like the Pharisees, like so many of our people have become!
The Pharisees taught that “If I eat the right food, if I say the right things, if I study enough and if I teach others; then I can and will be perfect.” But this reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. What was wrong with Cain’s offering compared to Abel’s? It was that Cain’s offering was something that he made, and Abel knew that nothing he could do on his own was ever good enough. Abel knew that it took a lamb as the sacrifice for his sins as God had commanded. Trying hard enough to be perfect and withot sin is a problem. Remember the Pharisees? They tried to do everything right through their behavior; they burdened their lives with so many laws to the point that they could never be perfect. All that the Pharisees achieved was to become perfect Pharisees.
We see in sister White’s writing where she uses the words “perfect” and “ perfection.” She consistently upholds being perfect as a God given gift to every submitted Christian. Further, she states that God not only imputes perfection but He also imparts it (Testimony to Ministers, 91-92)
But only on one occasion does Mrs. White use the word “perfectionism:, and that is in her book, Early Writings p. 101, she states “God will not entrust the care of his precious lot to man whose mind and judgment have been weakened by a former error that they have cherished, such as so-called “perfectionism” and spiritualism, and who, by their course while in these errors, had disgraced themselves and brought reproach upon the calls of truth.”
Mrs. White is referring to some of the early Adventist, shortly after the 1844 experience; some lost their hold on God and drifted into fanaticism. Ellen White met these extremists with a “Thus saith the Lord.” She rebuked those who thought that they had a holy flesh and; therefore, could not sin. In regards to this, Mrs. White later wrote: “They held that those who are sanctified couldn’t sin. And this naturally led to the belief that the affections and desires of the sanctified ones were always right, and never in danger of leading them into sin. In harmony with these sophistries, they were practicing the worst sins under the garb of sanctification, and through their deceptive, mesmeric influence were gaining a strange power over some of their associates, who did not see the evil of these apparently beautiful but seductive theories….Clearly the deceptions of these false teachers were laid open before me, and I saw the fearful account that stood against them in the book of records, and the terrible guilt that rested upon them for professing complete holiness while their daily acts were offensive in the sight of God.”—(Early Writings p. 301).
The movement described in the 1850’s, to which Mrs. White referred to is very similar to the holy flesh movements of today, and to which people claim perfection of the flesh while practicing great abominations. Perfection does not ensure immunity from future sin. Victory today is no guarantee of victory for tomorrow. We are to become converted daily so that we may possess the power of the indwelling Christ.
God’s perfection is established upon infinite knowledge. We can never achieve to the maturity of God’s perfection even in eternity. Not even the angels have such perfection. But the Lord has promised his power to give us victory over temptation. Ours is a dependent perfection, depending on the power of Christ moment by moment for victory over temptation.
The story of Job gives a stunning example of difference between God’s and man’s evaluation of perfection. God declared that Job was a perfect man (Job 1:8). But Job had an altogether different response to his perfection. In Job 9:19-21 “19 If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty! And if it is a matter of justice who can challenge him? 20 Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty. 21 “Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life. In this passage, Job acknowledges that his strength is of God; he acknowledges the judgment is of God; if he were to declare himself to be perfect he would be perverse; even if he were perfect he would despise life. This is the sincere response of every converted man or woman. The evaluation of perfection is up to God alone.
The problem with the people that think that they are perfect is that they think “they can do it on their own.” The other problem with thinking that we are perfect is when we see ourselves in this way, we become harsher, more judgmental and the angrier we become when others disagree with us. By definition, the perfect people are perfect, and the rest of us are not.
The progress towards perfection is a process of daily surrender and a purification of the heart and mind, as well as abandoning of sinfulness and selfishness. In other words it is Jesus settling in for good in our life, a total occupation.
I would also keep in mind the following quote:
“Christ is our pattern, the perfect and holy example that has been given us to follow. We can never equal the Pattern, but we may imitate and resemble it according to our ability. When we fall, all helpless, suffering in consequence of our realization of the sinfulness of sin; when we humble ourselves before God, afflicting our souls by true repentance and contrition; when we offer our fervent prayers to God in the name of Christ; we shall as surely be received by the Father as we sincerely make a complete surrender of our all to God. We should realize in our inmost soul that all our efforts in and of ourselves will be utterly worthless, for it is only in the name and strength of the Conqueror that we shall be overcomers.” (TMK 265.2) Christian perfection begins in your home and continues in the church and community. Christ’s character is a character of love, a loving attitude towards others.