Questions And Objections
s I stated at the beginning of the first section, it is crucial that you become familiar with the biblical teachings and definitions of perfection before you consider the current teachings on perfection or perfectionism. If you fail to do this, you will have no objective frame of reference. Any communication without proper definitions loses its meaning. Imagine going to a pastor to discuss a man who has made you his enemy. The conversation could be as follows:
|"Benny is out to destroy me and my family. What should I
"I suggest you have happy thoughts, and feel passionate desires toward him."
"Why would I do that? He has put my whole family in jeopardy!"
"The Bible tells us to love our enemies."
"Yes, but I didn't get the definition from a Harlequin romance novel!"
I know this illustration is somewhat odd, but it is completely relevant. Even a Webster's definition is not necessarily useful for biblical words. For example, one of the ways Webster's Dictionary defines love is; attraction based on sexual desire. Another is a score of zero in tennis. Try and use that one when you interpret the bible! Or how about a caress? Thus, you would understand love your enemies, as caress your enemies. Have I made my point?
As we have seen, the same is true when we consider the Bible's teaching on perfection. Perhaps even more, in that very little attention is given to the Bible's teaching on perfection. If you use the common definition, you will no doubt relegate the doctrine to some cold, irrelevant dungeon in your mind.
In my conversation with Hank he said to me:
" If you can be perfect, you don't need Christ."
This would perhaps be true if you could live your whole life without sin, but as soon as you have sinned, the law pronounces you a law breaker (James 2:10-13). No amount of subsequent obedience can change that. If I would cease to sin for the rest of my life, I would still have enough charges against me that, without Christ's atonement, I would never get past the gates of Heaven. Because of justification, God no longer counts those sins against me; but it still is true (and always will be that I have sinned). If it wasn't for the atonement, I would be eternally held guilty for them. Hank said to me that "all have sinned," I agree! But the wonderful thing about redemption is that we don't have to continue sinning.
Sin in Heaven? I would assume
that even Hank does not believe that we have to continue sinning when we get
to heaven. Does that mean we won't need the Lord anymore when we get to heaven?
If attaining perfection implied that Christ was no longer needed, this would
be the case. The statement is ridiculous. I find it hard to believe that it
even requires a discussion! Jesus said that if we abide in him we will obey
his commands. This stands in total opposition to what Hank has stated; namely,
if you obey His commands you don't need Him. While Hank seems to believe he
needs Christ so that he doesn't have to be perfect, I believe one of the many
reasons I need Christ is so I can be perfect. The truth is if you abide
in him you'll obey his commands.
(We all need Jesus Real Player, Windows Media )
In the Cri Perspective on perfectionism, Hank states; "To be perfect in the biblical sense, means that you mirror the very image of Jesus Christ himself. This will take place in heaven but certainly not here on earth."
There are a few things to consider as we look at this statement in light of biblical teaching. First there is clearly a process of growth involved that does not imply sin. When Jesus was a baby or even a teenager, he did not mirror his image as an adult. He had many years to grow in wisdom, knowledge, and power (Luke 2:52). While there is room for growth there is a sense in which we can and should at any moment mirror the image of Christ. In relation to Christ, this is further attested in a passage in 1 John.
"If anyone obeys his word God's Love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:5-6
We are called to walk as Jesus walked. The context is obedience to God, "walking in love". If no one could do this, no one could "know they were in him." The supposed fact espoused by Hank would make Johns statements completely irrelevant, and would imply all of us were lost. If we believe in inspiration, we must believe this is possible. Evidently John not only believed it was possible, he believed we must do it. In context, this is how we can know that we are Christian; that we are in him. While Hank's statement seems to imply that we can't walk as Jesus did until we are in heaven, the Bible states that if we don't walk like Jesus did here, we won't be going to heaven. If you have received the gift of life, you have also received the power of life.
In Hebrews 5, the recipients of the letter were criticized for not attaining this perfection: "we have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." The word translated here as "mature" is the same word tel'-i-os, which is translated "perfect" in other verses. These believers were told that by this time they should be mature; but instead they were still infants. He goes on to state, "Let us leave behind the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity (perfection)" It is also significant to see that this isn't described as the religion of "supersaints." It is spoken about and expected of every believer.
It is possible to attain this perfection (teleios) without being sinless. All of these verses are directed toward people who most definitely were not sinless. We cannot change our past, but we can with God's help change our future! I personally would not use the term "sinless" in reference to anyone except Christ. Yet this cannot be considered inconsistent with my position. The fact that we have sinned does not prove that we have to continue sinning. If I would live the rest of my life without sin I would not consider it correct to call me sinless, as I cannot deny that I have sinned.
At this point, I must make an important remark of a pastoral nature relating to assurance. Neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian would give assurance to someone who is living in continual sin. The Arminian would say the person might have been saved but lost their salvation, and the Calvinist would say their life is evidence that they never were saved. The point I want to make is that they both would agree that the person, is at present, under condemnation. Passages such as those in 1 John make at least this conclusion impossible to escape. While this is often admitted, the connection between assurance and obedience is often left out. There is, however, a very clear connection. "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." 1 John 5:13 The question is how do you know that you have a biblical faith. The answer is plain in the context: if you believe in Christ, you are born again. If you are born again, you will love the children of God, overcome the world, and you cease to continue to sin. "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands." (1 John 2:3) Can anything be simpler then that? There are implications and questions that I will not try to answer, but until they throw me to the lions, I will boldly preach what is clear.
Hank has, on occasion, said that Christ's command in Matthew 5:48 sets up an impossible standard. This is clearly eisegesis. Hank is reading into the text rather than taking out from it. As we have seen in the previous chapters, every indication from the context would lead us to believe that Jesus intended us to obey this command. I admire the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoffer, who went a long way in illustrating the mentality that seeks to evade the obligation of biblical commands:
"When orders are given in other spheres of life there is no doubt whatever of their meaning. If a father sends his child to bed, the boy knows at once what he has to do. But suppose he has picked up a smattering of pseudo theology. In that case he would argue more or less like this: Father tells me to go to bed, but he really means that I am tired, and he does not want me to be tired. I can overcome my tiredness just as well if I go out and play. Therefore Father tells me to go to bed, he really means 'go out and play.' If a child tried such arguments on his father, or a citizen on his government, they would both meet with a kind of language they cannot fail to understand in short they would be punished. Are we to treat the commandment of Jesus differently from other orders and exchange single-minded obedience for downright disobedience? How could this be possible?" (1)
While Bonhoffer has not taken the same stance that I have, his point is clear and well illustrated. I will go on record as saying that, if our Savior's commands are treated differently from others, it should be with greater reverence, since they do not come from a mere man but from our everlasting Father.
1) Attaining this perfection in no way implies that there is no further room for growth. I am devoted to and love my wife; yet I can still grow in that love.
2) The question is, how consistent does your life have to be in order to have attained, what the Bible calls spiritual maturity? The exact answer, I will leave for others to debate. It has been my aim to show that the standard taught in Scripture, is the standard we are expected to attain. While I believe that forgiveness is available when a believer does sin, it is precisely because we are obligated to obey this righteous and just standard that we need forgiveness when we transgress it.
3) In light of the Bible's teaching on perfection, I believe it is crucial that we concentrate on the basics - milk for the believers. I admit, it is easy to think "I want to go to the deeper things of God," but looking for spiritual short cuts are a fast way too nowhere.
4) We should earnestly pray that God would give us a burden to see the Church grow. Consider that this is the burden he gave to Paul. He had a burden on his heart to see the Corinthians grow. Imagine bringing a new believer into that body when they were filled with division, jealousy, confusion and immorality. What would have resulted? You don't have to imagine. It would probably be a lot like our church today. We have some nice programs for which I am thankful, but we are seething with problems, and having little impact on the world. We are in danger of losing our lamp stand. It is not enough just to make converts were called to make disciples.
5) I have no qualms with the word teleios being translated as mature, I am not concerned about which word is chosen to represent the original teleios. I am concerned about those who define it in a way that makes it irrelevant. I am concerned about what it originally meant, and my responsibility to obey. I am concerned about knowing the standard that I should aim for, and what I should hope to attain.
Words often change their meaning with time; this is what brings about the need for revised translations. But sometimes the common definition for an English word doesn't correspond exactly to the original definition of the Greek word it represents. When this is the case, we must look at the original word. In this context, I am actually glad that they have often used the word mature, because I think that people will be more prone to study it and see how the Bible defines it. When the word "perfect" is used, people are likely to assume they know what is meant.
6) Believing this doctrine in no way implies that if someone else is not perfect we can write them off, ignore them, or treat them with contempt. If that is your position, it would prove you've missed the whole point. We are called to be kind, gentle, and long suffering. If some one sins against us 70 times a day, we are still should forgive.
7) The most common statement we hear regarding perfection today is "no one's perfect." I would consider it a strong argument that, in reference to the moral use of the word teleios, no such statement is found in the New Testament. In fact, the statements which do exist imply or state the opposite.
8) This is an important issue in any discussion of sanctification, but it is necessary to take the doctrines of sanctification, holiness, redemption, cleansing, death to sin, perfection, etc. And consider them each on their own, because what is true of redemption is not necessarily true of, cleansing, or perfection.
No limit can be put on the degree of perfection attainable in this life. Doing so would be to limit the grace of God. In Hank's book Christianity in Crisis he said "any talk of limiting God is not only anti biblical, but makes God angry." In the context of Hanks statement he quotes from Psalm 115: "Our God is in Heaven he does whatever pleases him." What truth is revealed more clearly than that our holiness pleases God? When we consider this, the cross, and His grace, clearly the only limitation as to how holy you can be is that which you impose by your own free will. And yes, I have no doubt that when you do, it grieves His spirit and even makes him angry. It has pleased God to give us free will, and also to provide for us a way of escape in every temptation. But it doesn't please Him when you misuse your freedom. If you lack in holiness, it is your-fault not God's.
No matter how you define perfection, Hank's statements on limiting God are as true in the context of sanctification as anywhere. May we pray that people would stop preaching that God is limited as to how much grace He can provide for our sanctification.
Further word study
Eph 2:8-10, 1 Cor 15:10, 2 Cor 9:8, 12:9, 2 Tim 2:1, Rev 3:2, , 2 Cor 13:11 , Gal 3:3 , 1 Thes 3:10, , 2 Tim 3:1, , Heb 13:21 , 1 Peter 5:10 , 2 Cor 7:1 , Eph 4:12 , 2 Cor 13:9 , Heb 6:1  Col 3:1 , 2 Cor13:11 , Numbers correspond to Strong's
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Macmillan,1976), 90.