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Dissecting the False Teaching of Perfectionism

by Bobby Long Th.D

This will be a short paper reviewing the false teaching of perfectionism; or the belief that through Jesus defeat of sin and death on the cross, humanity can achieve a state of sinless-ness while in the flesh. John Wesley seems to be the originator of this thought although he never taught it in a way that is manifests itself today. Most of those that are drawn to this belief are found in the Churches of the Nazarene and in the Pentecostal ranks.

The most common verses which perfectionist tend to gravitate to are:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matt. 5:48 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. 1Cor. 15:34 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1Thess 5:23 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 1John 3:6

On the outset there seems to be a striking call by both Jesus and Paul to be perfect as the Father is perfect. That it is possible for man to be totally relinquished from the desire to sin.

Then there are those passages that speak to the other side of the coin. These passages are: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Matt. 6:12 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Rom. 7:18-19 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

In an effort to rightly divide the Word of God and to bring cohesion to the text above, one must understand what happens as salvation and what does not. When one is saved, it is the spirit that is quickened to life. The flesh was alive and conceived in sin and remains conceived and alive in sin. The difference comes at conversion when the new creature is awakened by the very spirit of the Living God who permanently sets up residence within the life of the believer.

At this point there are two living natures living within the same person.

One is the

fleshly nature conceived in sin that was living prior to conversion which ruled over the flesh and continues to live unaffected even after conversion. The second is the nature of God, in Christ, found in the living Holy Spirit which now reigns in the spirit of the convert. Therein the war rages. Galatians 5:17 says For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would.

The new Spirit of God is in constant conflict with the mind, will, and emotions that were slaves to the unbridled lusts and passions of the flesh. It is this war that will wage until this body of dust and clay passes away and a new glorified body is received; one that has not known sin and one that can uninhibitedly respond to the whole will of the Holy Spirit indwelling them. For the scripture teaches us to take every thought captive for it is in the mind that the seeds of sin can either be cast out or nurtured to manifestation in the flesh.

Paul reiterates this dual nature and the internal struggle in Romans 7:22-23, 25 when he says, For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. John 6:63 says that it is the Spirit that quickens or comes alive, the flesh profits nothing. This verse tells us that it is the spirit of men that benefits from the awakening of the spirit at regeneration not the flesh. For if the flesh profits or is redeemed in the same manner as the spirit, then it would not see decay nor would there be a need for a new glorified body. The wages of sin would have no hold on the man that has overcome the flesh and no longer sins.

The question then remains, how are we to be perfect? Taking the proof text one by one, we first come upon Matthew Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matt. 5:48. The first initial observation that can be made is that if this passage is to be taken literally then it is by all means unachievable. For to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect would mean that we would have to not only without sin, but have never sinned, nor ever had one sinful thought. We would indeed have to be deity which goes against all the teaching of scripture in that there has been only one God who by nature is God and that there will forever be only one God.

The perfection we obtain is a perfection we enjoy as we are IN Christ. Our righteousness is as used menstrual clothes, yet as we abide IN Christ, we are imputed HIS righteousness which is perfect. We stand perfect before the Law as Christ stands perfect before the law. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes Rom. 10:4. Christ is the fulfillment of the law and as we are found in him, we are found totally righteous. The good news is that our position right now is with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). All that we have, we have because we are in Christ.

Although our position is perfect in the heavenly places, our earth predicament is warring with the flesh. It is amazing how God blesses us according to how we shall be instead of how we are now (Eph 1:3).

Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. 1Cor. 15:34. Here we see the spiritual awakening referenced. As Christ was resurrected, so is the believer. As Christ was raise incorruptible, so will we be raised incorruptible. The problem with perfectionism is that it gets the cart before the horse and says that total sinless perfection can be obtained prior to the resurrection or rapture at which time our spirit and the new glorified body which will never see corruption, are joined together.

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess. 5:23. Here Pauls prayer is not a call to sinless perfection but is a prayer to blamelessness. Being blameless does not necessitate perfection. Being blameless means no accusations against character or integrity, placing the gospel in a bad light, would stick to the accused brother or sister. In other words, many may accuse us of wrong doing but our lives are lived in a way in which those accusations against us bounce off due to them having no grounds.

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 1John 3:6. If this verse is taken to mean that if we sin after claiming faith in Christ, then we have either lied or had a false conversion and we are still in sin. This, however, puts all in a damnable position in that Paul says he who says he is without sin is a liar and the truth is not in them either. So those who sin (either in word, deed, or thought) are guilty of sin, and will not see Christ, and Paul states that if we ever get to a place where we think we are not sinning, we are a liar and the truth is not in us leaving us in the same predicament. This verse speaks of a habitual lifestyle of unrepentant sin. A movie is made up of many frames. Taken individually, a single frame may condemn a person. However, the frames afterwards show the person falling on their knees and repenting of that sin thereby restoring fellowship with God.

Summary: Do not think so highly of this dirt suit as to see it capable of being totally transformed into the image of Christ. It will happen, just not while we live on earth.