A Perfect Christian?

An Amazing Fact: Bumble bees were originally called "humble bees" because they are generally good natured and very rarely sting. The young children of the early English settlers struggled to say "humble bees," and often called them "bumble bees" instead. Because of the awkward, clumsy movements of the adult bees, the new name stuck.

Bumble bees are among the few insects that can control their body temperature. In cold weather, queens and workers can shiver their flight muscles to warm themselves. Their large size and heat-conserving hairy coats also help them stay warm, allowing them to work in colder climates and lower temperatures than most other insects..

Aviation engineers have studied the bumble bees and determined that with their small wings and hairy, fat bodies it is aerodynamically impossible for them to fly. But the bumble bees have not had time to read those reports so they have chosen to continue flying.

 

 

As I write today I've been staying in a hotel. I tossed and turned a bit last night trying unsuccessfully to acquire a good night's sleep in this hotel bed. In the process of thrashing around, I managed to twist up the sheets exposing the company name on the mattress: Serta "Perfect Sleeper." I can hardly say I had a perfect nights sleep. Most people have come to accept that perfect does not always mean flawless in such a perfectly imperfect world.

Yet Jesus says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48).

What does Jesus mean when He asks us to be "perfect"? After all, everyone echoes "nobody's perfect," let alone perfect as our Father in heaven! This passage has been an ongoing source of both irritation and inspiration for various Christian camps and a catalyst for much debate.

The words "perfect Christian" sometimes conjure up images of humans that have achieved the status of some sort of sterile, stainless steel, sanctified robots that have a direct cable to Heaven from which they receive their remote control signals.

At first glance we might assume that Jesus is asking us to be some sort of inhuman, angelic androids, but perhaps a closer look at several words would provide a better picture. In the KJV New Testament, the word "perfect" appears 42 times and is usually translated from the Greek TELEIOS (tel'-i-os), meaning "complete in labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc., of full age" (Strongs). Here are a few other examples where teleios is used:

"I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (Jn. 17:23);

"Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded" (Ph. 3:15);

"If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man" (Ja. 3:2).

The word "perfect" is found in the Old Testament about 57 times, and it is usually translated from the Hebrew word TAMIYM (taw-meem'), meaning "entire, integrity, truth, without blemish, complete, full, perfect, sincerely, sound, without spot, undefiled, upright, whole" (Strongs).

"Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (Ge. 6:9);

God said to Abraham, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Ge. 17:1);

"Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God" (De. 18:13).

The Taboo Topic
The subject of Christian perfection is such a volatile issue among Christians that most preachers refuse to venture anywhere near this theological quagmire. If a minister is reckless enough to admit that he believes that God wants us to stop sinning, then he becomes an instant target for the question, "Have you stopped sinning?" Well, here I go... I believe that God wants us to stop sinning.

Now you may ask, "Pastor Doug, have you stopped sinning?" No… but I'm in good company. Paul also confessed he had not yet arrived.

"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before; I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Ph. 3:12-14).

Furthermore, I don't remember reading that we are to interpret truth based on my, or anyone else's, personal experience. The idea that we are saved with our sins and not ultimately from our sins, has grown out of this popular tendency to interpret the Bible based on a majority consensus.

I have heard hundreds of people say they believe that most politicians lie on a regular basis as though it were part of their job description. So when it comes time to vote we choose the most likeable liar.

In the same way, because there are so many counterfiet Christians most people have come to believe that the concept of a perfect Christian is as remote as finding an honest politician. The Lord did make it clear that this consistent obedience is rare, but it is possible.

"And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" (Jb. 2:3).

"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Mt. 7:14).

Because there is so much failure and imperfection in the world and the church, many have concluded that God is content for the saints to wear crooked halos until Jesus comes. But I believe that, although we are not called to be robots, we are commanded to be perfectly surrendered.

I like the way Dr. A.J. Gordon says it; "We gravely fear that many Christians make the Apostle's word, 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,' the unconscious justification for a low standard of Christian living. It were almost better for one to overstate the possibilities of sanctification in his eager grasp after holiness, than to understate them in his complacent satisfaction with a traditional unholiness.... If we regard the doctrine of sinless perfection as a heresy, we regard contentment with sinful imperfection as a greater heresy."

Does God Want Perfection?
Of course He does! How can a perfect, holy God be content with an imperfect standard? Or how can a perfect creator, who originally made a perfect creation, be satisfied with an imperfect one? Here's the next question; Does God ever tolerate imperfection? Once again, of course! Otherwise he would vaporize you and me on the spot. In fact, the whole world would be instantly destroyed if God did not at least temporarily tolerate imperfection. Although it is perfectly clear that Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, neither did He come to condone sin!

Remember the story in John, chapter 8, where a woman was caught in the act of adultery? According to the law, she was about to be stoned. Many believe that this woman was Mary Magdalene, and this was her first encounter with Jesus.

As Mary stood trembling before Jesus awaiting her sentencing, Jesus wrote in the dust. One by one her accusers left.

When Jesus stood up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?" (Jn. 8:10).

I believe she read love and compassion in Jesus face. She believed in His grace and she received it when He said, "Neither do I condemn thee." But lest we misunderstand the deadly nature of sin, he plainly added, "go, and sin no more" (verse 11).

Is Jesus asking us to be sinless? Absolutely. Jesus can never ask anything less. Sin was the disease destroying Mary. What would you have Jesus say? Go and sin a little less? Go and cut back on your life of sin? Jesus did not come to save us with our sin but from our sin (Mt. 1:21). That means from the penalty and from the power and ultimately the presence of sin.

Real Repentance
Some have suggested that when Jesus told Mary "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more" (Jn. 8:11), that this proved that the law had been set aside. In fact, the opposite is true! "Sin is the transgression of the law" (1 Jn. 3:4). Jesus was telling Mary "I will take your penalty because I love you. Sin hurts you and sin hurts me. I will be a sacrifice in your place, go and sin (break the law) no more."

But in scripture real repentance consistently calls for sorrow for, and turning from the sin as a condition for mercy. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Pr. 28:13).

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9).

Sarah was a wonderful Christian woman who had a rare and deep relationship with the Lord. But her brother George was the proverbial black sheep of the family, and his selfish life was the antithesis of his sister's generous conduct. George had a severe alcohol problem. After years of abuse, his body began to rebel from the constant drinking, and his kidneys were failing fast. The doctors told Sarah that George would surely die soon without a kidney transplant, but it was doubtful that he would even qualify to be placed on the waiting list for a kidney because of his steady history of drinking. Sarah asked the doctors if she could give one of her kidneys to her ailing brother. The doctors responded, "If your blood types match you could, but this is an expensive operation and we question the wisdom of putting your health at risk for a person with such self-destructive habits."

It turned out that their blood types did match, but George had no insurance, so Sarah quickly mortgaged her home and promised she would pay the rest. With some persistent urging, she finally persuaded the hospital to perform the surgery.

The transplant procedure went fine, for George, that is, but there were some tragic complications for Sarah.

She had a severe allergic reaction to the anesthetic and found herself paralyzed after the surgery from the waist down. Sarah was able to bravely bear the tragic news a little better when she was told that George seemed to be doing remarkably well. She said, "If I am able to buy my brother a few more years of life to find the Savior then it was still worth it, even if I can never walk again."

Now here is the reason for the story. How do you think Sarah felt when her brother never stopped by her bed to thank her for her costly sacrifice? And how do you think Sarah felt when she learned that the first thing her brother did after leaving the hospital was to go to the bar and celebrate?

Most of the world eagerly takes the blessings of God and then selfishly squanders them like the prodigal son. But how do you think Jesus feels when a professed Christian goes from His presence after receiving mercy and life and returns to the very thing that cost Him such suffering to save us? When we see and understand something of how much our sins have cost Him we will no longer want to embrace the monster that ravaged our Lord.

Jesus did not come and die on the cross in order to purchase us a license for us to sin. He came to save us FROM sin. That love is the power that enables us to turn from sin. "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Ro. 2:4).

Seventy Times Seven
Because we may repeat the same mistakes and fall into the same sin more than once does not mean that God has forsaken us. Evidently Mary Magdalene had the same struggle.

"And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils" (Lu. 8:2).

This does not mean at one time Jesus cast out seven demons, but rather seven times she slipped back into the old patterns of sin and He forgave her. "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again" (Pr. 24:16).

Do not become discouraged if, like Mary, you find yourself repenting of the same mistakes several times. Jesus said, "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him" (Lu. 17:3, 4).

"Then Peter came to him and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Mt. 18:21, 22).

If God is asking us to forgive each other seven times in one day or seventy times seven, will He do less for us? Of course God will forgive us every time that we sincerely repent. But there is a danger that we can come to the place that we presume upon His grace and through abusing His forgiveness, harden our own hearts.

"For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (He. 10:26).

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Ro. 6:1, 2).

There is effort involved in denying self and living the Christian life. The Bible says we war, wrestle, run, fight, and strive. But the fight is a good fight of faith. We must strive to trust God's plan and will for us rather than our own. We must fight to stay close to Jesus. Mary was safe from sin when she was with Jesus. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not" (1 Jn. 3:6).

Christians Follow Christ
The bottom line is that Jesus came to this planet for three primary reasons. First, to show us the Father (Jn. 14:9, 10). Second, to die as our substitute for our sins (1 Co. 15:3 and 1 Jn. 4:10). Third, to give us an example of how to be victorious. Notice the ways we are invited to mirror Jesus.

"As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (Jn. 20:21);

"For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pe. 2:21);

"For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (Jn. 13:15).

"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:13).

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn. 13:34).

We are sent as Jesus was sent, commanded to walk as He walked, do as He did, forgive as He forgave, and love as He loved! In light of these plain principles, why would a professed Christian resist the truth that we are called to be holy (perfect) as He is holy?

At this point someone is thinking that I'm a perfectionist. Once again, I certainly do not claim to be perfect, but every Christian is a follower of a perfect Savior. Jesus left us a perfect example. And just as soon as we say God cannot keep me from sinning we are venturing on deadly ground. In essence we are saying, "Satan is powerful enough to tempt me to sin, but Jesus is not powerful enough to keep me from sin." My Bible tells me that "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4).

He who attempts to justify his sin, negates his justification. The central issue of Jesus' mission was to save us from sin's penalty and power.

"He who committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn. 3:8).

The undisputed work of the devil is to tempt us to sin, and Jesus came to shatter those shackles that bind us and set the captives free (Is. 61:1).

Consistent Obedience
If you think about it, everybody obeys God some of the time, at least while they're sleeping. But the Lord is looking for a people who will obey Him consistently. That's why the Lord told Moses, "Oh that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" (De. 5:29).

Notice that the Lord asks us to keep all of His commandments always, not to make us miserable, but for the ultimate happiness of us and our children!

King Darius said to Daniel, "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee" (Da. 6:16).

Keep in mind that the ones who do obey God consistently are often the last ones to be aware of it. (In fact, I would avoid anyone who parades their perfection.) When Daniel had a vision of God he said, "...my comeliness was turned in me into corruption" (Da. 10:8). This is because the closer we come to the light of God the more aware we become of our imperfections.

"One ray of the glory of God, one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character. … He loathes himself as he views the pure, spotless character of Christ" (Steps to Christ, 29).

Promises of Power to Obey
The Bible is oozing with "exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Pe. 1:4).

Here are just a few. "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace" (Ps. 37:37);

"Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Ro. 8:37);

"Now thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place" (2 Co. 2:14);

"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (He. 7:25);

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24);

"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the present world" (Tit. 2:11, 12).

Those who refuse to believe that we can live victorious lives are accusing God of a gross and cruel injustice in asking us to do the impossible, then punishing us for not doing it. That would be something like a father asking his young toddler to touch the ceiling, and, as the little child is straining to reach up seven feet above on tiptoes, the father smacking the child to the ground and yelling, "I told you to touch the ceiling and you disobeyed me!" An ugly picture I know.

But suppose that I ask my toddler to touch the ceiling and, as he is straining and stretching to do the impossible, I gently reach down and lift him up to his goal. This is how the Bible pictures God. Within every command of God there is inherent the power to obey.

For example, God says "Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy" (Le. 19:2), and "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pe. 1:15). Notice the word "BE." When the Lord created the world He said, "Let there be Light, and there was light" (Ge. 1:3).

When Jesus cleansed the leper he said "Be thou clean." And he became clean! Likewise, when Jesus said, "BE ye therefore perfect" (Mt. 5:48), the enabling power itself is in the divine word "BE." I know that when God asks us to live a holy life it seems at times unattainable, but remember, when God asks us to cross an ocean without a boat He will either part the sea or enable us to walk on water.

Remember that Jesus said "…without me ye can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5), but Paul added, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Ph. 4:13).

Perfect Love
So what is the essence of Christian perfection? If we look at the context of Matthew 5:44-47, Jesus is speaking of loving our enemies. When we reach verse 48 and Jesus says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," it becomes clear that He is talking about perfect love. Further proof for this concept is borne out in Luke 6:36 where Jesus words it differently; "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful."

So what is Christian perfection? Perfect love and perfect mercy. Perfect love is demonstrated in a willingness to obey. "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15). For example, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego loved God more than their own lives and were willing to go to the fiery furnace rather than dishonor Him. And Daniel was willing to go to the lions' den rather than be ashamed of his God. Though this love is rare, it is real and attainable for all who believe!

Faith in the Victory.
Sin is more than a single offense; sin is a lifestyle. Before Jesus saves us we are slaves to sin. After Jesus saves us we may still slip, but "Sin shall not have dominion over you" (Ro. 6:14). For the Christian, where sin once sat enthroned and unchallenged, Jesus now sits as Lord and King on the throne of our hearts.

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" (Ro. 6:12).

This does not mean genuine Christians will not make mistakes. There are too many examples in the Bible where they do. This is why John said, "My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn. 2:1). However, the mistakes should be the exception, not the rule.

This concept is clearly described in that famous book Steps to Christ. "The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts" (57).

During World War II, General Jonathan Wainwright was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner in a Manchurian concentration camp. Cruelly treated, he outwardly appeared "a broken, crushed, hopeless, starving man." Finally the Japanese surrendered and the war ended. A United States Army colonel came to the prison camp and announced personally to the general that Japan had been defeated and that he was free and in command.

After Wainwright heard the news, he returned to his quarters where he was confronted by some guards who began to mistreat him as they had done in the past. Wainwright, however, with the news of the allied victory still fresh in his mind, declared with authority, "Now I am in command here! These are my orders." From that moment on, General Wainwright was in control.

General Wainwright had received word from a higher power and he acted in faith on that word and it became real. He would no longer acknowledge the authority of his tormentors. When we accept the truth that Jesus now reigns and has "all authority" and is with us always, we too can be free indeed!

"My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me" (Ps. 101:6).

"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 Jn. 5:4).

 

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