Should a Christian Be Perfect? Part 2

By Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: Water striders are incredible insects that walk on water. They are found in ponds, lakes, streams, and even oceans across the Northern Hemisphere. The ends of their feet contain thousands of microscopic hairs that trap air, giving them buoyancy on the water. Water striders are so buoyant that they can support 15 times their weight! 

Like a water strider, the disciple Peter once walked on water. Responding to the Savior’s invitation, “When Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus” (Matthew 14:29). This is a radical picture of what God can do in our spiritual life, enabling us to rise above sin instead of allowing it to pull us under.

However, it’s a sad reality that Christians are prone to repeat the same mistakes and fall into the same sin more than once, but that does not mean God has forsaken us. Many scholars believe that 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 demons” (Luke 8:2).

This does not necessarily mean that Jesus cast out seven demons at one time; it could also be understood that seven times Mary slipped back into the old patterns of sin and He forgave her each time. For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). “He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you” (Job 5:19).

Do not become discouraged if, like Mary, you find yourself repenting over the same failures multiple times.

After all, we know that Jesus said, ”Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3, 4).

Notice that the number seven is often associated with God’s long-suffering mercy: “Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21, 22).

If God commands us to forgive each other seven times in one day or seventy times seven, would He turn around and do less for us? No, He will forgive us every time we sincerely repent!

However, there is a danger that we can come to the place where we presume upon His grace and, through abusing His forgiveness, harden our hearts and lose our conviction for sin.

“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26).

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2).

There is real effort involved in denying self and living the Christian life. The Bible says we war, wrestle, run, fight, and strive. This is called the good fight of faith. We must strive to trust God’s plan and will for us rather than our own desires and plans. We must fight to stay close to Jesus. Mary was safe from sin when she was with Jesus. “Whoever abides in Him does not sin” (1 John 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 (John 14:9, 10). Second, to die as our substitute for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 4:10). Third, to give us an example of how to be victorious. 

Notice the ways we are invited to mirror Jesus:

“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

“I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

“Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 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 principles, why would a professed Christian resist the truth that we are called to be holy, loving, and perfect as He is holy?

Once again, I certainly do not claim to be perfect, and we will never be exactly like Jesus because He lived a sinless life while we are all scarred by sin. But every Christian should be striving to be like our perfect Savior. Jesus left us with His perfect example. And just as soon as we say that God cannot keep us from sin, we are giving glory to the enemy by default. 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.” But the Bible tells us that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

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

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

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

Consistent Obedience

When you think about it, you realize that everybody obeys God sometimes—at least while sleeping. But the Lord is looking for a people who will obey Him consistently. That’s why He told Moses, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

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

King Darius said to Daniel, who had just been thrust into the lions’ den, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you” (Daniel 6:16). Keep in mind that the ones who obey God consistently are often the last ones to be aware of it. In fact, I would be extremely wary of anyone who claims perfection. When Daniel had a vision of God, he said, “My comeliness was turned in me into corruption” (10:8 KJV). While he lived a life of consistent obedience, Daniel also acknowledged that he was a sinner: “Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel” (9:20). This is because the closer we come to the light of God, the more aware we become of our imperfections. 

In the book Steps to Christ, we read, “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” (p. 29).

Promises of Power to Obey

The Bible is overflowing 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 Peter 1:4 KJV). Here are just a few:

“Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace” (Psalm 37:37).

“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

“Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

“He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (He-brews 7:25).

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 1:24).

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11, 12).

Those who refuse to believe that we can live victorious lives are essentially accusing God of a cruel injustice in asking us to do the impossible—and 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 on tiptoes, the father smacks the child to the ground and yells, “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 the inherent power to obey it. For example, God says,

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

“As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). 

Notice the word “be” in the two passages above. When the Lord created the world, He said, “‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). When Jesus cleansed the leper, He said, “Be cleansed”—and he became clean! (Matthew 8:3).

Likewise, when Jesus said, “You shall be perfect” (Matthew 5:48, emphasis added), the enabling power itself was in the divinely spoken word “be.” I know that when God asks us to live a holy life, it can seem 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 you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and Paul added, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Perfect Love

So, what is the true essence of Christian perfection? 

Looking at Matthew 5:43–47, we see Jesus speaking of loving our enemies. When we reach verse 48, and Jesus says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father 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: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” So, what is Christian perfection? 

It is perfect love and perfect mercy. Perfect love is demonstrated in a willingness to obey. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). For example, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego loved God more than their own lives and were willing to go into 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 type of love is rare, it is real and attainable for all who believe! It is the born-again heart that loves God supremely—a Spirit-filled life.

Faith in the Victory

Sin is more than a single offense; it 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” (Romans 6:14). For the Christian, where sin once sat enthroned and unchallenged, Jesus now sits as Lord on the throne of our heart.

“Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6:12). This does not mean genuine Christians will not make mistakes. There are too many examples in the Bible in which they do. This is why John said, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

However, the mistakes should be the exception, not the rule. “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts” (Steps to Christ, p. 57).

During World War II, General Jonathan Wainwright was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner in a concentration camp. Cruelly treated, he outwardly appeared “a broken, crushed, hopeless, starving man.” Finally, the Japanese surrendered, and the war ended. A U.S. 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 Japanese 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, straightened his body to its full six feet two inches, and declared with authority, “My supreme commander has defeated your commander. Now I am in command here! These are my orders.” From that moment on, General Wainwright was in control of the camp.

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

“Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).


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