Sunday, September 2, 2012

THE MYTH OF SINLESS PERFECTION

During my freshman year of college we called it "Getting Tinked." The term came from a remark from one of the students, who said the Sinless Perfection movement sweeping the campus was like God plowing through the students, knocking them over; tink, tink, tink.

That was a heady year for me. The Jesus People introduced me to the Charismatic Movement, I met Joe--my best friend for life--and the "Tinkers" assured me I must be absolutely sin-free before God could ever use me. Well, at least one of those things--namely Joe--lasted.

Sinless Perfection is the notion that you can stand before God righteous and holy because of the pure and dedicated life you live. Now--obviously-- we're not talking about "sinners" here. C'mon! You have to be "saved" by Jesus, "washed in the blood of the lamb!" Then, because you have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit it is possible to Just Say No to Sin. Therefore, since you CAN be sin-free, it follows you MUST be perpetually sin-free in order to be acceptable to God.

Okay, Theologically, it IS technically possible to fall on the grace of God in every temptation and escape. ... But DO you? I certainly don't, not consistently. Even the great Apostle Paul despaired that he kept doing the things he didn't want to do. That's because though you might be saved by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus you are still a fallen, corrupted, being. Christians battle the old sin nature every day of our saved lives on this earth. You are righteous in God's sight because of the overflow of Christ's imputed righteousness, not your own.

Given that the Bible is replete with references to man's fallen, sinful nature, I find it absurd that the notion of sinless perfection is a perennial among religious people--Christians in particular. Yet it continues to make the rounds, putting on a pious new face every so often and enticing believers who ought to know better. When we find it in someone else we call it legalism, or Phariseeism. In our self, we often praise it as holiness.

As something of a theologian, I find it necessary to correct this misunderstanding. Here goes: You are not righteous in and of yourself, nor am I. On our BEST day you and I have more in common with Adolph Hitler than with Jesus Christ. I state the contrast in such graphic terms that even the most spiritually myopic might understand my meaning.

Let me give you a couple of examples of how the Bible deals with the doctrine of Sinless Perfection. Paul lost his temper with John Mark. Peter acted hypocritically around the Judaizers. Did God stop using them? No.

Though Christian believers DO have the indwelling Holy Spirit we find we must fall on God continually for strength and grace. That is because we are not spiritually self-sufficient. in Paul's words, "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Phillippians 3:13-14.

The Christian life is a process. It is true to say I have been saved, I am being saved and one day I will ultimately be saved. As for here and now in this life, it is the beginning and the process we experience. The ultimate will not be true until we get to Heaven, or God intervenes with the "2nd Coming Shortcut."

I say all this because I keep hearing Christians talk about salvation by grace, while demanding sinless perfection from others. Brethren, lighten up.

4 comments:

Dan Smith said...

Your last comment is what seals the deal. The church wants perfect men and women as its leaders, and then gets mad when they can't live up to the standard they've set for them. The fallen world says we must be perfect or we're hypocrites, then calls us that anyway. Far better to be loved by God than be judged by men though. Well written stuff!

Edie Melson said...

Good stuff here, as always! I miss you, my friend, Blessings, Edie

Wonderer said...

Thanks Don for the reminder that God uses us in the midst of and despite our imperfections!

William Bennett said...

Don, my friend, that was a well written piece and I have to agree with Dan Smith. That last comment was a clincher! I've certainly come to realize that God uses me, not because I'm so good, but because He wants to show His power in my life and surprise me every day! Pretty cool. I'll keep trying for that perfect state though.