Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sinless Perfection

The doctrine of Perseverance teaches us that a genuine believer will last or persevere until the end of his or her life. They will ultimately prevail over sin by demonstrating fruits of repentance. While not perfect, their lives will have obvious signs of works which therefore prove the legitimacy of their faith.

I do not wish to discuss the Biblical accuracy of this doctrine today, but rather to look at the matter of sin in the life of a 'genuine' believer. As we know, God does not wink at sin nor does He overlook our sins. We know that He has paid the ransom to redeem us from our sins and the power of sin. Why then do we continue to sin?

If we have the nature of Christ within us as the Bible says, why do we as christians continue to sin? Why do some of us experience more victory over sin than others? How much can a believer sin and still be a 'genuine' christian? Has God ordained that we sin?

From the following verses, it would seem God desires us to be perfect in all that we say and do. Is this theoretically possible for us to do? Why or why not? I would really love to hear from my Calvinist friends.

2Co 13:11
Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Php 3:15
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

2Ti 3:17
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

1Pe 1:15
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

1Pe 1:16
Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

1Jo 2:1(a)
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.

Joh 8:11
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.


Daniel said...

The doctrine of Perseverance teaches us that a genuine believer will last or persevere until the end of his or her life. They will ultimately prevail over sin by demonstrating fruits of repentance. While not perfect, their lives will have obvious signs of works which therefore prove the legitimacy of their faith.

Actually the doctrine of perseverance says that God (and not us) is both the Author and Finisher of our faith. It is no more complicated than that - we do not (nor can we) generate the faith that saves us - that faith is a gift from God, it is not something that we bring about by our own work; it is something God has brought about by His own work.

Likewise just as our faith originated in God and not ourselves, so too our faith is finished by God and not by us. We are not the Alpha (the originator), nor are we the Omega (the finisher) - we do not start, and we do not finish our faith, God does both.

Because it is God who works in [those whom He is saving] both to will and to do His good pleasure, we rightly conclude that God doesn't fail on account of man. That the same God who sovereignly saves us, and keeps us saved, also works unfailingly in us producing both the desire and ability to do those good works that He prepared beforehand for us to walk in.

You seem to be mushing together as one the doctrine of perseverence with the doctrine of sanctification.

Your question however was about why do we continue to sin?

The answer is that we continue to sin in proportion to our spiritual maturity.

The word "perfect" in the first three verses you provide is a potentially misleading rendering in each case - it means (in order) [2Co 13:11 ] complete, as in having all the peices, [phil 3:15] "mature" as in full grown, and [2 Tim 3:17] fully outfitted, as in having a complete set of armor on.

Those who battle sin in the strength of their own flesh (instead of in the of the Spirit) are going to experience an "external" victory not unlike that acheived by the Pharisees - that is relying on a conscience instructed in the law and their own willpower - they will suppress through personal effort whatever carnal fruit their old self continues to produce. In this way they may nip the carnal fruit in the bud, but the root problem remains - the tree is producing carnal fruit and not spiritual.

The problem here is that they don't understand that we do not sanctify ourselves by obeying the law - rather God sanctifies us as we surrender to him and trust him to change us from glory to glory.

Perhaps a biblical illustration?

Consider the Israelites with regards to the promised land. They were expected to go into the Canaan and take it, but they had two promises going in:
[1] They would be victorious because God would fight for them
[2] The land upon which they walked would become their inheritance.

That is, they weren't simply going in to attack the Canaanites - they were going in to take the land. Each victory was more than just a temporal victory - they won the very ground upon which the battle was fought. If they won the victory and failed to appropriate the land, they would have to fight for their place again.

Spiritually speaking now, sanctification works exactly like that - we are promised victory - there is nothing more surer. Our sins are in Christ on the cross - and the fact that they are there demonstrates that we are free us from our previous bondage to sin. If we resist a single temptation in our own strength - that is like standing on the border and shooting arrows into Canaan - we might take down a few Canaanites - but we don't get the land, and our effort doesn't end in victory - it just means we weren't defeated in battle yet.

In order to have victory, we must be as the Israelites were - we have to do it God's way (remember Achan's sin in Ai!). God has commanded us to walk in Christ in exactly the same manner that we received Him - that is - by both turning away from our sins (refusing to surrendering to sin) and by trusting that God really will deliver us from sin's power.

To resist sin without trusting God for victory ends in us fleeing the battleground in fear even after having won the field - because deep down we don't believe we will be able to keep the land.

God does desire us to be mature spiritually - but for a reason - because it is only those who are mature that every experience that sort of victory that keeps you in the promised land afterwards.

This is the promised rest - those who are still running forrays and never take the land are not going to enter into rest - and the problem is that they don't believe God can give them rest - so they try and take it for themselves.

You ask How much can a believer sin and still be a 'genuine' christian?

Well, since most believers fail to truly love God with all their mind, soul, heart, and strength - and since most believers fail to love their neighbors as they love themselves, and since most believers fail to rejoice in the Lord always, and fail to be praying always, etc. etc. - that is, since the overwhelming majority of believers sin day in and day out constantly, unrepentantly, and ignorantly - that you couldn't really put a value on it. It is enough to say that if we attempt to measure sin, we would find most of us so entirely sinful that all comparison becomes meaningless.

Calvinism doesn't confuse justification with sanctification. We all offend in many ways every day. That has nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation, and everything to do with our sanctification.

You asked, Has God ordained that we sin? Not in the sense that you are asking. The blame for sin, according to Calvinism, falls squarely and only upon the shoulders of the sinner.

Consider our old friend Abimelech. ("Then God said to [Abimelech] in the dream, 'Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.'" - Gen 20:6 [ESV]) God kept Abimelech from sinning. An astute theologian might well ask, if God could interfere in the life of Abimelech and keep him from sinning - Why didn't God do that for Adam?? You see, God is not up in heaven wringing his hands over the big mess that Adam made of it - God could have done for Adam just as he did for Adam's descendant - God could have restrained Adam. You know it's true.

Adam's fall didn't catch God off guard - God knew that Adam would sin, He knew exactly when it would happen - and God could have intervened but He chose not to. That doesn't make God culpable for Adam's sin either - Adam had been given the freedom to sin even though God knew that Adam would use that same freedom to sin - even though God could have prevented it.

That tells us rather plainly I think, that although God did not ordain sin - nevertheless sin in no way thwarted or circumvented God's sovereign control. God is not in heaven wringing his hands hoping against hope that we will stop sinnning. Nor is God forcing men to sin - all men sin because they choose to sin - sin is not a duty, it is a choice. God allows sin - as he did for Adam, even though He could effortlessly keep every last one of us from sinning every single day (He -will- do exactly this in heaven after all) - yet God choses -not- to. So while God does not ordain sin, He allows it.

Finally you ask if it "theoretically possible for us to [be perfect]"

I think it is not only possible for us to mature spiritually, but demanded of us - and all who fail to do so will suffer loss for it. In the sense that you ask however, whether it is possible for a believer to be so entirely free from sin's dominion that he no longer sins ever - I think that a person is able to be "consistently obedient" - such that they no longer give into sin's dominion - I think scripture teaches this - but that is not the same as being perfectly sinless. Our bodies are not yet glorified, and we may (in ignorance) do something that is sinful - but the mature believer will gladly forsake this as soon as it is understood as sin.

Let me know if that helps.

Jim said...


First of all you crack me up brother. Not enough time to post, but writing an essay in my comments section. :)

Daniel, I must confess I agree almost completely with your statements here, whether they be called Calvinism or another name.

However, I must honestly say that this is not what I hear from the majority of those who would call themselves Calvinist. Either you are simply being honest or they do not truly believe as you do.

Well, anyways, perhaps you have the makings of another post here. We really need to get together for a visit and some heart to heart fellowship.

Daniel said...

Jim - it would be a great blessing to get together - the kids would love it, though I think the adults would enjoy it more.

I think the majority (in this day and age) who have received a justifying faith at the same time receive absolutely -no- instruction (or incorrect instruction) in sanctification. Into the void where spiritual growth through sanctification ought to be taking place, these clueless saints typically fall into one of two errors, depending on their theological bent.

The first error imagines that spiritual maturity is apprehended by religious activity. These therefore (out of a guilty sense of duty, obligation, and gratitude) embark on a rigorous regiment of good works - and are not shy in encouraging others to follow suit. Though they run and grow weary for all their effort - and though all their effort doesn't bring them one inch closer to the throne or the truth - yet they regard the alternative as a failure that would indicate a false faith, and so their fear continues to drive away every other avenue. At the root of this all is a desire to be free from sin, and this avenue is pursued because the one following it is deceived into thinking that the way to beat sin is to suppress it and do good.

The other extreme is where (typically) Calvinsts err. According to my understanding, Calvinists rightly apprehend the doctrines of grace (TULIP), but having failed to understand biblical sanctification they conclude that spiritual maturity is apprehended through scholastic achievement - that is, the more theology you know, the more mature you are spiritually. These imagine that the reason they sin is because they haven't unlocked the answer yet - they search the scriptures imagining that having a perfect theological/doctrinal understanding and framework will eventually deliver them from sin - and so they pursue this error with all the vigor of the arminian who pursues works.

My guess is that you have no love for spiritual inertia in a believer, and that since you see it commonly in many Calvinists, and that you (along with a company of other like minded, high-fivers) but have wrongly reasoned that it must be the Calvinism producing this inertia - so you contend against Calvinism instead of the real culprit - spiritual immaturity, and ignorance in the doctrines of sanctification.

There are many Calvinists who do the same - they see the utterly bankrupt works of legalists and arminians, and having a sound doctrine themselves they wrongly conclude this smoke and mirror sort of faith - this spiritual inertia must be the result of bad doctrine - so they pursue with a similar zeal a false solution.

Is it any wonder that Calvinism and Arminianism are so widely ridiculed by one another, and even by those who have already adopted a better-than-thou attitude with regards to either group?

We rightly rage against the ineptitude of the false way - but in the end we misdiagnose the problem!

When you examine Calvinism, all you are examing is the sovereignty of God up close. Calvinism simply says that God is in control.

Jim said...

Daniel, again your comments make too much sense!

I would have to agree with you here, I have been trying to put my finger on it and you have greatly helped me.

So the big question is; how do we engage spiritually immature and yet knowledgeable christians? I am wondering how fruitful an online discussion can be without an actual corporate gathering where we can practice the fellowship of the body. It seems that only as we are abiding in Christ does the light really shine and illuminate our neediness and pride.

Thanks brother, let us make serious plans for more of this fellowship.