Does the Bible Teach “Sinless Perfection”?
“Sinless perfection” is a term that we avoid because of the confusion that it brings. It is unclear, to this author at least, who actually invented the term “sinless perfection.” John Wesley only used the term “Christian perfection.” Even though “sinless perfection” is not a scriptural term, per say, the Bible does teach perfection or completion.
If one's idea of sinless perfection is that when one is born again his old man is crucified with Christ, and the body of sin or sin nature is destroyed (Romans 6:6); that he is dead to sin, and that the new creation in Christ now walks in the Light where there is no darkness at all; that he is made free from sin and becomes a servant to God, and has fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:22); that he no longer is walking according to the course of the world in the lust of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 4:22); that he is no longer a corrupt tree producing evil fruit unto death which are the works of the flesh that Paul listed that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God, which includes lusting in the heart and hatred, etc.; that he has to continue in the faith and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, and hold fast the profession of his faith firm unto the end; that he needs to grow in grace, and grow in the fruit of the spirit, and grow in Him and become more Christ-like in his walk....if that is sinless perfection, then I believe it is scriptural and I agree with it.
On the other hand, if one believes that progressive sanctification means that one gradually, over a period of time, gets rid of sin, even the most vile works of the flesh through a progressive process as he grows from unrighteousness into righteousness, and that he can never fully expect to totally get rid of sin in this life… then I believe this is not biblical and is really no better than the pagan monks, who separate themselves from the world and through various religious practices gradually reach the point where there is no more manifested sin in their lives. Surly, the great atoning work of the Cross of Christ has more power to save from sin than a pagan religion.
Many of the doctrines of the modern-day church can be traced back to Reformed Theology. One of the main theologians among the Reformers was John Calvin. Calvin quoted Augustine hundreds of times in his “Institutes of Christian Religion.” Calvin wrote in his “Institutes,” “We maintain, therefore, that sin always exists in the saints, till they are divested of the mortal body...”
But, here at Ring The Bells of Freedom, we seek to see what the early Apostles saw in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We look to the Apostles, who penned the words of the Holy Scriptures under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as our final authority. We still dare to believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes it (Romans 1:16), and that this gospel power is effectual in destroying the sin nature and the works of the devil, and gives us the grace to live righteously and godly in this present evil world. (Galatians 1:4, Titus 2:12)
"We maintain, therefore," that freedom from sin is the heart of the gospel and the very purpose of Jesus’ cruel sufferings on the cross, and that perfection or completion is taught in the Holy Scriptures in two forms – firstly in initial salvation, and secondly as we grow in Christ and eventually reach our final completion when Christ returns.
Initial perfection or completion
Whenever any kind of a holy standard is raised in the modern church, one of the statements that is immediately used is, “No one is perfect.” The word “perfect” scares most people. The word “perfect” in the Scriptures simply refers to completion. It is not referring to man’s idea of the perfect husband or wife, or to the perfect son or daughter, or to the perfect mother or father, or even to the perfect Christian who is always dead center in the will of God.
Initial perfection in the Scriptures is simply referring to initial salvation.
“For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power:
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”
John 1:14 says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Then in verse 16 it says:
“And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.”
Jesus was full of grace and truth. The fullness of the Godhead dwelled in Him. The Scripture also says that the Spirit of God was given to Him without measure. (John 3:34) It says that we have received “of” His fullness. We get a portion of His fullness, and of His grace. Individually, we will never reach the point of having all of His fullness in our lives. However, that does not mean that we are not holy, and that we are not partaking of the divine nature. As it says in Colossians, we are complete in Him. “Complete” means to “make replete (full), to cram, to furnish.” We are made full out of His fullness. This fullness or completeness leaves no room for sin. The believer is crammed full with God’s goodness and then grows in it.
Colossians goes on to say that we are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh. It is an act of creation – not a process. He cut sin out of our heart through the invisible hand and operation of God. He destroyed the sin nature by cutting it out of our old stony hearts, and gave us a new heart, as was prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 18:31, 36:26. He “put off the old man, which is corrupt according to its deceitful lusts,” and made a “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22, 24) The destroyed sin nature (Romans 6:6) is then buried with Him in His baptism and put off, and the new man and new creation is risen with Him.
"For by one offering he
hath perfected [completed] forever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)
Through His death we are complete in Him and are sanctified. It is a complete work because the sin nature is taken out and the divine nature takes its place. We are sanctified in the new creation, and our spirits are holy and complete in Him. Bible scholars point out that the Greek tense used in "are sanctified," could rightly be translated "are being sanctified." Some believe, as we do, that this is referring to all those who are sanctified throughout the "church age," and not that one is being sanctified through the sanctification process after salvation. All those who come to Christ throughout New Testament times, are completed and are sanctified through the blood and body "offering" of Jesus on the Cross.
“For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw near unto God.” (Hebrews 7:19)
Whatever perfection or completion is, it is something that they could not have under the Law, and it is the “better hope” that is presently fulfilled in those who are under the “better covenant,” and “better testament,” as the book of Hebrews refers to the New Testament. This “better testament” was sealed by the death, burial, and resurrection of the Testator, Jesus Christ Himself, who gave Himself as a “better sacrifice” on the cross.
Under the Law, through the animal sacrifices that “could never take away sins (Hebrews 10”11),” they could not have this “better hope” based on “better promises.” No one was made perfect until after the shed blood of the “better sacrifice” of Jesus Christ. He was the first born of the new creation of God. He was the first born among many brethren. (Romans 8:29) We are “born again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1Peter1:3) The eleventh chapter of Hebrews speaks about all the great heroes of the faith under the Old Testament. All of these great men and women died without receiving the “better promises” of the new creation in Christ, the new heart and the new spirit, and the grace of God in the heart of man. As the Apostle Paul ends the eleventh chapter of Hebrews by saying:
“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise;
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
It is also important to note that “perfected” and “perfect” in the above Scriptures were both taken from the same Greek word “teleioo,” meaning “to complete, i.e. (literally) accomplish, or (figuratively) consummate (in character). Bible translators translated “teleioo” to our English word “perfect.” As stated earlier, some tend to stumble at the word "perfect," but listen to what the Bible scholar Adam Clarke (1760-1832) said about his use of the word “perfect.”
“Had I a better name, one more energetic, one with a greater plenitude of meaning, one more worthy of the efficacy of the blood that bought our peace, and cleanseth from all unrighteousness, I would gladly adopt and use it. Even the word “perfection” has, in some relations, so many qualifications and abatements that cannot comport with that full and glorious salvation recommended in the gospel, and bought and sealed by the blood of the cross, that I would gladly lay it by, and employ a word more positive and unequivocal in its meaning, and more worthy of the merit of the infinite atonement of Christ, and of the energy of his almighty Spirit; but there is none in our language; which I deplore as an inconvenience and a loss.”
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
From which whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
“Perfecting” in the Greek means “complete furnishing, a fitting or preparing fully.” “Perfect” as in “perfect man” in the above Scripture means “fully grown, mature.” These Scriptures are talking about growing in Him. They talk about the church as a whole growing in the stature of the fullness of Christ, of the Church being edified or built up in the Lord, and of us growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
We “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Peter 3:18);” We are exhorted not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2); Grace and truth is multiplied unto us through the knowledge of Him (2Peter 1:2); Peace and love is multiplied unto us (Jude1:2); He may give us certain spiritual gifts to edify our spirits and one another (I Corinthians 14:4); and the Church as a whole is built up in Him and edified in love and in His knowledge and grows unto a perfect man, and into the fullness of the stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-16).
Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God would give unto them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened; that they would know what is the hope of their calling; that they would know the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints; and that they would know the exceeding greatness of His power. (Ephesians 1:17-19)
After our salvation we are to present our holy bodies unto him as a living sacrifice to be used for His glory (Romans 12:1); We are to pray and be sober minded (1Peter 4:7); We are to put on the whole armor of God that we would be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, because he is going about seeking whom he may devour (Ephesians 6:11-17); We are to redeem the time for the time is evil (Ephesians 5:16); We are to stand fast in the liberty where Christ has made us free (Galatians 5:1); We are to abide in the holy vine of Jesus and bear forth much fruit (John 15:5); and we are to hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end (Hebrews 3:6).
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:1-6)
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do me gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.”
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye workers of iniquity [sin].” (Matthew 7:16-23)
These Scriptures reveal to us that the one who is born again of the Spirit of God is a good tree that can produce good fruit only. Those who are now "clean through the Word," are exhorted by our Lord Jesus Christ to abide in Him, the true and holy vine, and that if we do remain and continue in Him, we will bear much more good fruit. If one wants to characterize this as a process, then it is a growing process in Him, and not a growing out of sin or uncleanness into righteousness over a period of time, as is taught in progressive sanctification.
God does prune those branches that abide in Him so that they can bear more good fruit. As stated earlier, when one is saved, he is not “perfect” is every area of his life, and is not always dead center in the perfect will of God, as I’m sure even the Apostle Paul missed God’s perfect will for him at times. This is where the growing process comes in.
When I was a child, my father taught me how to plant and grow tomato plants. He would show me how to prune the branches of the plant. There were what he called “suckers” that would grow between some the branches. These “suckers” would not produce any buds or fruit, but would only take away from the overall nourishment of plant, so they had to be removed.
The same holds true for our walk with the Lord. The “fruit unto death (Romans 7:5)” or the “corrupt fruit” was taken care of in our initial salvation, when the old man of sin was crucified with Christ. The Scriptures clearly declare that those who abide in Christ can no longer bear corrupt fruit, but only good fruit. This “good fruit” is also known as the “fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11, James 3:18) Ephesians 5:19 also tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” However, in order to grow in Him and bear more “good fruit” we have to submit ourselves to the chastisement and pruning of the Lord. There may be certain things (suckers) in our lives that could take away from our receiving the proper nourishment from the Vine. They may be painful to deal with, but they must be dealt with so that we can continue to bear fruit. If we do not submit to the chastisement of the Husbandman, we can be in danger of becoming fruitless and wither and be cut off from the vine.
“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
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 towards the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal this unto you.
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” (Philippians 3:11-16)
There is not one hint in these Scriptures that Paul is talking about growing out of some sort of uncleanness, sin, or defilement. When he says that he has not attained and that he is not already perfect, he is talking about that final reward when he makes it to the end of his course in life as he keeps the faith until the end. (II Timothy 6-9) Paul continues in verses 18-21, where he warns them with weeping about those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” and who “mind earthly things.” He says that our conversation is in heaven where we look for the Savior to return who shall change our mortal bodies into His glorious body. Paul is saying in these Scriptures that we need to continue in the faith, and to keep our eyes on the final prize and the reward of our crown of righteousness and glorified bodies that Christ shall give us when he returns to reward the righteous.
We are to “run with patience the race that is set before us,” as stated in Hebrews 12:11. “The race,” in the Greek speaks of being led to a place of assembly. After our death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus Christ, we are placed on the starting line to run our marathon course, looking unto Jesus who shall give us our final reward, if we continue in the faith abiding in Him, and endure unto the end.
If we fight the good fight of faith and finish our course in life, we shall receive the crown of righteousness which the Lord shall give in that day to all those who love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8); we shall receive our incorruptible glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:52); and we shall then see all things clearly, as now we only know in part (1 Corinthians 13:9,12).
Just as Jesus said that a good tree cannot bear corrupt fruit, and just as Paul said to not be deceived, the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9), the Apostle John also makes it abundantly clear in 1 John 3:4-10, that “He was manifested to take away our sin (vs. 5),” and that “whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not (vs.6),” and to “let no man deceive you, he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous (vs. 7),” and finally “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in Him and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (vs.9).”
This is the foundation of our faith. This is “Christian perfection.” This was the purpose of Calvary - to free us from sin, to destroy the sin within, to restore us to His image, to make us new creations in Christ, to give us His divine nature. Without this perfection or completion, all other “Christian” endeavors are meaningless. It matters not what one believes if they miss it on the very foundation of the gospel. We can never grow unto a “perfect man – fully-grown, mature,” if we believe that a child of God, a brother of Jesus Christ, can still be a sinful creature. Also, if we are not complete now, and if we are not "made righteous" now, we will never reach our final completion when we physically die, or when He returns to "reward the righteous."