Monday, September 16, 2013

Aim for Perfection

These days it seems like most so-called Christians have given up on the idea of perfection.  They are willing to settle for compromise with the world and sin in their own lives, doing so under the excuse of grace.  But grace is not a license for sin.  So I’d like to examine the Scriptural standard for the life of every disciple of Christ.  The standard is perfection.   To be more precise, it is sinless perfection.

You May Not Sin
Jesus spoke to the man whose hand was healed, and warned him not to sin anymore. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.’” (Joh 5:14).  Why would Jesus tell him to sin no more, if it were not possible?  Wouldn’t that only frustrate the man? No, the Lord would not command him to do something that was impossible.

He said, “sin no more.” That expression comes from the Greek words “harmatano meketi.”  The word “harmatano” means “to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), that is, (figuratively) to err, especially (morally) to sin: - for your faults, offend, sin, trespass” (Strongs).  And meketi means, “no further: - any longer, (not) henceforth, hereafter, no henceforward (longer, more, soon), not any more.”  “Meketi” comes from the Greek root word “me,” which is a primary particle of qualified negation, such as “not, neither, never, no, none, nor, or without” (Strongs). And the other root word “eti” means “yet”, still (of time or degree): - after that, also, ever, (any) further, (t-) henceforth (more), hereafter, (any) longer, (any) more (-one), now, still, yet.” Therefore, "meketi" emphasizes the discontinuation of an act already in progress and the negation of an act in the future.

After Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, He used that same expression to warn her to leave her life of sin.  “She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” (Joh 8:11).  That expression once again comes from the Greek words “harmatano meketi.”

The apostle John wrote his epistle, so that his readers may not sin.  “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  (1Jn 2:1-2)

John said, "You may not sin." That expression comes from the Greek words “me harmatano” meaning "sin not" just as the apostle Paul used in his epistle to the Corinthians, when he wrote, "Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame." (1Co 15:34). Other English versions say, “sin not” (KJV) or “do not go on sinning” (ESV).

John taught that sin has no place in the life of one who is born again. He said, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.” (1Jn 5:18).

I believe the Lord would say the same to us today as He and His apostles said then, "Do not sin anymore."

Depart from Iniquity
The apostle Paul said, "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.'" (2Ti 2:19). He explicitly said we must abstain from wickedness, which means to refrain from indulgence in it, or to restrain oneself from doing it or enjoying it. Other versions say "depart from iniquity" or "depart from unrighteousness."  This leaves no room for any unrighteousness at all in our lives. We have a responsibility to depart from it.

Abstain from Sinful Desires
Likewise, the apostle Peter said, "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul." (1 Pe 2:11, NIV). It should be obvious from Scriptures like this that all sin is forbidden for the saints.

Do No Evil
The Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of Isaiah saying, "Cease to do evil!" (Is 1:16b). Likewise, the apostle Paul prayed for the Corinthians that they would do no evil. He said, "Now I pray to God that ye do no evil." (2Co 13:7a, KJV). The Greek word for "evil" here is "kakos", which means that which is  worthless, depraved, sick, injurious, bad, evil, harmful, or wicked. This should be our prayer also for ourselves and others that we would do no evil, in other words do nothing wicked, wrong, bad, harmful, or sinful in any way. This is even more important than praying that we would be spared from suffering evil.

Be Perfect
Jesus said, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48).  The word “perfect” is “teleios” in the Greek, meaning “complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.); completeness: - of full age, man, perfect.”  When Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect,” it clarified that was talking about godly perfection.  Obviously what Jesus referred to was moral perfection of the same kind that our Father in heaven has.  He would not command us to do something that was impossible, so we know this is attainable.

The apostle Paul also said that Epaphras prayed earnestly for the Colossians so that they may “stand perfect.” He said, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Col 4:12)

Likewise, that was the way Paul prayed for the Corinthians.  In the context of praying that they would do no evil (2 Cor 13:7), as I mentioned previously, He said, "But we pray also for this, your perfection." (2 Co 13:9b, MKJV). The word “perfect” is “katartisis” in the Greek, meaning “perfection” (Strongs). That is the goal.

How to Attain Perfection
But how do we attain such perfection?  There is a responsibility on our part to be perfect, as Jesus said. We certainly have an active role in submitting to the process. However, the Lord carries out the process, as a refiner does with silver or gold. Peter said that Christ Himself will perfect you through suffering.  “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1Pe 5:10)

Paul also said the Lord will perfect the good work He began in you. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Php 1:6).  Note that Paul says the Lord will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus, which means it is an ongoing work until the Lord returns or until we go to be with Him.

Therefore, while we must actively participate and make every effort to be perfect, it does not depend completely on us. Ultimately it is the Lord's work in us, without which we could never be perfect.

Now But Not Yet
So then are we perfect already, or is it still something we seek to obtain?  The apostle Paul made it clear that he had not already become perfect.  “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:12).  Now I can relate with that! Although he admitted he was not yet perfect, he made it his aim to reach that goal, since that was the reason Jesus Christ laid hold of him.

On the other hand, Paul also referred to himself among those who were already perfect.  He said “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;” (Php 3:15).  Paul spoke in the first person plural in the present tense, when he said “as many as are perfect.” So we see that although Paul had not already become perfect, he was in fact leading a perfect life to the greatest extent possible at that time.  I call this "Now, But Not Yet ."

A Perfect Conscience
The gifts and sacrifices of the Law could not make the worshiper perfect in conscience.  “Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience,” (Heb 9:9b). 

But those who accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ are not guilty, not only because of destroyed records, but because of a purged conscience.  When your conscience has been purged, it becomes perfect.

This is a glorious gift from God, because a guilty conscience makes a person miserable.  And it only keeps the person bound by sin, so they keep repeating the same thing.  But a clear conscience is liberating and free. It is no longer obligated to sin, but is obligated to righteousness.  Thank the Lord for a clear conscience!

Spirits made Perfect
The apostle writing to the Hebrews said that when you come to know the Lord, “You have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,” (Heb 12:22b-23)

We are one with the entire Body of Christ, including those who have already gone before us into glory.  They are the spirits of righteous men, women, and children made perfect.  That’s what we are, if we know Jesus and obey His commands.  Note that is says we are "made perfect" and the One who made us perfect is the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we are becoming, and we’ll soon join that heavenly throng.

Is Perfect Simply Being Complete?
Some people who teach about perfection say that the Greek word for “perfect” simply means being “complete.” They imply that is doesn’t really mean moral perfection as we understand it in the English language. 

But James said, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:4)  James uses two different words here, “perfect” and “complete”.  The word “perfect” is “telios” in the Greek, which we have already defined as perfect.  The word “complete” is “holokleros” in the Greek, meaning “complete in every part, that is, perfectly sound (in body): - entire, whole.”  Since James said, “you may be perfect and complete,” we know there is a difference between “perfect” and “complete”.  We know that when the Scripture speaks of being perfect, it does not simply mean “complete.” Since James used both these terms side by side, we know it is God’s will for us to be perfect, and it is possible for the believer.

The Power of the Tongue in Perfection
James described a perfect man as one who does not stumble in what he says: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (Jas 3:2).  He said the reason such a man is perfect is that the tongue will direct the course of one’s entire life.

Jesus said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luk 6:45).  The mouth speaks from whatever the heart is full of.

Since the tongue merely speaks from the overflow of the heart, then the real issue is one of the heart.  Therefore, ask the Lord to give you a perfect heart, as David prayed for his son, Solomon: “and give to my son Solomon a perfect heart to keep Your commandments, Your testimonies and Your statutes, and to do them all, and to build the temple, for which I have made provision." (1Ch 29:19)

What if You Do Sin?
And always remember, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  (1Jn 2:1b-2). If we do sin, Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father.

John also said, “If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1Jn 1:7). Aren't you glad to know that as long as you walk in the Light as He is in the Light, the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin?

Never forget, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jn 1:9). Confess your sins, and He will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.

Aim for Perfection
Make it your goal to be perfect.  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  Pursue holiness (Heb 12:14).  Finally, brothers, good-by. The apostle Paul said, “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor 13:11)

Putting it All Together
There is no place in the Bible that says God tolerates any amount of sin. The Scriptures teach us that we are to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That's God's high standard for our lives. We are to sin no more. Depart from iniquity. Committing sin is no longer allowed. If we continue in a sinful lifestyle, then something worse may happen to us than what the Lord originally healed or delivered us from.

He has promised to give us a perfect conscience that is clear and free of guilt.  When you are born again, your conscience is restored and made to be like that of a little child once again.  That sets you free to soar like an eagle and obey the Lord in true righteousness.

You can't do this yourself.  You need a definite work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  That's why we must pray for perfection for ourselves and one another.

The main culprit is the tongue, so watch your tongue.  And ask the Lord to give you a pure and perfect heart, so that the words overflowing out of it through your mouth will be perfect also, and order your whole life in a way that is pleasing to God.

You don't need to go around telling everyone you are perfect.  Just live it.  And the Lord will continue to perfect the good work He started in you until the day of Christ Jesus.  He'll always be working on something in your life, as you continue to pursue truth, righteousness, and holiness.  So if you do sin, repent and confess it, so you may be forgiven.  A daily life of repentance is the shortest path to God's mercy, and that's how I seek to live my life.

Brethren, aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. The "Let This Mind Be in You" and "Nothing is Impossible" paintings © 2012 are by Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.

Author's note I invite you to see these related articles of mine: Christian PerfectionHoly Living in a Perverted World, Called to be Blameless, Following in His StepsSins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Is Obedience Optional?, Faith Works!, Obedience by the Spirit, Righteous Deeds and White Robes, Doing What is Right, The Straight and Narrow Path, Walking in the Perfect Will of God, The Fiery Sufferings of the Believer, and Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God. You can access my complete blog directory at Writing for the Master.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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