A Discussion of Perfectionism

Because the concept of 'perfectionism' has come up in our study of legalism and also the epistle of 1 John, we need to give it some further attention.

The doctrine of perfectionism contradicts the Scriptures and experience. Perfectionism comes in a variety of forms. I am referring to that view of the Christian life which maintains that the Christian, after some kind of second experience (the first being salvation), can enter into a state of sinless perfection, and can expect to live a life free from the inward conflict described in Galatians 5:17.

If perfection is possible, why would Paul need to prescribe a process for restoring a saint who has fallen into sin? Even more problematic, if perfection is restricted to the "spiritual," why, then, does Paul warn those who are spiritual that restoring the fallen sinner may lead them into temptation?

The Scriptures simply do not support perfectionism. They teach, instead, of a constant war, both within (Gal. 5:17) and without (Eph. 6:10ff.). The perfectionist may protest, insisting that any "lower" view of the Christian life only promotes sin. He would maintain at least the hypothetical possibility of perfection in this life. Just the opposite is true.

Because this doctrine holds perfection as its goal and ideal, it has little, if anything, to say about the "way back" for those who have fallen into sin. The experience of many who have realized their sinfulness, while believing in perfection, is that they live an almost schizophrenic spiritual exis­tence, redefining their sin or just blatantly denying it. Since they have failed to live up to their own standards, they simply give up all hope of any kind of spiritual­ity.

Once we become aware of the war within, and of our fallibility as Christians, we become more cautious about sin, recognizing how susceptible we are to it. Who lives more dangerously, the one who thinks he cannot fall, or the one who knows how easy it is to fall?

The greater our sense of danger, the more cautious we will be concerning that danger. Thus, knowing the saint can (and all too often does) sin, gives him good reason to avoid temptation, and to be suspicious of his every motive and deed. Furthermore, when he does fall into sin, he knows that there is hope for his recovery.

Does the knowledge of God's graciousness toward sinners incline the Christian toward sin? We must remember that sin is so deceptive that the saint is capable of using Scripture to defend his sinfulness. Thus, even those doctrines which are true can be misapplied. Paul answers "God forbid" to any perversion that grace can be exploited for evil ends (cf. Rom. 6:1‑2,15). When we begin to grasp the grace of God, gratitude prompts us to give ourselves fully to Him, living a pure and holy life to please Him (cf. Rom. 12:1‑2). Grace not only provides forgiveness for sin, but also produces a gratitude for that forgiveness which inclines the saint to avoid all future sin. The Law does not prevent sin, but only promotes it, and leaves us with guilt, rather than gratitude (cf. Rom. 7ff.).

Have you experienced the grace of God, my friend? The Christian has drunk deeply of God's grace at the time of his salvation, and will continue to drink of it all the days of his life.

Perhaps you have never come to taste of grace at all, and if this is the case, my prayer is that you will acknowledge your sin and will trust in the work of Jesus Christ, who died in your place. He took the condemnation of the law on Himself, so that you might possess His righteousness and live eternally with Him.