Friday, July 16, 2010

A Question of Moral Perfection

Hey Pastor Dave, on occasion I stumble through passages of scripture that need some clarification and instead of emailing you I just keep reading. I have decided not to do that any's my question:

In the text, 1John 2:1 "I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One".

1Peter 4:1 "he who has suffered in his body is done with sin". (I know he is referring to Christ in this passage but missionaries have suffered as well)

1John 3:6 "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him".

I think you get the picture as to where I'm headed. Now, I understand that all have sinned but these passages raise the question as to the possibility of escaping the clutches of sin or at least on a temporal basis. Am I reading to much into these passages as well as others? Deep down in my heart I would like to believe that there is a possibility to achieve this lofty goal but then reality sets in and tells me otherwise. I don't know, part of me thinks that by accepting our sinful nature means accepting second best and part of me would like to believe that God wants to pull us out of that defeated way of thinking. Perhaps the answer is just that, it's a process and although we will never achieve perfection we can draw closer to God, thereby, minimizing the amount of sin we commit. I am familiar with this way of teaching but you have to admit these passages are not clear in suggesting this. I know this inquiry may seem strange coming from me but these passages seem to paint the wrong picture that's all I'm saying. Appreciate your thoughts, when you get a chance.

Hey- good question

The struggle is a theological one and an anthropological one. The belief that one can achieve a sinless life is called perfectionism or sinless perfectionism. It is tempting to read verses like those you mentioned and others (be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect) as calls to sinlessness. Some of that desire is based on the misery of living with this burden of a weak flesh. The question is theological because it relates to what God has done. The question is anthropological because it deals with the nature of man (ie., is there ever a time on earth where man can be free from the flesh or the sinful nature NIV)

Jesus taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness daily (Matt 6.12); he told us to pray often because the spirit was willing and the flesh was weak (Matt 26.41); and Paul seemed to advocate (Rom 7.18-19) that grace would triumph over the fleshly nature not by eradication but by the Holy Spirit’s empowerment (Rom 8.1-4). In 1 John 1.8-10 the Apostle tells us that to say we have no sin is deception, and John assures us that we have an advocate with the Father who will forgive confessed sin. He tells us that to say we have not sinned is to call God a liar. While urging his readers not to sin 1Jn 2.1 he assures that there is a defense attorney (advocate) who speaks to the Father in our defense. Clearly he cannot move on to chapter 3 and then mean that he readers should reach perfection! The NIV is correct in showing the continual case of the verb meaning to sin. It reads “no one who continues to sin” has seen or known him. The powerful work of the new birth in the life of the believer uses the tools of conviction, teaching, and encouragement to free us from specific sins. (1 Jn 3.9) The Spirit also empowers our mind, body, and human spirit with the capability to deny the fleshly habits and cease to walk in those ways(Rom 8.9) . So we are growing in our divine nature 2 Peter 1.4. Through these “great and precious promises” we are “participating in the divine nature” and “escaping the corruption of the world caused by evil desires”.

My assessment is that there will never be a time when I am free from incidents of sin, because I cannot divorce myself from the weak flesh that is the result of Adam’s transgression. There will come a time when I am divorced from that sinful nature entirely when, as the Apostle Peter writes, salvation is revealed (1 Pet. 1.5) in the last time. The believer will be delivered from the fleshly nature and receive a spiritual body (1 Cor 15.45-55) like Christ’s resurrected body. Salvation and deliverance will then be complete.

This does not mean that the Christian does not strive to mature (perfect Mt5.48) his walk. There are theological systems that tend to bring believers into a lackadaisical and apathetic acceptance of their fleshly nature. These systems emphasize the finished work of Christ (cf. Col 1.24) to the detriment of the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Passive acceptance of our sinfulness is not a proper response to our sin nature. It seeks to control. When the Flesh controls (Rom 8.5-8) the believer cannot serve God, cannot please God, cannot think rightly or submit to God. The flesh is no friend… it is an enemy and the believer must be as ruthless as possible to overcome it by the Spirit’s power. The believer in Jesus must strive to grow and mature continually in Christ.

So what then do these passages mean that concerned you?

1 Peter 4.1 is a passage to suffering Christians (cf v 12) Peter is encouraging the disciples to have the attitude (4.1) that Christ had- suffering (in obedience to the Father- not for sins, crimes or sickness) helps us overcome the flesh. That is why (4.19) we should “commit ourselves to God and continue to do good” when we suffer in God’s will. Neitzche – the atheist philosopher (God is Dead) said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” (He later lost his mind and spent the last ten years of his life in mental darkness because of his rebellion against Christianity). What Peter would say is “That which causes us to suffer in the will of God, makes us stronger by killing our dependence upon the flesh.”

So we strive for moral perfection all the while knowing that we will never reach it. That, however, doesn’t mean that there will be days when we can look back and say with the Psalmist (Ps 17.3) “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin…” I wish those days would increase in all of our lives. But in the end 364 days of sinless perfection cannot cancel out the one day of lustful thoughts, greed, or pride. There is no redemption but in the shed blood of our King! So why grow? why pursue holiness? Why die daily (1 Cor 51.31)? It is but a tribute, an honoring, a replication, and an imitation (Eph 5.1) of the Lord whom we serve. In so doing we properly (Rom 12.1,2) worship our King. And the world looks on and sees us as a city on a hill, a light on the lamp stand and they will “see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.

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