Among the comments I’ve received on my recent series of posts about confession of sins was the suggestion that I have dumped rebound for the old Wesleyan doctrine of “sinless perfection.”
I had to go look up what that was.
After a quick reading of the Wikipedia article I’m still not sure what it is. Wesley himself said he never used the term “sinless perfection” for fear of contradicting himself, but did maintain that Christians were on a “journey to perfection” where they would reach a point where “the heart of the believer is cleansed from inbred sin by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.”
I don’t think we’re on a “journey to perfection.” I don’t think God left us here with a sin nature so we could reach perfection. As believers in Christ, when we die, the flesh will be gone and we’ll have perfect resurrection bodies just like our Lord’s. But not because of anything we do along the way.
I think of what the Bible describes as the “heart of the believer” as being where we do our thinking, where our conscience is, our standards, memory, understanding, our will, etc. I believe it’s a combination of the soul and human spirit (the latter made alive at the moment of salvation). The Bible doesn’t say there’s inbred sin there, but rather in the flesh, the physical body referred to as the “old man” in Scripture. This can and does influence the soul/spirit/heart and will until the day we die.
I certainly do not believe the Bible teaches that it is possible for a Christian in this life to attain “spiritual perfection,” that is, to reach a state where he or she no longer sins.
I have to laugh here, because I remember years ago (when I was about 2 years old, spiritually speaking) getting into a debate with an older gentleman who claimed he no longer sinned.
My husband and I were attending one of the many home Bible studies we tried out before we settled on the one where we listened to Col Thieme’s tapes (augmented by regular Sunday/Wednesday attendance at a Baptist Church). We’d already received the teaching of 1 John 1:9 (that we must confess our sins to be forgiven) from Orville and our LS Chafer book and here we were faced with this man who was claiming he no longer sinned. We quoted 1 John 1:10 – whoever says he’s without sin is a liar. I don’t recall the man’s argument against that, only that he grew quite angry about it all and began insulting us, and it didn’t help the situation when my husband pointed out that he was, indeed, angry and that was a sin, so clearly he HADN’T stopped sinning.
In any event, I do not believe the Bible teaches we can ever as long as we are alive on this earth, reach a point of sinless perfection. We still have the flesh setting itself against the Spirit (Gal 5:17), and tempting us to go back to the old ways (Ro 7:14-25); we live in the Devil’s world, which is permeated by a system of thinking that’s totally against God and which will also constantly tempt us to go back to the ways of the flesh (1 Jn 2:15,16); finally, we have an active enemy in the person of Satan and his minions, who are working to keep us from going forward in the Christian life (I Pe 5:8; Eph6:11,12). They have been doing this with members of the Body of Christ for almost two thousand years and they are VERY good at it.
Moreover, the flesh is not getting better, it’s getting worse (2 Co 4:16). So, no, as long as we’re in this fallen world, in these corrupt bodies, we aren’t going to reach sinless perfection. We won’t be without sin until we’re in heaven in our Resurrection Bodies.
We do sin, regularly. Probably daily for most of us, even if it’s only falling into a wrong mental attitude (fear, worry, guilt, selfishness, resentment, pride…the options sometimes seem endless).
Because I believe confession of sin is not something the Bible teaches that we are told to do (as related in my recent posts) some have asked, “Well what DO we do about it, then?”
Short answer: STOP it!
Longer answer: Lay it aside, and put on something new.
For an even longer answer, check out tomorrow’s post. 🙂
John Gill, in his commentary of that passage you mentioned, comes to the same conclusion:
“‘he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins:’ forgiveness of sin here intends not the act of forgiveness, as in God, proceeding upon the bloodshed and sacrifice of Christ, which is done at once, and includes all sin, past, present, and to come; but an application of pardoning grace to a poor sensible sinner, humbled under a sense of sin, and confessing it before the Lord; and confession of sin is not the cause or condition of pardon, nor of the manifestation of it, but is descriptive of the person, and points him out, to whom God will and does make known his forgiving love; for to whomsoever he grants repentance, he gives the remission of sin; in doing of which he is faithful to his word of promise; such as in Pro_28:13”
It would be quite odd to imagine that confession of every particular sin is necessary, as if you come in and out of a state of grace with every act of rebellion. It certainly is necessary to repent, but not in the sense of a work for to earn forgiveness and salvation. I’m sure many of us will die with many false notions and imperfections, though happily we plead the imputed righteousness of Christ, and not our own.
Thanks for the comment, Ricardo. Yes, we are all a work in progress — by which I mean, not perfection but growing in the grace and knowledge of God, that immutable, infinite, loving guy whose thoughts are not like ours at all. No matter how much we learn of Him, there’s always more to come. And many times what we think we’ve learned, hasn’t been fully understood because we’re still thinking in terms of our natural way of thinking…
I’m really enjoying this series of posts! I am wondering how you think Matthew 5:48 fits into the picture? The ‘Be ye therefore perfect scripture’
My off the top of my head response to this passage, which is in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and addressed to the Jews who were still under the law… “Therefore, you are to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect…” “…and if any of you think you can do that on your own, you are in for a huge surprise.” The Law, says Paul, was given for us to realize we can’t possibly keep it, and therefore are in desperate need of a Savior.