[Aug 13]—Perfection

Phil 3:12-14

            Yesterday I made the case that Romans 7:14-25 is talking about Paul’s present experience, as he was writing that epistle. My biggest argument is—I believe—an appeal to Occam’s razor: Paul throughout that passage is using the present tense, not the past. To me, this says that he’s not talking about his life pre-conversion, nor about a time of falling away from faithfulness to the Lord, nor is he talking about a hypothetical person. When he’s talking about a struggle with sin—one which he sometimes loses—he’s talking about his present reality.
            One of the biggest problems some people have with my interpretation actually is rooted in a larger theological divide I have with them. The root issue is not how to interpret that certain passage, but a much more fundamental question: Is it possible for a believer—in this life—to get to a point in his walk with Christ where he’s without sin? My short answer, as best as I can tell from Scripture, is no.
            Like I mentioned, I have dear ones within my own family who disagree with me. I highly respect them, and our disagreements haven’t been rancorous but cordial. I respect them, and they respect me. In short, they believe in perfectionism, the doctrine that it’s possible, in this life, for a believer to attain a level of obedience and closeness to the Lord that they’re sinless. Their arguments are as follows:
First, the main Scripture they present for their case, that I think is their strongest, is 2 Peter 1:3-4:

 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 

            Peter says explicitly that God has given us everything we need for a godly life. I have no excuse for my sin. A nonbeliever doesn’t have what I have, primarily the Holy Spirit within him. I can participate in the divine nature, and I can escape the corruption of the world.
Another passage they point to—and entirely justifiably so—is Romans 6. The main point of that chapter is that we're no longer slaves to sin. He declares unequivocally that “sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” He is not trying to make a case in that chapter that you shouldn’t live a lifestyle controlled by sin. If you’re a believer, you will not do so because you cannot do so.
I totally agree with them that a believer’s lifestyle in general will be marked by greater
and greater obedience. If no one can tell from the general direction of your life that you belong to Christ, then I think you need to reread 1 John, especially these verses. As I’ve forcefully argued before, if someone doesn’t experience a change in the direction of their life, there's real reason to doubt that they’re saved to begin with.
            But I make a huge distinction between 1) a “believer” who doesn’t make any attempt to live a godly life and 2) one who makes a determined effort (utilizing God’s grace like Peter mentioned above) but who falls and fails frequently. They don’t see sin as a sexy ex-girlfriend whose number they keep on their speed dial, hoping they might get together someday if the circumstances are right. They see sin as a mortal enemy who needs to be fought tooth and nail using every resource they have. Person # 2 is still basically living a godly life (meaning oriented towards God and not towards something else), and in a very real sense any believer is participating in the divine nature and has escaped the corruption in the world. If they haven't--if there's no sign of them resisting this corruption at all--then I don't believe this "believer" is truly saved at all. 
            I can explain the verses they put forward, but—quite frankly—I haven’t heard them deal with mine yet. If you don’t accept my interpretation of Romans 7 (which is understandable, considering the language he uses about the person being described), then how about today’s passage? How do you deal with 1 John 1:8-10: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” John says that if you claim to be without sin, then you deceive yourself. My friend, if you claim to be without sin, then that’s the only person you’re really deceiving. I guarantee you that if I asked your spouse or someone who lives with you “Is this person sin-free?” they'd give a very different answer than the one you just gave.
            I’m running a bit long here, so we’ll carry this through to tomorrow. In the meantime, why don’t you make today’s passage your meditation? I think it’s the perfect way to look at your sinful past, your progressively better present, and your glorious future.

Lord Jesus, that’s my prayer. I want to forget what's behind and strain toward what is ahead, pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which the Father called me heavenward in you. By your grace, I’m going to press on to take hold of that for which you took hold of me. Let’s both of us get to work, shall we?

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