The Vain Pursuit of Sinless Perfection
Very early on in my Christian life I reasoned (along with other brothers) that since God has called us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) that this must mean that we are able to not sin (1 John 2:1). I reasoned that if we sin, we are not truly following Christ as the Bible says that we are not to sin if we know Him (1 John 3:6-9). I read where Paul the Apostle said to stop sinning (1 Corinthians 15:34) and where Paul said that we are to not be mastered by sin (Romans 6:11-23).
All of this lead me to conclude that we are to pursue sinless perfection. While I had never met anyone who was sinless, I reasoned that it was possible. I read John Wesley’s book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection and I reasoned that one could have an experience with God that would take you to a place of absolute holiness. I pleaded with God to give me this experience of “entire sanctification” and I earnestly wanted to be holy.
All to no avail. I have always struggled with sin. Alwasys will.
I reasoned that there were categories of sin and that some sins were worst than others. For example, Jesus said that Judas had committed the greater sin (John 19:11) since he had betrayed the Lord of glory. I reasoned from the law of Moses that since God required different sacrifices for sins of omission and sins of commission then God must view our sins as different if we commit them willfully versus by mistakes or lack. For instance, none of us pray enough since the Bible calls us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and thus while prayerlessness is a sin (1 Samuel 12:23), prayerlessness is not the same sin as sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and while prayerlessness is horrible, prayerlessness is not listed among the sins that keep us from the kingdom in passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8.
In this way, I was able to tell someone that I had not sinned that day. I could say that while I didn’t love God perfectly or pray enough or share the gospel or give to the poor, nonetheless I hadn’t committed any willful sins. In this way, I thought of myself as holy and pure. I though very highly of myself.
I now see it all as nothing but vanity. I now sit here a broken man. I see that my pride was horrible. I see that God opposes the proud. Oh I would have gladly claimed the grace of God for my salvation and I would have boasted that it was the grace of God that enabled me to holiness (Titus 2:11-12) but the reality is that I was proud. I was arrogant. I was not holy. I was full of flesh.
I have never ceased to need Jesus. I never have and I never will. My good days are still nothing before a holy God. He is not pleased with my self-righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). My works play no part in my salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is the gracious work of God by His grace and by His Spirit through His Word. I lay aside all boasting right now and I confess that Jesus is my salvation and He alone is my hope before a holy God (Hebrews 7:25). My salvation is complete in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). I am saved not by what I do but through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:29).
While it is true that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14) the reality is that we will always need Jesus and His grace. Thankfully through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are holy in Him (Hebrews 10:10, 14). Jesus and His blood makes us holy (Ephesians 1:4-7). We are called to forsake sin and turn from sin but the promise of God is that while we are not called to sin, we have One who prays for us before the holy Father (1 John 2:1-2). Through the Lord Jesus I am able to approach the throne of a holy God (Hebrews 4:14-16). The entire focus of the New Testament is upon the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). He is my salvation and my hope. Not my works (Titus 3:5-7).
I don’t want to wonder into sloppy grace (Romans 6:1-4). Having been set free by the grace of God, why would I want to go back to a life of sin? Yet I do struggle with sin. I hate my sins. I really do. I want to be holy and pure and praise God, in Christ, I am holy. The Spirit of God is working in me to help me to hate sin and to turn from sin. I admit that I struggle with sin and I always will but the promise of God is to complete this work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6).
If you struggle with sin, I assure you that you are loved by God. I need to hear that too. God gave His Son for our sins (John 3:16) and He demonstrates His love (Romans 5:8-9). This love from God is not mere words but actions. The Father has sent His holy Son to die for our wicked sins. God has reconciled us through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). My favorite verse in the Bible is 1 Timothy 1:15. It reads beautifully in the KJV:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
Christ Jesus came to save sinners. Luke 19:10 says:
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus came to save us (Matthew 1:21). He came as the suffering servant from Isaiah 53 who would die for our sins. He came to bring us peace with God (Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20). Jesus shed His blood on the cross for our sins and it by His grace, through His blood that we are saved from the wrath of God against our sins.
Romans 3:23-25 (KJV) reads wonderfully:
23 for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.
This salvation is freely given in Christ (Acts 16:30-31) and He is our propitiation through faith in His blood. This is the goodness of our God. Our God reaches down to us and save us by His grace.
Now in conclusion I don’t want to sound like an antinomian. I am not advocating sinning. I hate my sins. I want to be holy. Yet I believe there is balance. The balance is not to see Jesus as our means unto holiness but He is our holiness. The focus of salvation from beginning to end is Jesus Christ. It is not Jesus plus our works that saves us. It is not Jesus plus our works that makes us holy. It is Jesus and His work alone that saves us. Our eyes must be on Jesus. Hebrews 12:1-2 is powerful in that regard:
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Looking unto Jesus is the key. Jesus has sat down at the Father’s side. Sitting represents completion. Jesus has sat down because He has completed the work of atonement. Jesus is now our faithful high priest before the Father (Hebrews 2:17-18).
No doubt I will sin. I hate my sins even now. Yet I know that before the Father is One who prays for me. He is my defense. I use to believe that when I sinned, I need to compensate God and His wrath somehow. I would pray more. I would read my Bible a little more. I would go out and witness to someone. I wanted to make up for my sins. The reality is that God sees my wicked heart at all times. He knows me perfectly. The beauty of the cross is that it demonstrates God’s love toward sinners still in their sins (Romans 5:8). God loved me while I was a sinner even under His wrath but now He loves me as His child through faith in His Son (Galatians 3:26; 4:6). If God loved me while a wicked sinner who sinned without thinking of God, how much does He still love this sinner now?
I am tired of sinless perfection seeking. I only want to know that I have peace with God through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). Jesus is my salvation both now and forevermore.
“Lord help me to not sin this day but forgive me of my sins as I forgive those who trespass against me.”