Posts Tagged ‘Perfection’
Having come face to face with my own sinfulness, my own lack of keeping the law of God, I have spent the last several months looking at the law and the gospel. While this is not new to Christianity, it is fairly new to me. I grew up in a church environment that was heavy on the law. You keep the law and God was happy. Break the law (which was often), God is now angry with you. The gospel was not the end but only a step to helping me keep myself clean. It was not Jesus period. It was Jesus who now enables me to keep the law and when I fail, back to the beginning.
We all sin. None of us are perfect. We read passages such as Romans 3:23 and acknowledge the universal sinfulness of mankind. But we miss the point that we are sinners ourselves. I am not arguing that we wake up each day thinking “what can I do today to violate the law of God” but we do sin. Whether we make sins into categories such as “sins of omission” and “sins of commission,” either way we do sin. Apart from grace, none of us can stand before a holy God. It is only through Christ that we can stand before a holy and totally pure God. The reason Christ died for my sins is not simply to enable me to be holy on my own power but He died because I am a sinner in need of forgiveness because I do sin (1 John 2:1-2).
Consider the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Stop and consider how you are doing with that one? I’m not even good at it. I would love to say that I love God perfectly as Jesus taught. I would love to tell you that my love for God flows into loving my neighbor as myself. But the reality is that I fall way short of these two commands and Jesus said that law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Do these and you’ll be perfect! But I don’t!
And thus the gospel comes into play. The law condemns me as a sinner (Romans 3:19) and the law teaches me that I need a Savior (Galatians 3:24). The law condemns me. The gospel saves me. The law shows me that I am a sinner (Romans 7:7). There is nothing wrong with the law of God (Romans 7:12) but the problem is me. I can’t keep the law. No matter how hard I try, I fail.
The gospel preaches peace to me. The law tells me to love God perfectly and my neighbor perfectly (Matthew 5:48). The gospel tells me Christ died for my sins and the sins of not loving God perfectly nor my neighbor as myself. The law tells me to love my wife as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:25). The gospel tells me that Christ died for the sin of not loving my wife as Christ loves His Church (I am far from a perfect husband). The law tells me to pray, to worship, to evangelize, to give my money to the poor and to helping the kingdom of God, to do good to my neighbor especially of those of the household of faith, etc. but the gospel tells me that Christ died for my sins even the sins of not keeping the law perfectly.
Martin Luther taught two (and I would add a third) uses of the law. Lutherans debate the third use of the law. The three uses of the law are:
- For society, to curb man’s sinfulness.
- To condemn us a sinners and show us our need for salvation.
- To help the Christian in sanctification.
These three uses of the law are seen not just in the Bible but in life. Antinomians accept the first two uses of the law but not the third. I believe in preaching all three. Christians need to hear the law so that the Holy Spirit can help us in the process of sanctification. So for example a believer hears that we should pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer itself doesn’t justify us before God. We are justified only through Christ Jesus alone by grace alone though faith alone. Yet none would say that prayer is bad. Yet prayer can become a law. It was that way for me. I once held that a person should pray for 2 hours a day or God was not pleased. Prayer became a law and gospel for me. But prayer is not the gospel. The gospel is the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our justification (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Thus Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness. Does this mean that I should not pray since Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness? By no means! The key is to see prayer as flowing from my forgiveness and not from the law. I pray because Christ shed His blood for me (Hebrews 4:14-16).
This holds true of any law. The law if holy and good (1 Timothy 1:8-11). The law shows me how far I am far from the perfection of God. But the gospel shouts to me that I am accepted in the Beloved. I am holy before God because of Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and not by my works. The law tells me to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and this is good. The gospel tells me that I am accepted in Christ Jesus who bled and died for my sins (Romans 5:6).
This understanding of the law and the gospel has blessed me. It has brought some joy to my soul where joy has been lacking. For so long I have been full of pride, my own self-righteousness. I thought God was honored by my prayer life, my evangelism, my passion for God. Like Voddie Bauchman preaches, my works-righteousness muscle likes to flex. I would have, in the past, gladly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and would have gladly told you that I was saved by His grace alone but in reality I was full of pride, thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Philippians 2:3). I would have preached Christ but my focus was not on pleasing Christ per se but on men seeing how much I “loved” Jesus. Oh how much pride was in my heart! Oh wretched sinner that I was!
But Christ died for me. Christ bled and suffered for my sins. Jesus gave His life for my sins and now I am forgiven not because I keep the law but because I can’t keep the law (Galatians 3:10). Christ suffered in my place, for my sins (Galatians 3:13-14). I am saved now not because I keep the law but because of faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life for my sins. What a blessing! What a Savior!
I have no problem with the law. The law is good. The law comes from our holy God. Yet too many Christians try to live the law. You will always be falling short. Always. You will never obtain holiness by the law. Even if you think (as I did) that I had obtained a level of holiness by my striving, inside (like me) you’ll know that you stand condemned because you can’t keep the whole law (James 2:10). I have no problem preaching the law and calling Christians to repent of not keeping the law. But the balance of this is the gospel. The answer to not keeping the law is not more law. The answer is the gospel. The law condemns us as sinners. The gospel comforts us by pointing to Christ who died for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Perhaps I am wrong on this. I don’t think so. I believe it’s biblically based. I know that this teaching has pushed me closer to Christ and not away. I still hate sin. I really do hate sin. I acknowledge that I do sin but I hate my sins. I am so grateful to God for giving me His Son for my sins (John 1:29). I stand condemned but Christ preaches to me no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Satan accuses me of sin and he is right to do so. But I trust in Christ alone for my salvation (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus has promised not only to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:1-4) but He has promised to keep me (Jude 24-25). I trust in Christ alone and not my works-righteousness before a holy God.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
– 1 Timothy 1:15
I find comfort in reading in the Bible that I am a sinner and that Christ came to die for me and my sins (Galatians 1:4). I know many people read the Bible looking for “keys” to a deeper life, keys to victory, keys to a happier marriage, keys to a stronger prayer life, etc. but I read the Bible looking for my sins. I want the mirror of God’s law to show me my ugliness and my sins so that I can repent and be refreshed (Acts 3:19-20; 1 John 1:9). There is something wonderful about seeing God’s holiness in the light of my sins. There is something beautiful that comes from confessing my sins.
Psalm 32:15-18 reads:
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
When the Spirit of God confronts me about my sins, I love it! I really do! It shows me His great love for me, that He would not leave me as I am. Hebrews 12:7-11 reads:
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Notice verse 10. The Lord disciplines us so that we might share in His holiness. Amazing!
Tonight I could sit here and write all about my sins. I don’t need to. The point is not about me. The point is about why I need Jesus and you do as well. If Jesus came to save only the righteous, none of us would be saved (Romans 3:10-18). I have met people who think they never sin after getting saved but I have found that they were mostly prideful, arrogant, condescending, and full of their own flesh. They focused so much on themselves “not sinning” that they lost sight of their sins. I am not advocating living in blatant sin but I am calling us to recognize the truth that Jesus came to save sinners. Of course there is truth that those whom He saves become saints in Him (1 Corinthians 1:2). Jesus saves us out of a life of sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). That I know but He is also still saving me out of a life of sin. Sin is not out of me yet completely nor is it out of you. Let’s face it, we like sinning. No, we love sinning. That is why Jesus had to die for us. Because we enjoy sin.
And that is why I need Jesus. I like sinning. I don’t want to like it. In fact, I want to hate it. Yet I find that I enjoy sinning. I have sinned in many ways. I have let many people down over the years. Those who know me best know I am not perfect. I never confess to be. Oh there was a time I thought I was all that. Not anymore. I see my sins. I know my sins. I hate my sins.
It’s funny how people think that we Christians are suppose to be perfect. I have yet to meet a perfect Christian. I have met arrogant Christians. I have met prideful Christians. I have been those myself. Yet I have never met a perfect saint. Every person I have known who truly loved Jesus needed Him. They knew it. I knew it. Jesus knows it. Even the godliest people I have known, once you get close to them you can just smell the flesh. They hate it. I hate it. Jesus still saves them.
So here I sit writing at nearly 2 AM in the morning. I can’t sleep. I am pondering the truth that Jesus loves me and died for my sins. Yet I still struggle with sin. I recently had lunch with a godly man and I asked him how about sanctification. I want to be holy, I told him, but I struggle to be holy. I see my sins and I see how far I am from being like Jesus. Yet I still want to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). So how can I be holy? His reply: look to Jesus and love Him and obey Him. He died for you while you were still a sinner (Romans 5:8). His love hasn’t changed since the day I first believed the gospel and He saved me.
So tonight I issue this call to all who know me: you know I am a sinner. You know that I sin. Yet that is why I need Jesus. I am not perfect. I am not a perfect father. I am not a perfect worker. I am not a perfect saint. I am not a perfect “deacon” (as a guy at work calls me). I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I thank God for sending such a Savior. I cannot earn His forgiveness (Titus 3:5). My salvation is based on the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) and He alone is my salvation and assurance before a holy and just G0d (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). That is me.
1 John 2:19 is a cornerstone passage for those who hold to unconditional eternal security and even those who hold to perseverance of the saints. This verse is said to teach that those who go out from us (from Christians) proves they were never said to begin with. I differ with this view in that I see 1 John 2:19 in context speaking about false apostles or in this case antichrists who claimed to be apostles like John but their teachings proved they were not apostles. They went out from among us (apostles) but they were not of us (apostles); for if they had been of us (apostles), they would have continued with us (apostles). But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (apostles).
My question here is when do we know they are not one of us from the eternal security view? At what point can we declare, “Never saved to begin with?” I have even heard many exponents of eternal security teach that a person might be living in sin and the Lord will either discipline them to bring them back to Christ (Hebrews 12:3-11) or He will even allow them to die before they completely apostatize (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 11:29-31). I have heard eternal security teachers teach that a person living in sin can still be saved and so we are not to judge someone harshly. They point to the examples of David or Samson as proof that a saint can live in gross sin and still be a child of God.
I have often said that eternal security leads to antinomianism. How can it not? The idea that we must be holy is not a true teaching among eternal security teachers. Yes they preach holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) but they often make statements contrary to holiness teaching such as “we all sin every day” and they view Romans 7 as the highest form of Christian living. Further, they teach that sin has no effect on the believer so they ignore the Bible’s call to forsake sin (1 John 2:1-2). They instead teach that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus even though we are warned over and over again not to get a hard heart, not to go back to living in sin, not to forsake Christ. We are called to perseverance but these teachers teach preservation of the sinner.
This is not a perfection teaching. I am not advocating that Christians are sinless or that we can obtain sinless perfection though some in the past have advocated such a position. The Trinitarian hero Athanasius of Alexandria held to perfection. He taught that saints of God in the Bible had obtained such a state such as Job or Noah. While I am not advocating that position, I simply point out that Athanasius is viewed as a hero today despite his teaching on perfectionism. I believe that Christians do sin. I know. I sin. I don’t wake up and seek sinning. I don’t want to sin. I don’t try to sin. But I have sinned. I am thankful for 1 John 1:9 (which would be pointless if sin has no power over the disciple of Christ).
My point here is not to rail on eternal security. I know godly people who believe in this doctrine. I have also known people who used the doctrine for their own flesh. I have known men who justified pornography by claiming eternal security. I have known men who committed adultery by claiming eternal security. I have seen churches ignore church discipline because its possible that the sinning person is truly saved and just needs the Lord’s discipline to come back to faith. I have seen people “walk the isle” and say “the sinner’s prayer” and be told that they are saved and bound for heaven and are now eternally secure no matter what. I have heard preachers tell people that they can even become an atheist and God will drag them into heaven kicking and screaming that they don’t want to go.
My point here is to simply ask the probing question, “When is someone deemed never saved to begin with?” The lines seem blurred. You could read Revelation 21:7-8 and ask a person who holds to eternal security if these people are not going to heaven and they will likely say, “No they are not.” “But what about saints who do these things? Are they still saved or are they never saved to begin with?” “Well that is tough. Only God knows a persons heart. We can’t judge them. We must leave that to God.” “So are these people who do the things in Revelation 21:8 saved?” “No.” “But you just said that people who do these things might be saved?” “Well yes we can but we shouldn’t and if we do, it might show that we are not saved to begin with.” “Can you do these things if you wanted to?” “Yes I could I suppose.” “Would that make you lost?” “No because I am eternally secure!” “Well would that prove you are not saved to begin with?” “No I am eternally secure!” “But what about others who do these things, why are they not eternally secure?” “They possibly are! God knows!” “But you said that Revelation 21:8 are lost since they go to hell.” “Yes they are but Christians can do these things too.” “Should Christians do them?” “No” “Why does it matter if they are eternally secure as you claim?” “Because if a person does them they might not be truly saved.” “But what about their eternal security? It doesn’t sound very eternal nor secure?” “Those who are saved will persevere until the end for God keeps them but if they don’t persevere, they were never saved to begin with.” “And if a person does the things in Revelation 21:8 are they proving they are not saved to begin with if they claim to be a disciple?” “Well only God knows.”
Do you see the circle of eternal security? It doesn’t produce the assurance of one’s salvation. I have often argued that if a person is seeking Christ, we have no fear (1 John 4:18). Jesus said that if we abide in His teachings, we are His disciples (John 8:31-32). As disciples, we have no fear (Romans 8:38-39). Those who abide in Christ know that He is their high priest, their salvation, their security (2 Peter 1:10-11). I fear the Lord because He is holy God (Romans 11:20-22). I stand in awe of His grace toward me (Romans 6:1-4). His grace teaches me to hate my sin (Titus 2:11-12). God’s grace doesn’t give me a license for sinning (Jude 4).
True security is found in persevering in Christ. True security is not found in teaching people that sin has no power over them. We must teach the people of God to hate their sins, forsake their sins, confess their sins, and examine themselves (2 Corinthians 12:21-13:5). Holiness is the heart of God (Hebrews 12:14). We are holy in Christ and being made holy though Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14).
May the Lord help us all to hate our sins, forsake our sins, kill our sins, and confess our sins. Our sovereign Father is faithful to help us (1 Corinthians 10:13) and He is faithful to forgive us when we sin (1 John 1:9). May we run daily to the Lord Jesus and remain faithful to Him always.
I was honored to be able to attend the 2014 Fundamental Wesleyan Conference held at the Southern Wesleyan College in Orangeburg, SC. I was blessed as I listened to brother Mark Horton, pastor of Faith United Community Church in Nicholasville, KY teach us on John Wesley and the early Methodists use of accountability groups as a form of both conversion and discipleship of true saints. He pointed out that George Whitefield lamented at his death that Wesley had done that right, by starting his “bands” for the purpose of accountability and overcoming sin.
The theme of the conference was on Christian perfection. We heard lectures related to that theme. It was pointed out that the Bible calls us to perfection (Matthew 5:48; 19:21; 1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 3:15; Colossians 1:28; 4:12; James 1:4; 3:2). We are be a people of holiness (Hebrews 12:14) just as God Himself is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Yet the modern rise in Calvinism has brought with it the antinomian approach to sin. The Calvinist mindset is that we can never conquer sin even with the Spirit of God abiding within. Our best hope, says Calvin, is Romans 7. John Wesley differed greatly with this and he emphasized that Christians must first rightly define sin and then we can see that the call to holiness is not hypothetical but very real. We can be holy. We can live in a godly life in Christ Jesus. We don’t have to live a life of sinning (1 John 3:4-10). We can “stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34).
While that was all very good teaching, I appreciated Dr. Vic Reasoner speaking on the subject of the need for Arminian publishing of books. He pointed out that less than 50 years ago, there were essentially four major Christian publishers and all were located in Grand Rapids, MI. Those family publishers have since been bought out and now are owned by very large and very liberal companies such as News Corp and Penguin Press. He pointed out that a Christian publisher in Waterbrook Multnomah was recently ousted from the NRB for their willingness to publish openly homosexual and “Christian” authors. Why? Reasoner points out that the bottom line is money.
Reasoner went on to discuss how he had a friend who was asked by his publisher to remove things from his work because it was too offensive or didn’t follow the policies of the publisher.
Reasoner also talked about how most of the major books today are Calvinistic especially in the area of discipleship and Biblical studies. This, he said, must change but it will not so long as the publishers are only willing to publish what they deem follows their agenda or makes them money.
The need then is for Arminian publishing to arise. The Nazarene Publishing House (NPH) is closing its doors in December. The NPH had once been a vital Arminian voice publishing the works of Wesley and Arminius. My own copies of Arminius’ works came from the NPH. Other Arminian publishers such as Pathway Press (Church of God, Cleveland, TN) and Gospel Publishing House (Assemblies of God) are avoiding theological books these days and are not a major player in publishing Arminian books.
During the 18th century Wesleyan revival here in the West, the Wesleyan movement published thousands of books mainly in London. These works went out into the world and impacted a generation. It was not uncommon for even Calvinists to be reading Wesleyan books on theology or Bible commentaries. The works of Adam Clarke and Thomas Coke both were used by God to send forth sound Arminianism. Even Charles Spurgeon owned a well used copy of Clarke’s Bible commentary. The sermons of Wesley and Asbury were published and sent forth. The works of John Fletcher or Richard Watson were sold all over the world. It was a book by Daniel Whitby that led John Gill to write his book countering the rise in Arminianism.
My point here is that we do need Arminian books and Arminian publishers. I urge you to pray for this endeavor. Dr. Reasoner and the Fundamental Wesleyan Press is teaming up with a few other smaller Arminian publishers to seek to get out Arminian books. Pray that the Lord is glorified in this work. Pray for the finances to come forth for this work. Pray that solid biblical truth goes forth.
Note: This post is not intended to teach that we can abide in sin. This is not my point. I want to make that clear before I start. The Bible is clear that we should forsake our sins (1 John 2:1). Paul told the Corinthians to “stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34). In 2 Corinthians 12:21-13:5, Paul the Apostle rebukes those in the Corinthian church who have not repented of their past sinning. In fact, the New Testament is clear that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14), to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), to be slaves of righteousness and not slaves to sin (Romans 6:1-23) and that to be slaves of sin shows we are not Christ’s (John 8:34-35). John the Beloved wrote in 1 John 3:7 that he who practices righteousness is righteous. It is not merely enough to claim “imputed righteousness” and go on sinning. I don’t deny that we are righteous in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) but I do deny that this gives us a license to abuse God’s grace and continue in a life of sin (Jude 4; cf. Hebrews 10:26-31).
Perfectionism is a dangerous thing. I once aimed with all that was in me for perfection. I strove to overcome sin by my power and I thought it was merely a choice of my will to overcome sin. I paid little attention to abiding in Christ and strove in my strength to overcome sin. And the more I strove, the more I struggled with sin. I would overcome one sin only to find another sin had taken its place.
The true danger of perfectionism is pride. I had pride in me. Oh I would have claimed Christ and would have said that I was seeking to overcome sin because of Christ and His victory on the cross but I was only paying lip service to Him. After all, what Christian would deny that Jesus was really the One that they were striving to obey? In reality, I was nothing more than a hypocrite and a Pharisee all at the same time. I was nothing more than a white washed tomb (Matthew 23:27-28). Around others I could act so holy and pure but inwardly, I was tormented by my sins. I hated my flesh. I despised what I knew about me when none were around yet I continued to play the hypocrite and act like I was living in complete victory.
I see now the errors of my ways. It was not seeking Christ that was a sin. It was not seeking to overcome my sins that was a sin. It was my faith in me, my pride in thinking that I could gain the victory by the sheer power of my own will. Yet my will is tainted by my flesh. My will wants to honor me above Christ. My will wants to live for the glory of me above the glory of Christ. My will wants to exalt me and not turn others toward Christ.
I rejoice now though for the gospel. The gospel is not about what I do to obtain His forgiveness. The gospel is not about what I do to overcome sin. The gospel is not about how I can now, by the power of my will, live free from sin. The gospel in fact informs me that I am saved by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). No doubt His grace teaches me to say no to sin (Titus 2:12) but my focus now is on Christ and Christ alone (Titus 2:13). I know now that through the gospel, I am seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). I know now that through Christ, though I was once dead in my sins, I am now alive in Him (Ephesians 2:1-6). I recognize that my passion is to glorify Christ in all that I say and do and not because of my own striving, my own will power, but in light of the gospel that saves me (1 Corinthians 15:10). I see now that Christ came into the world to save sinners (Luke 19:10) and Paul the Apostle understood that before a holy and pure God, he was sinful and lost (1 Timothy 1:15). Our salvation is based on the Lord Jesus Christ and not on our works! Good works flow from a redeemed life (James 2:14-26; cf. Ephesians 2:10). The love of God grabs us and empowers us (John 14:15, 23-24).
Our part is to consistently submit to the Lordship of Christ. This is the key to overcome sin. It is not by making “sin lists” or by striving merely in our own power to overcome sin. This has never worked. The key is to focus on the Lordship of Christ, be saturated in His Word (John 17:17), and to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). To follow the flesh only spells doom (Galatians 6:7-9; James 5:19-20). 2 Peter 2:20-22 warns us against returning to the flesh while thinking we are forgiven. We must repent of our sins but we do this by the power of the gospel and not by merely creating resolutions.
Here then is the balance. We adore the gospel that saves us. We acknowledge that we are saved by the grace of God alone and that Christ is our salvation. We rejoice in the Lord for His forgiveness and for setting us free from the power of sin (Colossians 1:13-14). We praise God for the gospel truth that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus alone (1 Peter 1:18-19) and not by our works (Titus 3:5-7). We confess that without Christ, we would be lost sinners, hell-bound. We celebrate the biblical fact that we are holy before God through Christ (Hebrews 10:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
This gospel truth then produces a joy in longing to serve the Lord. I want to be holy as He is holy not because of legalism and perfectionism but because of what He has done in saving me! I want to strive to be like Jesus and set my mind on things above and not on this world (Colossians 3:1-4) because of the work of Christ. I rejoice that I am justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1). I rejoice that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). This leads me toward holiness. This gospel leads me to want to pray, to worship, to share the gospel with the lost, to seek to be pure and blameless (Philippians 2:12-15). I want to press on (Philippians 3:12-16). I want to forsake my sins in the light of His forgiveness of my sins (1 John 1:9) but I do not deceive myself into thinking that I have overcome sin by my power for I cannot (1 John 1:10).
So I rejoice in Christ. I praise the Father for the gift of His Son and that I am saved, redeemed, forgiven in Christ alone (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Yet I also long to be holy, to be pure, to be blameless but I know that I can only obtain holiness by God’s grace working in me.
VII. THE PERFECTION OF BELIEVERS IN THIS LIFE
Beside those doctrines on which I have treated, there is now much discussion among us respecting the perfection of believers, or regenerated persons, in this life; and it is reported, that I entertain sentiments on this subject, which are very improper, and nearly allied to those of the Pelagians, viz: “that it is possible for the regenerate in this life perfectly to keep God’s precepts.” To this I reply, though these might have been my sentiments yet I ought not on this account to be considered a Pelagian, either partly or entirely, provided I had only added that “they could do this by the grace of Christ, and by no means without it.” But while I never asserted, that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life, I never denied it, but always left it as a matter which has still to be decided. For I have contented myself with those sentiments which St. Augustine has expressed on this subject, whose words have frequently quoted in the University, and have usually subjoined, that I had no addition to make to them.
Augustine says, “four questions may claim our attention on this topic. The first is, was there ever yet a man without sin, one who from the beginning of life to its termination never committed sin? The second, has there ever been, is there now, or can there possibly be, an individual who does not sin, that is, who has attained to such a state of perfection in this life as not to commit sin, but perfectly to fulfill the law of God? The third, is it possible for a man in this life to exist without sin? The fourth, if it be possible for a man to be without sin, why has such an individual never yet been found?” St. Augustine says, that such a person as is described in the first question never yet lived, or will hereafter be brought into existence, with the exception of Jesus Christ. He does not think, that any man has attained to such perfection in this life as is portrayed in the second question. With regard to the third, he thinks it possible for a man to be without sin, by means of the grace of Christ and free-will. In answer to the fourth, man does not do what it is possible for him by the grace of Christ to perform, either because that which is good escapes his observation, or because in it he places no part of his delight.” From this quotation it is apparent, that St. Augustine, one of the most strenuous adversaries of the Pelagian doctrine, retained this sentiment, that “it is possible for a man to live in this world without sin.”
Beside this, the same Christian father says, “let Pelagius confess, that it is possible for man to be without sin, in no other way than by the grace of Christ, and we will be at peace with each other.” The opinion of Pelagius appeared to St. Augustine to be this — “that man could fulfill the law of God by his own proffer strength and ability; but with still “greater facility by means of the grace of Christ.” I have already most abundantly stated the great distance at which I stand from such a sentiment; in addition to which I now declare, that I account this sentiment of Pelagius to be heretical, and diametrically opposed to these words of Christ, “Without me ye can do nothing:” (John xv, 5.) It is likewise very destructive, and inflicts a most grievous wound on the glory of Christ.
I cannot see that anything is contained in all I have hitherto produced respecting my sentiments, on account of which any person ought to be “afraid of appearing in the presence of God,” and from which it might be feared that any mischievous consequences can possibly arise. Yet because every day brings me fresh information about reports concerning me, “that I carry in my breast destructive sentiments and heresies,” I cannot possibly conceive to what points those charges can relate, except perhaps they draw some such pretext from my opinion concerning the Divinity of the Son of God, and the justification of man before God. Indeed, I have lately learnt, that there has been much public conversation, and many rumors have been circulated, respecting my opinion on both these points of doctrine, particularly since the last conference [between Gomarus and myself] before the Counselors of the Supreme Court. This is one reason why I think, that I shall not be acting unadvisedly if I disclose to your mightinesses the real state of the whole matter.