I ended yesterday’s post by saying I had more thoughts on the topic of sinless perfection propounded by some Christians. One of the central points I want to make came out in the comments. Holiness theology isn’t without Biblical standing. Rather, those holding to the idea that true Christians do not sin generally hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and appeal to its authority as proof of their position.
The problem is, to hold this sinless perfection view, a person has to give primacy to certain verses or passages while ignoring or reinterpreting others. For example I’ve had one person tell me that the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 7 about his pre-Christian state. This passage, you may remember describes Paul’s struggle to do what he knew to be right.
15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate…
19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…
22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Notice that last part comes after Paul credits Jesus Christ with setting him free, yet some who take the Holiness position dispute this.
From my perspective, when we Christians try too hard to resolve thorny Bible passages with a particular doctrine, we may be holding the doctrine too tightly. Sometimes I think we need to let the thorny issues stand. Sometimes we need to say, I’m sure God has it resolved, but from my perspective, these verses seem contradictory.
I know that’s a hard position to take in the face of attacks on the Bible from without, but I think Jesus gave us a model to follow in His responses to the Samaritan women He talked with at the well. He did not let her sidetrack the conversation into a religiously controversial topic. So when we’re talking to non-Christians about the Bible, that isn’t the best time to take a hard look at verses that seem to contradict each other.
Speaking of getting sidetracked … 😕
Besides the use of Scripture issue, I wanted to consider the topic of Christian maturity. I have to admit, I’ve never heard someone who believes in sinless perfection discuss what Christian maturity means.
What I understand about the topic is that after spiritual birth, we believers experience spiritual growth. We have been justified—put right with God—and we are being sanctified—conformed to the image of His Son.
Conformity to Christ’s likeness is a process, more like the painting of a portrait not the photo snapped on a cell phone. It takes time and often progresses the most through suffering.
It’s accompanied with failure, such as the Corinthians experience when Paul told them they should have been feeding on the meat of God’s Word but they still needed milk.
Conformity to the image of Christ may require the rebuke from a pastor or elder: “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning” (I Tim 5:20).
It comes through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).
As I see it, sanctification is the chipping away of sinful habits and thought patterns. Yes, I have a new nature when I come to Christ. But I have the scars from the old one.
Because I have a new nature, I am no longer a slave to sin, but I’ve learned to love sin. I’d rather think of myself more than my neighbor or even God Himself. Why? Not because sin enslaves me but because I have yet to take off sin that encumbers me and lay it aside. But that’s the maturing process, isn’t it.
Then how, I wonder can someone who does not believe she sins ever grow to maturity?