Dealing With the Question: Are you Perfect?

Click to go to our Home Page

"No repentance is genuine that does not work reformation. The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover UNCONFESSED and UNFORSAKEN sin; it is a principle of life that transforms the character and controls the conduct. Holiness is wholeness for God; it is the entire surrender of heart and life to the indwelling of the principles of heaven." E.G. White, Desire of Ages, 555, 556.

"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, IN THIS PRESENT WORLD. Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and PURIFY UNTO HIMSELF A PECULIAR PEOPLE, ZEALOUS OF GOOD WORKS. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee." Titus 2:11-15. "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." Titus 1:16.

How are we to understand:

1 John 5:18, "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."

1 John 3:9, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." in light of:

1 John 1:8, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

On SDA internet chat groups, those who believe in overcoming often encounter questions like the above, as well as the question: Are you perfect yet? If not, why not? These, along with the other questions on this matter (below) are actual questions I was asked on a Chat group on the WorldWide Internet. But first, a statement of truth:

None of us has the right to claim we are perfect because only God, THE JUDGE, knows the heart (I Kings 8:39). Job declared at one point: "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: If I say, I AM PERFECT, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet I would not know my soul: I would despise my life" (Job 9:20-21). But while Job did not claim to be perfect, the Bible clearly says he was (Job 1:8), and that despite the horrendous tragedies brought upon him, "Job sinned not" (Job 1:22; 2:10).

Those who say no one is perfect are usurping the prerogative of God! They are playing JURY AND JUDGE! According to God, none of us should claim we are perfect. Then, because we advocate obeying God, we are JUDGED. Such "judgers" would have proclaimed the same JUDGEMENT against Job.

It is the above principles that John refers to when he writes, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 2:8). But as we see in the book of Job, the point is not that sinless living is impossible, but we never attain total overcoming in this life because God is continually presenting character building tests as long as life lasts and for eternity. We always have something to overcome. This builds character. This is why Paul claimed that he had not already attained. The gold tried in the fire is faith and love tested by obedience to the fiery law of God:

Deu 33:2 And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand [went] a fiery law for them.

Related questions include: "Let me get this straight: God has promised us power to meet every temptation. But that does not mean we will be victorious over all of them. Is that it?"

Answer: God is merciful and longsuffering. He knows that in character building, which involves the power of choice, God does not lay all our infirmities on us at once. That would be discouraging since God does choose to deal with us on an individual character building level. We may eventually overcome all, as will the 144,000, who have no guile and are spotless according to scripture, but God judges according to our trend as Ellen White confirms.

Another question asked: "If God gives us power "to meet every temptation," does that not mean that we can and must be victorious over EVERY temptation? Why is it not a valid question for me to ask someone who claims that he can and must be victorious over every temptation if he has reached this point yet? If I claimed I could fly on my own power, would you not ask to observe this before you placed any confidence in my words? So why is it not fair to ask a person who believes in overcoming, whehter or not he/she has overcome every sin?"

The above answer concerning God's mercy and longsuffering, would likewise apply to this question, except for the portion concerned with "flying on my own power." True Reformers never teach that we "fly" (overcome) by our own power. They always teach that we overcome only by the grace and power of Jesus Christ dwelling within; by having the mind of Christ within.

Question: "I never claimed to determine anything for anyone. I have passed no judgment. So and So are the ones who make the claims that one can and must overcome every trace of sin. It is only logical for one to ask you if you have done this yet. Why do you get defensive at the question?"

In giving the answers herein to such questions, one is not getting or being defensive. He is merely responding to unfair judgment. Questions are one thing. Judging or implying that God is wrong; that it is impossible to overcome all temptation, is indictment against God Almighty.

How should we respond to such questions? Here are some additional valid answers:

No man is qualified to say who is perfect before God, and who is not perfect! Many have taken upon themselves this judgment prerogative of God! Desmond Ford does this all the time and teaches his disciples to ask the same question. Many self-appointed judges of their fellow-men have done likewise, but God only looketh on the heart, and man looks on the outward "appearance." That is all a man can do! Thus the utter folly and blasphemy of these human judges of character!

No true Reformer has EVER taught holy flesh would ensue before glorification. Thus any question as to whether or not we overcome every sinful TENDENCY in this life is moot. We will never overcome any sinful tendency in this life, but we are promised power to meet every temptation, and any inference that this is impossible is an indictment against God and His Word. God only is our judge, and it is not any humans' prerogative to determine who is and who is not overcoming by the power of Christ. Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart. Desmond Ford and disciples, like Satan, are judging that God's Word is impossible. They are judging God and His making of the following promise to us:

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." I Cor. 10:13, 14.

Apparently, anything we yield to by way of temptation is idolatry. For one to not overcome is one thing. For one to countermand God's Word by teaching that it is impossible to overcome is quite another! For one to judge the entire world and proclaim that no one has ever overcome and/or is not now overcoming, is to assume the prerogative of God.

The Spirit of Prophecy informs us that God judges us according to our trend. If we are making sincere efforts to obey God by His proffered power, He judges us by that trend, and not necessarily as to whether or not we are complete overcomers yet. This is why no one can judge our TREND, but God. To judge one's TREND by random and individual acts is most unjust. Thus, we humans make very unwise judges and judgments. This is why God said: "Judgment is mine."

No Instant Sanctification or Overcoming

Overcoming -- progressive: "The work of grace upon the heart is not an instantaneous work. It is effected by continuous, daily watching and believing the promises of God. The repentant, believing one, who cherishes faith and earnestly desires the renewing grace of Christ, God will not turn away empty. He will give him grace. And ministering angels will aid him as he perseveres in his efforts to advance." Evangelism, p. 287.

Grace is unmerited favor as well as grace (unmerited favor) for apoltleship and obedience, Rom. 1:5. Some say that Christ vicariously obeyed for us so that every "believing" Christian is perfect in Christ right now! Then why are we given grace for obedience if Christ did all the obeying? Why are we told in 1 John 5:2, that obedience to the commandments is a personal test as to whether or not we love God and the brethren? If Christ did all the obeying for us and imputed that obedience to us, then how would 1 John 5:2 be any test at all? The truth is that Christ's obedience is imputed to us for justification of sins past, and imparted to us and in some cases imputed to us for sins present and future.

"The precious graces of the Holy Spirit are not developed in a moment. Courage, fortitude, meekness, faith, unwavering trust in God's power to save, are acquired by the experience of years. By a life of holy endeavor and firm adherence to the right the children of God are to seal their destiny." E.G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 454.

"If the soul is to be purified and ennobled, and made fit for the heavenly courts, there are two lessons to be learned--self-sacrifice and self-control. Some learn these important lessons more easily than do others, for they are exercised by the simple discipline the Lord gives them in gentleness and love. Others require the slow discipline of suffering, that the cleansing fire may purify their hearts of pride and self-reliance, or earthly passion and self-love, that the true gold of character may appear and that they may become victors through the grace of Christ." E.G. White, Faith and Works, p. 86.

Judged by our Trend.--"In the days of Christ just such plain reproofs were given, and in this age we need the same straightforward reproof. When Christ came into the world, it was filled with criticism and condemnation of others, and Jesus revealed the sure result of such a course. The same results are manifest today. Those who have the greatest need to examine themselves whether they be in the faith, are most forward to pronounce sentence of evil against their brethren. Those who are accusers of the brethren are recipients of God's mercy and compassion, are every moment dependent upon his care and benevolence, and yet they are unmerciful to others, making it manifest that they have not allowed the truth to purify, refine, and sanctify them. Our characters are not to be weighed by smooth words and fair speeches manufactured for set times and occasions: but by the spirit and TREND of the whole life. The unkind man, the critic, the one who is full of self-conceit, deceives his own soul, though claiming to be a clear discerner of the defects of others, he who has a disposition to find fault, to be suspicious, to surmise, think and speak evil, has so cultivated this attribute of the evil one that the good qualities of his brethren and sisters in the church do not arrest his attention. If he thinks he has discovered a flaw in the character, a mistake in the life, he is very officious to aim at the mote, when the very trait of character which he has overlooked in himself, which is developed in doing this unchristlike work, is, in comparison to what he criticizes, when weighed in the golden balances of heaven as a beam in proportion to a mote." E.G White, Review and Herald, 08-16-92, "Judge Not, That Ye be Not Judged."

Isn't God's power sufficient that we could overcome all defects at once--instantly? Of course, but God has never worked that way with any human being. Why? Because that would preempt His purpose of character building. God could zap us with robot-like power to overcome, but how would character play any part in such a case? Rather, God allows trials and time to develop character via a freedom of choice basis. Robot imputed power would negate our power of choice.
The way Christ dealt with His erring disciples is a good example of how He deals with us. After directly teaching Peter for over three years, Christ told him that when he was converted to go and teach His sheep. Christ let Peter learn the lesson of trials and character building. The same with Job; with Jacob; Abraham, and all of us. Character building will be an eternal endeavor. This is boot camp.
Even Christ learned obedience by the things (trials) which He suffered. So who are we?

"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience (Character) by the things (trials) which he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." Hebrews 5:8, 9.

If the law is a transcript of His character, then obedience to that law involves character building.

And what should be the motive of desiring to overcome? Our motive should be love for Christ, more than love for our selfish and hurtful indulgences. Ellen White said that some will get to the point that they would rather die than sin against Christ. That is a worthy motive. And how do we know that we love Him? 1 John 5:2, 3 is the test.

And from whence cometh the power? Surely not from oursleves! The Jews proved that! Early Adventists also! The power comes from Christ. He has promised that He will not permit us to be tempted beyond what we can overcome. He has promised us that we can partake of His Divine nature and mind, for the purpose of overcoming. At what disadvantage could we possibly be with that kind of help?

We will forever be in need of Christ for that power. He is our Saviour from sin, not in sin, but if we fall, let us be assured that we have an advocate with the Father, who is ready and waiting to forgive. But let us not be presuming upon such grace? Let us not turn grace into lasciviousness or freedom of sinning.

"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, IN THIS PRESENT WORLD; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee." Titus 2:11-15.

Article by Dr. Ralph Larson

October 2001 Table of Contents
The Christian Goal and the Self-View
By Ralph Larson

Confusion and Misunderstanding

An enormous amount of confusion and misunderstanding has resulted from the wide-spread failure to recognize that in both the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy there is a clear and distinct difference between the Christian goal and the Christian self-view.

We may feel a bit surprised to find this distinction recognized in the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job. Notice the clarity of these words: “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect [the goal], yet would I not know my soul:…[the self-view]”. Job 9:20, 21.

The Self-View

Moving to the New Testament, we read in one of Christ’s parables these words: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you [the goal], say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do [the self-view]”. Luke 17:10.

In similar vein, the apostle Paul writes to us: “I count not myself to have apprehended [the self-view], but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. [the goal]”. Philippians 3:13, 14.

Paul’s healthy self-view, but not his goal, is set forth in these words: “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.” 1 Timothy 1:15.

The Goal

In this sharply contrasting Scripture we find his goal: “…Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13.

In a faithful reflection of these Scriptures, Ellen White presents the same truth in a variety of ways, constantly and carefully maintaining an unmistakably clear distinction between the Christian goal of perfect Christ-likeness and the Christian self-view of total unworthiness. Because of the enormity of the degree of misunderstanding on this point, we will present a number of her statements. [All emphasis is supplied.]

“Those who are registered as holy in the books of heaven are not aware of the fact, and are the last ones to boast of their own goodness.” The Faith I Live By, 140.

“They scatter seeds of love and kindness all along their path, and that all unconsciously, because Christ lives in their heart.” Sons and Daughters of God, 180.

“‘We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ We are to keep the Lord ever before us. Those who do this, walk with God as did Enoch, and imperceptibly to themselves, they become one with the Father and with the Son.” Ibid., 296.

“The Christian may not be conscious of the great change, for the more closely he resembles Christ in character, the more humble will be his opinion of himself; but it will be seen and felt by all around him.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, 727.

“Thus it is with the truly righteous man. He is unconscious of his goodness and piety.” Reflecting Christ, 83.

“All who come within the sphere of his influence perceive the beauty and fragrance of his Christian life, while he himself is unconscious of it, for it is in harmony with his habits and inclinations.” My Life Today, 251.

Convinced that They Are Sinless

With this abundance of evidence before us, we are ready to consider some of the most common errors regarding the goal and the self-view. First, there are those who are convinced that they have become totally sinless and are in no danger from any temptation. They consider that their Christian goal of perfect Christ-likeness has been reached, and it would be impossible for them to be lost. They are commonly described as the “once saved—always saved” people. Some of them modify their position slightly by saying that they may sin, but it will not be counted against them, so the end result is the same as if they had not sinned.

At the extreme opposite end of the scale are those commonly called Calvinists, who believe and teach that it is utterly impossible for anyone to stop sinning, even by the power of God. They believe that God will stop all the sinning of Christians at the Second Coming of Christ. Exactly why God should be able to do this at the Second Coming but not be able to do it before that time has never been explained.

Can Blasphemy be Greater Than This?

We must sadly recognize that this false doctrine of corrupted Calvinism is making great inroads into the Seventh-day Adventist Church today. One Seventh-day Adventist theologian, who had drunk deeply from the befouled waters of Calvinism, actually went so far as to teach that it is not because of God’s weakness but because of His wisdom that He does not keep Christians from sinning now. Hence, Christians sin because God wants them to sin now. Can blasphemy be greater than this?

There are some who intermingle the concept of the self-view and the concept of the goal into a hopeless hodge-podge of illogical ideas. Prominent among them are the persons who pose a question about the goal and purpose to answer with an Ellen White statement about the self-view. I would blush with shame to tell you how many times, and in what places, I have seen the question posed, “Can Christians stop sinning? Ellen White says No.” This is then supported by one of her many statements (see above) that the Christian cannot have a self-view of sinlessness.

This is both contrary to her writings (she wrote more than 2,000 times that Christians can stop sinning by the power of God) and contrary to common sense. The difference between the two questions, “Can Christians stop sinning?” and “Can Christians know that they have stopped sinning?” should be apparent to a child. From a common sense standpoint, consider the difficulty in estimating one’s own humanity. What if you heard a minister say, “You know, folks, one thing I like about me, is that I am so humble. I am probably the most humble minister in this conference. If you want to see a man who is really humble, just take a look at me.”

What kind of sense would that make? And all attempts to describe our own virtues would be equally senseless.

Presumptuous Words

“The attitude of Paul is the attitude to be taken by every one of the followers of Christ; for we are ever to be urging our way, striving lawfully for the crown of immortality. Not one may claim to be perfect. Let the recording angels write the history of the holy struggles and conflicts of the people of God, let them record their prayers and tears; but let not God be dishonored by the proclamation from human lips, declaring, ‘I am sinless. I am holy.’ Sanctified lips will never give utterance to such presumptuous words.” Signs of the Times, May 23, 1895.

How utterly nonsensical, then, is the frequently asked question, “Do you think that you are perfect?” Please look again at the above statements by Ellen White that the true Christian is unaware of, and unconscious of, his own goodness.

And consider this: “The Lord does not design that we shall ever feel that we have reached to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Through all eternity we are to grow in the knowledge of Him who is the head of all things in the church.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 15, 1892.

This brings to mind a greatly abused Ellen White statement: “He (Christ) is a perfect and holy example, given for us to imitate. We cannot equal the pattern; but we shall not be approved of God if we do not copy it and, according to the ability which God has given, resemble it.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 549.

Before jumping to the conclusion that this means we will always be sinning, take a moment to think about the heavenly angels who have never sinned. Can they ever equal Christ, the pattern? Of course not! No created being can ever equal its creator, and the grandeur of the love of Christ and God will never be equaled by anyone.

And here is another often abused statement, which Ellen White wrote over and over: “The work of sanctification is the work of a lifetime.…” Selected Messages, Book 1, 317.

Unsound Logic

The “logic” that is applied to this innocent passage goes like this:

1 Ellen White said that sanctification is the work of a lifetime.

2 If sanctification is the work of a lifetime, that means that it is never finished.

3 If sanctification is never finished, that means that sinning is always present in the Christian’s life.

4 Therefore, Ellen White taught that Christians will never stop sinning during their lifetime. Jesus will have to miraculously change them when He comes, so that they will not sin any more.

Never mind that Ellen White wrote more than 2,000 times that Christians can, by the power of God, stop sinning.

Never mind that she wrote 48 times that Christ will not make any changes in our characters when He comes.

Throughout Eternity

And never mind that Ellen White viewed sanctification as a process that will continue throughout eternity.

“It should be our lifework to press forward continually toward the perfection of Christian character, ever striving for conformity to the will of God, remembering that the efforts begun upon earth will continue throughout eternity.” Reflecting Christ, 157.

How then can it be argued that incomplete sanctification is sin? Will the saints be sinning throughout eternity? Absolutely not!

It seems rather strange that in Ellen White’s defense of truth she had to fight a battle on two fronts. Arrayed against her on one side were those who had a self-view of sinlessness, and on the other side those who denied any possibility of sinlessness. She had to disagree with both of them. By carefully distinguishing between the goal and the self-view, she achieved an admirable degree of clarity, patiently pointing out that while the Christian’s goal must always be total Christlikeness, the self-view must always be total unworthiness.

Those who fail to make this distinction, as she does, and intermingle the two concepts, usually end up with confused and contradictory conclusions. Let us read the Scriptures and her writings aright, and thank God for both.

"...[Jesus] knew that the life of His trusting disciples would be like His, a series of uninterrupted victories, not seen to be such here, but recognized as such in the great hereafter" (DA 679).

Ellen White said, "sanctification is the work of a lifetime." Therefore, the fact that a person has not presently overcome all sin should not discourage them, for they simply continue in faith that God will finish His work in us, for He is the "author and FINISHER of our faith." Secondly, since Salvation is a gift, by the grace of God, and overcoming sin is AFTER one has entered into a faith relationship with Christ and is Justified, there would be no reason to be discouraged, for the one who is Justified has peace, and only then does he/she receive the Holy Spirit, and is put through the refining work of God which results in Christian growth in character.

The fact that Jesus "paid it all" does not in anyway negate what may happen in the life of a Christian, after they believe that "Jesus paid it all", because sanctification does not contribute to that finished work of Christ, but is the "fruit of righteousness" and "accompanies salvation", as the book of Hebrews refers to it. Remember, it was the ten spies who said they could NOT overcome the giants in the land, but the two spies who did enter in had faith that they could overcome. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things NOT SEEN. Therefore, the fact that it is not yet fully seen should not discourage, for we have faith in the one who has promised all things are possible, to those who believe. If all things are possible, that would include overcoming sin, as a fruit of living faith in Christ.

Neither I nor any man can keep the law. I rely on Christ to indwell me and keep His precepts through me. The way He does this is by progressive sanctification. He did the same with His disciples. They certainly did not overcome all in any overnight experience. That would not have been characteristic of character building. Had Christ imparted to them all power to overcome overnight, that would have precluded choice and cooperative participation on their part. This is sandbox sanctification, 101. Like little children, we slip and fall occasionally, but like a good parent, Christ does not dispense with us by casting us out. Satan and his agents do dispense with us and cast us out by accusing us as imposters because we do not perform according to Satan's expectations or overnight overcoming of all sin. That would completely circumvent any cooperative character building process. The character building process I refer to is depicted in 2 Peter, Chapter 1, and every necessary ingredient by way of cooperative effort on our part is there depicted.

The Character Development Process From Scripture

"According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth." II Peter 1:3-12.

Tts 2:12-14 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; ...Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."