I got an email from a fellow street preacher who needed some legal help because he had been arrested. After connecting him with a Christian attorney, we began to dialog more through email. He asked a theological question relating to the doctrine of Christian perfection. He wrote to me and said:
I`d like to say that before I began preaching the way that I do today, which was a few years ago, I had a lot of influence from your bold videos. I didn`t really see such boldness until I saw your vids. So thanks for being faithful, lots of seeds you`ve planted and even watered…
(Quick off topic)
I did though, to be honest, back when I was watching a lot of your vids, wasn`t so sure about the `Perfect` Christian to the context that you say. I know the context according to what Paul is saying, and how God could look at His people as being blameless in His eyes due to them striving and pressing for the mark, and leaving off the old man of sin and such;
- “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: 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. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.“ [Philippians 3:11-16 KJV]
And then the Bible says, in context to the above I believe…
- “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect,…“ [2 Corinthians 13:11 KJV]
I can`t remember if that was the context that you were saying concerning `perfect`, because I haven`t seen those videos in a few years! Because if it is, than I agree. But if not, I don`t think we are perfect as in sinless…
But I can`t declare myself perfect right? Just as Paul could not declare himself perfect, but considered himself to be someone pressing into what`s ahead of him and reaching for what`s before him and forgetting the old ways,
To this I responded:
First, the term sinless perfection is not a term that I use. That is a term used by those who oppose the doctrine of holiness. I do believe that we can have perfect hearts, as the Bible says be ye therefore perfect, and love is the fulfillment of the law. If a man loves God supremely and loves their neighbor equally, they have a perfect heart. But that type of perfection does not mean that they cannot sin again in the future. The Bible says “if anyone sins” implying both that a believer can sin and that a believer doesn’t have to sin. Sin is avoidable. If a believer does sin, they must repent and ask for forgiveness. The Christian life is not a life of habitual sin but habitual holiness.
For a further explanation of my view on Christian perfection, see this post: Does Jesse Morrell Claim Sinless Perfection?
Also, regarding your question about how Paul said that he had not yet attained perfection, the context of this verse is physical perfection not moral perfection. The context was the resurrection of the body. So Paul did not yet attain a perfect body as that comes in the resurrection. But just a few verses down he said, “as many of us as be perfect,” thus showing that he had attained to a type of perfection – moral perfection. Paul loved God supremely and his neighbor equally. Paul lived a habitually holy life.
I wrote about the difference between moral perfection (sanctification in this life) and physical perfection (glorification in the next life) in my book, Does Man Inherit A Sinful Nature?
Here is an excerpt:
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
PHYSICAL DEPRAVITY AND MORAL DEPRAVITY
PHYSICAL PERFECTION AND MORAL PERFECTION
The Bible says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowed with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man… For as much than as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same: that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil…. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren…” (Heb. 2:9, 14, 16-17).
Consider the syllogisms which can be drawn from this text:
Major premise: Jesus was made in all things like us.
Minor premise: Jesus was not made sinful.
Conclusion: Therefore, we are not made sinful.
Major premise: Jesus was made a partaker of flesh and blood.
Minor premise: Jesus was entirely sinless.
Conclusion: Therefore, flesh and blood are not sinful.
Major premise: Jesus had the same type of flesh that we have.
Minor premise: Jesus was not sinful in anyway.
Conclusion: Therefore, our flesh is not sinful.
If Jesus was made “in all things” like we are made, we can conclude that he “took part of” the same type of physical substance that we took part of. In this way Jesus was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), which doesn’t mean that physical flesh is sinful, but means that Jesus was “made in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:7) and “in fashion as a man” (Php. 2:8). The word “flesh” is sometimes used synonymous with men (Gen. 6:12; Matt. 16:17; Gal. 1:16), so to say Jesus was made in the likeness of sinful flesh is the same as saying that Jesus was made in the likeness or similitude of sinful men.
Jesus was made in the likeness or form of men, in that he had the same human nature and flesh that we all have, but unlike all other men, he never chose to sin. The Bible tells us that Jesus was morally perfect (2 Cor. 5:21), even before He had a glorified, resurrected, or perfect body. He was morally perfect even while he had a physically imperfect body which was subjected to death (Lk. 13:32; Heb. 2:14). That is because sin is not a substance or state of the body, but is a choice of the will.
We are told that Elijah was a “righteous man” even while he “was a man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:16-17). This shows that moral character does not consist in the passions and appetites of your body or constitution, but in the state of your will. When the Bible speaks of a “vile body” being changed into a “glorious body” (Php. 3:21), this does not mean that our body goes from a sinful state to a sinless state. Rather, the Bible speaks of the “corruptible” being changed to become “incorruptible”, which is when the “mortal” puts on “immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52-53). Our body which is physically corrupt, dishonorable, weak, and natural, will be raised incorruptible, honorable, powerful, and supernatural (1 Cor. 15:42-44). We know that these terms like corruptible does not refer to a sinful state, but a mortal or temporal state, because of how Paul uses the same word in the same epistle to describe earthly crowns (1 Cor. 9:25). Paul said “our outward man perish” (2 Cor. 4:16). Our time in this “tabernacle” is temporary (2 Cor. 5:1, 4; 2 Pet. 1:13). Our body is “vile” in that it is corruptible or subjected to disease, decay, and death. The word “vile” means of “low estate” and is translated as “low” and “humiliation” in other verses (Lk. 1:48; Jas. 1:10; Acts 8:33). Our bodies are not therefore “vile” in the sense of being sinful themselves.
The command to “put away evil” (Deut. 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21; 22:22, 24; 24:7; Jdg. 20:13; Ecc. 11:10; Isa. 1:16), implies that evil is a choice of our will and not a substance of our nature. The command to “cease to do evil” (Isa. 1:16), and to “sin no more” (Jn. 8:11), implies that all sin is volitional. It implies that sin is not some involuntary substance dwelling inside of you which you cannot get rid of. And therefore, you don’t need a new body or a new substance in order to be free from sin. The idea that you cannot live free from sin until you get a glorified body presupposes a Gnostic moral philosophy.
Scripturally, you can have a pure and perfect heart or be morally perfect in this life even while you have a fallen and corrupted body or are physically imperfect. This is evident since the Bible described certain men as being perfect in heart in this life, even while existing in their corrupted, depraved, or fallen flesh (1 Kin. 6:61; 11:4; 15:3; 15:14; 20:3; 1 Chron. 12:38; 28:9; 29:9; 29:19; 15:17; 16:9; 19:9; 25:2; Job 1:1, 8; Ps. 102:1; Isa. 38:3). “And the Lord said unto Satan, hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? (Job 1:8). “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (Isa. 38:3). Notice that these are examples of holy men that existed after Adam and before Christ.
Clearly, you can be morally perfect, or completely obedient to God in heart, even while you’re physically depraved. Your heart can be right with God, in obeying all the moral knowledge that you have, even while your body does not sustain perfect health. Though your flesh is corrupt, your moral character does not have to be. Your will can obey all the moral knowledge of your mind, thus creating a perfect moral character, even while your body or flesh is fallen and depraved, or even while you are physically imperfect.
Someone might ask, “If God gives us our flesh, how can you say that our flesh is corrupted?” Our flesh, while not sinful, is corrupted. It is depraved because it is being deprived of the fruit of the tree of life, which contained an ingredient that would sustain the perfect health of the body. The body was designed and constituted so that its life and health depended upon the consumption of food, and without the fruit of the tree of life we cannot have the perfect health of our bodies or sustain its life forever. And since God removed that fruit from us (Gen. 3:22-23), it is God who corrupted or depraved our flesh as a consequence of Adam’s sin and He had good and benevolent reasons for doing so, as He wanted to put a restraint upon the sin of man. But this deprivation of the body is physical depravity, not moral depravity.
The distinction between the moral and the physical must be kept in our minds. We must differentiate between moral depravity (Rom. 3:23), and physical depravity (1 Cor. 15:22-23). And we must distinguish between moral perfection (1 Kin. 8:61; Php. 3:15), and physical perfection (Lk. 13:32; 1 Cor. 15:42; Php. 3:11-12).
For example, Paul said, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). Paul was not saying that our moral character would be changed, but that our body would be changed. He said, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that it is written, death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:53-54). Paul was not talking about being made morally perfect, but physically perfect. He was not saying that we become morally incorruptible, as if we lose our free will in Heaven, but that we become physically incorruptible, since we lose our fallen body in the resurrection. The bodies that we have which are subjected to death will be taken away, so that death is swallowed up and gone. It is mortality that is taken away, not moral choice.
Another example of the distinction between physical and moral perfection is when Paul said, “…not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Php. 3:12). When Paul said he had not yet attained perfection, he was talking about being free from physical corruption and attaining physical perfection. This is obvious since he said in the verse right before, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Php. 3:11). The context of verse eleven gives clarity to the meaning of verse twelve. Paul was saying that he had not yet attained physical perfection because he had not yet attained a glorified body, as that occurs in the resurrection.
Paul was not saying that he was sinful and had not yet been made free from sin, as Calvinists teach, since Paul already said that Christians have been made “free from sin” (Rom. 6:18, 22), and that he had a “conscience void of offense” (Acts 24:16; see also Acts 23:1; 2 Tim. 1:3). Paul was certainly not saying that moral perfection is unattainable in this life, as many misunderstand him to be saying, since only two verses down he said, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded” (Php. 3:15).
Clearly, Paul was writing about two different types of perfection. One type of perfection Paul said he had attained and one type of perfection which he said he had not yet attained. Paul was making a clear distinction between physical perfection and moral perfection and stated that the former is only attainable in the next life while the latter is attainable in this life. Moral perfection is attainable in this life while we are still in our flesh, since our flesh is not sinful in and of itself, and our flesh does not necessitate our choices, but we are free to live after it or to deny it (Matt. 16:24; Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 9:27).
Jesus Christ made a distinction between moral perfection and physical perfection when He said, “and the third day I shall be perfected” (Lk. 13:32). Jesus Christ was morally perfect or sinless His entire life because he “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), but He was not born or created physically perfect. He had the same depraved flesh that we have. Jesus lived a sinless life without a glorified flesh, while he inhabited a corrupted flesh! He was born with a physically depraved body that was subjected to suffering and death and it was not until He was resurrected on the third day that He received a glorified body; and therefore, became physically perfect.
The physical and the moral must always be properly distinguished or differentiated between, because what is physical relates to the flesh, but what is moral relates to the will. The former relates to the quality of our substance, while the latter relates to the quality of our heart or motive.
 Strong’s defines “skēnos” which is translated as “tabernacle” as a “temporary residence.”
 Thayer’s definition of “tapeinōsis.”
 The human body is truly remarkable. The design and function of the body is not comparable to anything else in creation. Its intricate design is genius. From its immune system to skeleton structure, that an intelligent mind engineered our body is evident. God created our body good (Gen. 1:31), and though He has subjected our physical frame to temporal existence, it is still very good in many ways. “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works…” (Ps. 139:14).