photo credit: Toni Blay via photopin cc The concept of sinless perfectionism is one that many Adventists are, at one time or another, e...

Link Post: Never Good Enough (The Close of Probation and Sinless Perfectionism)

 photo credit: Toni Blay via photopin cc
The concept of sinless perfectionism is one that many Adventists are, at one time or another, exposed to. The right combination of selected Bible verses and Ellen White quotes can leave many wondering if they will ever be good enough to be saved.

I too struggled with this concept for many years and found it impossible to reconcile the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Adventist teaching of sinless perfectionism. Then one day I discovered that it wasn't an Adventist teaching at all. The more I have studied this within the context of Adventism the clearer the gospel and the all suffiency of the righteousness of Christ has become. To this, many sinless perfectionists would respond that I am just looking for an excuse to sin and still go to heaven. However, nothing could be further from the truth. I hate sinning. I long to be perfect in the love of Jesus and love as he loved and continues to love. This is my desire. Not for one moment do I want to, as Peter Gregory once quipped, take a souvenir (of sin) to heaven with me. However, with that said, I still reject the teaching of last generation sinless perfectionism. While I could share my own views on the matter, lack of time prompts me to share two wonderful articles that delineate my exact sentiments (and those of Seventh-day Adventism) on this topic. The articles were written by Seventh-day Adventist scholar and theologian Edward Heppenstall and can be found on adventistbiblicalresearch.org

1. How Perfect Is "Perfect" or Is Christian Perfection Possible?

2. Some Theological Considerations of Perfection

10 comments:

  1. I too have struggled with trying to be perfect in my walk with God.In so much that I almost went insane trying to keep every thought under control,keeping a lowly spirit,feeling miserable ALL THE TIME!! Till one day it just hit me like a hammer,,(What did Christ even come to this world for),I have took a deep breath and walk the best I can in Christ and except his sacrifice and his blessings....AMEN!!!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your testimony Brain Freeze! It is always great to hear stories of freedom from perfectionism. If you ever get a chance, read John Bunyan's "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners." It is an amazing story of struggle with perfectionism and anxiety and how he finally found freedom. You can download it for free if you have a Kindle. I also highly recommend my article REclaiming Adventism which deals with the history of perfectionism in SDA theology. I will post the link at the end of this reply. Anyways, do you mind if I use your comment above for future sermons, articles etc.? That would be cool.

      Here is the link: http://www.jesusadventismandi.com/2013/08/reclaiming-adventism-response-to.html

      Blessings,
      Marcos

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  3. Hello Arik! How are you? I hope you had a great Sabbath.

    Why did you remove your comment? I just spent the last hour typing up a response for you! lol.
    On any note, I will share my response:

    Allow me to respond to your comment by first making a few qualifications. First of all, when it comes to any discussion on a topic like this the most important question to settle is: “Does my eternal security hinge on how perfect I become?” This is ultimately what people wrestle with. This is exactly what my wife was taught as a child and it nearly led her to commit suicide, and she probably would have were it not for her mother interceding. Once we realize that perfection is not the grounds for acceptance with God it really doesn’t matter how it is defined. So long as we can agree that our salvation rests solely on the merits of Jesus then I have no burden to argue over how perfect we can or cannot become. This is the official SDA position:

    Neither Christlike character traits nor faultless behavior is the ground of our acceptance with God. Saving righteousness comes from the one righteous Man, Jesus, and is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. We can contribute nothing to Christ’s gift of righteousness – we can only receive it. No one other than Christ is righteous (Rom. 3:10); independent human righteousness is only filthy rags. – 146

    Secondly, the way in which we reach perfection is also important. Alan Parker said it best when he said “Whatever perfection God has in mind for us it’s not going to come by trying harder or focusing on myself.” Most people who believe in perfection are obsessed with themselves, their sins, their shortfalls, and their efforts. While the Christian life is not a zombie life in which we simply become mindless robots that passively become more like Jesus a focus on self and effort will never produce a perfect character. It is by walking with Jesus in love that we can grow into his image. So long as a person agrees that perfection is the result of Gods work and not my own, then I have no burden to debate how perfect we can or cannot become. This is also the official position of the SDA church:

    How may we become perfect? The Holy Spirit brings us to the perfection of Christ. By faith, Christ’s perfect character becomes ours. People can never claim that perfection independently, as if it were their innate possession of theirs by right. Perfection is a gift of God. – 143

    Thirdly, it is important for us to recognize that God views us as perfect even when we aren’t perfect. He sees us as perfect during the process of making us perfect. To him we are a finished product and we can rest in the promise that “he who began the good work in us will complete it.” If this reality is accepted and emphasized then I have no burden to debate over how perfect we can or cannot become.

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    1. Fourth, it is always important to remember that truth is, very often, paradoxical. In other words, truth often has two poles that appear to contradict each other but in reality balance each other out. A perfect example is law and grace. Truth demands not only that we believe in grace but also law and vice versa. But truth demands more. Truth also demands that we hold both poles of truth in equal relationship to one another. It is not enough to believe in both law and grace, they must be in a right relationship to each other in order to understand truth. This is why there are so many people who say they believe in law and grace but they are still legalistic. While they believe in both, they subordinate grace to law. In addition there are many who subordinate law to grace and end up being very flippant with the law of God. In order to arrive at truth law and grace must not be subordinated to each other but held in a balanced relationship with one another. In the same way the topic of perfection has two poles of truth. Ellen White speaks much of character perfection and victory over sin but she also says,

      We cannot say, “I am sinless,” till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body [the second coming]. {ST March 23, 1888, par. 13, emphasis mine}.

      And

      So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience {AA 560.3}.
      In the same way John tells us to not sin and yet he says that whoever claims to be without sin is a liar. In order to be truthful we cannot ignore one pole of truth at the expense of the other. They must be held in tension to one another. One pole suggests that perfection is possible and the other that it is impossible and those two poles must be in constant tension. But how to we explain the seeming contradiction? I like how Andrew Farley, an evangelical author, explained it in his book The Naked Gospel. In this book he argues that Christians are not helpless victims of sin who are no different than their unsaved neighbors. Instead, he argues that Christians are new creatures with power for new life. Anything less than this Farley refers to as “a half-baked gospel” and I agree. The adulterer becomes faithful. The drunkard sober. The liar, honest and the abuser, gentle. To suggest that Gods people are helpless slaves of sin and will be so until Jesus comes is indeed a “half-baked gospel.” But to suggest that we can reach a point in this life in which even sins of ignorance are no longer committed is an exaggeration of the doctrine of perfection. The official SDA statements on this issue are:

      Noah, Abraham, and Job were each described as perfect or blameless though each had imperfections (142).

      Some incorrectly believe that the ultimate perfection that glorification will bring is already available to humans…. Sanctification is a lifelong process. Perfection now is ours only in Christ, but the ultimate, all-comprehensive transformation of our lives into the image of God will take place at the Second Advent (145).

      Our final, creative transformation is accomplished when incorruptibility and immortality become ours—when the Holy Spirit completely restores the original creation (146).

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  4. With this in mind, it is my understanding that Heppenstall is not arguing that we cannot overcome sin, he is arguing that we cannot be “sinlessly perfect” until Jesus comes. He then defines sin as not merely the wrongs we do but also thoughts, emotions, failure to do good, failure to live perfectly up to the light a person has received etc. A narrow view of sin is to say that it is doing bad things. George Knight describes how it was the idea that sin is bad deeds that led the Pharisees to think that righteousness was doing good deeds. This belief led them to the conclusion that if everyone kept the law perfectly for one day messiah would come. But when we realize that sin is primarily an issue of the heart then we recognize that righteousness is primarily and issue of the heart also. So sin cannot be defined merely as a choice. Sin is a condition of the heart that makes us prone to make those bad choices. We don’t become righteous by no longer making those sinful choices, we become righteous by accepting Christs robe that covers our sin and the new heart that replaces the old heart.

    The idea that sin is merely a choice and nothing more is a classic teaching of Dennis Priebe, a popular proponent of last generation theology. The official SDA position on the definition of sin differs from Dennis Priebe. Here are some quotes from the latest edition of Seventh-day Adventists Believe:

    Because the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), human nature can be described as corrupt, depraved, and thoroughly sinful (103).

    History reveals that Adams descendants share the sinfulness of his nature (103).

    Although as children we acquire sinful behavior through imitation… we inherit our basic sinfulness. The universal sinfulness of humanity is evidence that by nature we tend toward evil not good (104).

    The spiritual rebirth so transforms the life (John 1:13, John 3:5) that we can speak of a new creation…. The new life, however, does not exclude the possibility of sinning (1 John 2:1).

    Now of course, Adventists don’t believe that having a sinful nature means we are guilty of sin from birth (original sin as taught by Augustine) but that we are born with an inclination to sin that all of us yield to. Even John the Baptist, who was born full of the Holy Spirit, needs a savior because he too succumbed to the inclination to sin. But Dennis Priebe did not invent the concept that sin is choice and nothing more. The idea that sin is simply a choice and nothing more is an ancient heresy taught by a British monk named Pelagius. In his textbook “The Truth as it is in Jesus” SDA theologian Norman Gulley explains The Pelagian theory when he says, “This view teaches that every human soul is immediate created by God innocent, free from depraved tendencies, and with the ability to obey God as was Adam before his sin…. Thus man is not born with an inclination towards wrong, that comes only after his own acts of sin (79)” While Priebe never goes as far as Pelagius his theology is certainly what one SDA theologian referred to as “semi-Pelagian.”

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  5. Because we have this sinful nature, this depraved innate inclination toward evil, we need a savior from the moment of birth not from the moment of our first sin. Even if one argued it was from the moment of the first choice to sin that doesn’t really help because every human being, regardless of culture or upbringing is 100% guaranteed to give in to this inclination. Thus, while God does not condemn us for having a sinful nature, because we are guaranteed to sin from birth we are all in need of a savior because we will all, without fail, sin. As I mentioned before, even John the Baptist who was born with the Holy Spirit needed a savior. So “it is not simply true that we are sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners” (95).

    And we will continue to be sinners in need of grace until Jesus returns. We will never, in this life, reach a point where we are totally free of sin. However, equally true is the reality that we can overcome every sin that hinders us. The porn addict is not going to be a porn addict until Jesus comes. The gospel is much more powerful than that. But does that mean he will reach a state of such perfection that he will be beyond the possibility of committing sins of ignorance? No. Not at all. This is where I and the SDA church part ways with those who teach “absolute, sinless perfectionism.” Some even go as far as to suggest that we must arrive at a place where we are so perfect we no longer need the blood of Jesus to cover us. This is the height of heresy.

    So here is how I sum up my belief and understanding of perfection. Perfection is a gift of God given to his children so that we may, in our lives, glorify him. It does not form the basis of our acceptance with God nor does its quality determine our eternal security, all of which rests in Christ alone. From this point forward, however others define perfection is of no burden to me. I will walk with Jesus, lean on him, think of him, and drink of him and allow him to do his work in me. On the final day when Jesus returns I will be ready to go with him, not because of my achievements or character attainments, but because of his all sufficient grace.

    In his book “Whose Got the Truth?” Martin Weber also summed it up well when he said,

    “Let’s never confuse the possibilities of Christian living with the requirement for salvation. Christ fulfilled all righteousness for us on the cross—what must happen now is that we repent and receive His new life. Then, in the joy of that salvation, we live to glorify God in this dark world by sharing the light of His love. Such is the keeping of the commandments that blossoms from our faith in Jesus Christ” (75).

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  6. Hope that helps a bit!

    Blessings,
    Marcos

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  7. Good post!
    "But does that mean he will reach a state of such perfection that he will be beyond the possibility of committing sins of ignorance? No. Not at all. This is where I and the SDA church part ways with those who teach “absolute, sinless perfectionism.” Some even go as far as to suggest that we must arrive at a place where we are so perfect we no longer need the blood of Jesus to cover us. This is the height of heresy."

    - and yet this is exactly what Ellen White says in GC...that those still alive at the close of probation will have to stand before God without a mediator...sinless perfection! This is so troubling to me. How in the world are we supposed to reconcile the two? I'm with you...I think this is heresy.

    -the Brothers G

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    1. Hello Brothers G! I have replied to this question in your other comment and also in the following link which I published today. Let me know if you have any further questions!

      http://www.pomopastor.com/2016/01/q-what-does-without-mediator-mean.html?showComment=1452257010718#c4804481452085500670

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