R C Sproul has a comment on the Heresy of Perfectionism I’d like to address. Unlike some of the other conversations I have seen, he is not as offensive in his presumptions as Got Questions and the like have been. RC S manages to have a conversation, not a lecture. He’s not on a soapbox as the others were, in my perception, so I found it an entertaining read.
I disagree with many of his presumptions.
OK all but one or two.
But I can respect how he got where he was and he presented it fairly so I hope to give him the same respect.
His article can be found here, <<<click me to visit>>> .
I will post a paragraph of his, and my observations. I should note, he is addressing a particular type of “sinless perfectionism” I find appalling as well. And while I’d argue with him against someone preaching that type of thought, our arguments would not be the same. However his observations would apply universally to the “sinless perfection” generic crowd. For the record, my comments to RC S would also refute the crowd he is addressing. I guess that makes me a heterodoxical nightmare.
An ancient heresy of the distinction between two types of Christians, carnal and Spirit-filled, is the heresy of perfectionism.(1) Perfectionism teaches that there is a class of Christians who achieve moral perfection in this life. To be sure, credit is given to the Holy Spirit as the agent who brings total victory over sin to the Christian. But there is a kind of elitism in perfectionism,(2) a feeling that those who have achieved perfection are somehow greater than other Christians. The “perfect” ones do not officially—take credit for their state, but smugness and pride have a way of creeping in.(3)
1) It is never a point of strength to open with an assumed right position. It reveals a smugness or arrogance to your thinking.
- a) “Two types” is a bit misleading, as it implies opposition.
- b) Scripturally both would be Christian. (not a term I am fond of) Paul explained the milk and meat, Christians. He showed us there are imperfect, and perfect Christians. The issue is much less with IF they are, but on what that means when it says, “perfect”. Any cheap concordance will show you it is not a without flaw, Utopian flavor as is assumed in these conversations.
2) “Elitism in -perfectionism-” Is an interesting objection coming from the Calvinist camp. A group that regularly produces comments about the being “elected” and others aren’t. That, often, no matter how much they deny that they intend it that way, are elitist by nature.
- a) There is no elitist view if you understand the meaning of the Greek word for Perfect. Teleios has no Utopian, without flaw, flavor to it in the Bible, nor in English at the KJV era.
- b) It simply meant, finished, complete, mature, grown up. Once you take the knee jerk fear out of the word, you can reason with the verses and get a better view of the message.
- c) There is nothing elite in assuming God will do what he said He would do, unless you assume He is not honest, not capable, or not willing. The question becomes did he say he would do it, and if so what path does travel?
3) “Smugness and Pride creeps in” If this is indicative of failure, then John Calvin has proven he is the wrong JC to take heed to.
The peril of perfectionism is that it seriously distorts the human mind.(1) Imagine the contortions through which we must put ourselves to delude us into thinking that we have in fact achieved a state of sinlessness.(2)
1) “Distorts the human mind” As does Calvinism. That is not a very unique argument as it applies against them, and most of Christianity as well. There are a lot of arrogant people with distorted minds and attitudes in the Church. Most people think it’s everyone but themselves. Which proves my point, usually.
2) “Delusions to think we have reached perfect”… The first thing to consider is, “did God say He would get us there or not?” The second thing is, “should we believe every ridiculous metaphor we read in the Bible as literal?” The tangents are, Gideon was given ridiculous commands, 300 men armed with Kazoos and crock pots and defeated an army of 27K or there about. The biggest tangent is, why do we believe the metaphor of raising from the dead, if incredulous claims we can’t accomplish on our own are to be discredited?
- a) Phi 3:15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (NASB)
- b) Teleios/Perfect merely means to the finished state. What is the finished state is the question. Not if someone can achieve it. He’s not the God of the Red Herring.
- c) Matthew 5:48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. This chapter speaks of how to love, and is saying your love should be as complete as the example He had just given of the Father’s love; even for His enemies.
- d) Or when Jesus asked the RYR if he would be perfect, meaning complete… Jesus saw a way, and taught to reach for it and go there. OUR job should be to find the way, not say Jesus taught the wrong message.
- e) We have delusions of thinking we have become perfect in RC Sproul’s eyes. What does he think of the man claiming he will be raised from the dead after he has passed? Is that not MORE incredulous? Which is more believable, a man learns how to live as Jesus taught us to, or a man will raise from the dead? (Unless you don’t believe you’ll raise and only pay lip service towing the company line…
- f) Is it more incredulous than, Gideon send the army home, disarm the remaining 300 and at dawn attack them with crock pots and kazoos? If RC Sproul was Gideon, would he say “yes Lord”, or would he say it can’t happen and call the army back. Do you do what HE says or not?
- g) After admitting in Paragraph 1 the path to perfection is done BY THE SPIRIT in the views of those he criticizes. He then comments, “WE HAVE ACHIEVED”.
- h) Doesn’t sound like RC S believes the Spirit really interacts in our lives at all, if he thinks credit goes to the Spirit but it’s still up to YOU to achieve.
Scripture says the the Spirit keeps you from the lusts of the flesh, Gal 5:16.
The seed of God keeps you from sinning. 1 John 3:9
Christ Himself in you 1 John 5:18.
The flesh is gone so the hindrance is removed by Christ. Col 2:11
HE changes your heart from self serving stone, to serve others flesh, Eze 24-27 ish.
Yet RC S considers it’s up to US to achieve it?
- i) Perhaps it’s hard to imagine, because in RC S’s theology, God does nothing, and he does it all himself?
- j) Who parted the Red Sea, God or Moses. Both did works. (food for thought.)
Inevitably the error of perfectionism breeds one, or usually two, deadly delusions.(1) To convince ourselves that we have achieved sinlessness, we must either suffer from a radical overestimation of our moral performance or we must seriously underestimate the requirements of God’s law. The irony of perfectionism is this: Though it seeks to distance itself from antinomianism, it relentlessly and inevitably comes full circle to the same error.
1) “Two deadly delusions”.
- a) “Convince us we have achieved” But it’s not about what we can do. Those he addresses in his example probably deserve this chastisement. The Biblical analysis avoids it. And for the record we don’t raise ourselves from the dead, either.
- b) “over estimate our moral performance” False dilemma. Christian perfection isn’t about my performance. This would only come from someone focused on their performance. It is about learning to love neighbor correctly. Something Christ commanded, not suggested. Do you doubt Him? Do you doubt His performance?
- c) “Underestimate the law” It’s not about keeping the law.
————-1) It’s about learning to love.
————-2) It’s not about obedience. You run to where you look. You choose if you look to love or obedience. Whichever one you focus on, is the one that gets all your mindset. If you look to be obedient, you take away from the love neighbor mindset. If you fail to love as Jesus commanded, you fail to be in God or Him in you. 1 John 4:16-18
————-3) See the post on Love or Obedience, immediately before this one.
- d) He references it’s like Antinomianism. The person he spoke to might get there, but the scriptural text on the topic does not need to assume that corner.
To believe that we are sinless we must annul the standards of God’s Law.(1-5) We must reduce the level of divine righteousness to the level of our own performance. We must lie to ourselves both about the Law of God and about our own obedience(6) To do that requires that we quench the Spirit when He seeks to convict us of sin.(7) Persons who do that are not so much Spirit-filled as they are Spirit-quenchers.(8)
1) The Law was to the Jews, not the Gentiles. Christ’s church is ran after Melchizedek’s which was before the Jews or Gentiles existed. To impose Jewish covenental laws on Melchizedek’s Church is very presumptuous. In Christ’s Church there is no Jew or Gentile. Your relationship with GOD is not dependent on your achieving unity with the law, so it is inconsistent to apply it here.
2) To be with Him, the focus is on getting the Love right, not on being obedient.
All of the law is kept in the commandments Love neighbor, Love God.
3) Paul speaks of looking at the race before him not to what lays behind. If you are atoned for you need not worry about the sin. You need to focus on being changed, not trying to usurp power from God and change yourself. You look to the change, not obedience. If you are changed, you will be obedient, but you could be obedient and lack change.
4) 1 John 4:16 without the law, you do not have relationship with Him. If you were 100 percent obedient, but did not have the love, you did not meet God’s change. What good is your altar call/sinner’s prayer?
5) 1 Cor 13 explains the importance of the right type of love.
6) “we must lie about the law and our obedience”. No sir, you must lie about your relation to God to maintain your position. While the man addressed by RC S in this argument he presents is deserving of this chastisement, the Biblical arguments for Christian Maturity are not. If you love your neighbor you keep the law. If you get the love right, the obedience follows. If you look to obedience you ignore the singular focus on love. According to 1 john 4, RC S’s focus on obedience shows his fear of punishment, and that reveals his love is not perfected. He would be better served learning that love, if this is true.
7) “We quench the Spirit when He convicts us of sin”. The assumption here, is that you sin. If He can do what He wrote He would do, and you did not sin, what quenching would you be doing? At this point, you are obeying the one inside of you. Rom 8:4-7. The Flesh would be gone and the Spirit indwelling. Rom 8:9A (I am assuming, RC S would argue the flesh is always there until you die, which would contradict Paul here and other places.)
8) “Makes us not spirit filled but spirit quenchers”. The error in thinking is the assumption you sin forever, rather than making an argument from scripture. The scripture answers the assumption by disqualifying it. The assumption contradicts scripture by being antithetical to scripture’s claims. Quite literally ignoring some and needing to rewrite others.
One of the true marks of our ongoing sanctification is the growing awareness of how far short we fall of reaching perfection.(1) Perfectionism is really antiperfectionism in disguise.(2) If we think we are becoming perfect, then we are far from becoming perfect.(3)
1) Can we see this in scripture somewhere? It’s not there, but can we try?
2) The idea RC S expresses is that you will continually grow in your awareness of sinning. This presupposes you will sin. This is the intellectual equivalent of, “Uh Uh, MY WAY”.
3) With this statement I would agree. This is exactly what Paul addresses in the Phil 3 vs posted above. He doesn’t consider he has arrived there, he doesn’t look at “his accomplishment”, but rather assumes he’s not there and keeps his head down and focused. Those who are there like himself should keep this attitude. If they change it, God will change them back.
**In RC S’s world, Paul is a mess. In Rom 7:5 he is not in the flesh. At the last part of Romans 7 he is battling the flesh and it has control over him. In Romans 8:9 he discusses people who are not in the flesh, but are indwelled by the Spirit, in Col 2:11 he shows how the flesh is removed by the circumcision of Christ, in Eph 4:11-15 Paul writes the mature/perfect man is to be as spiritually mature as Jesus the Christ was Himself on earth. We can’t trust Paul for anything if we adopt RC S’s views.
I once encountered a young man who had been a Christian for about a year. He boldly declared to me that he had received the “second blessing”(1) and was now enjoying a life of victory, a life of sinless perfection. I immediately turned his attention to Paul’s teaching on Romans 7. Romans 7 is the biblical death blow to every doctrine of perfectionism.(2) My young friend quickly replied with the classic agreement of the perfectionist heresy, namely, that in Romans 7 Paul is describing his former unconverted state.(3)
1) Full disclosure, the “second blessing” folks, are pretty out there for me. I think they are further off than RC S’s and my views are…. What would a sinless perfect person look like and how would you know? I’d contend you wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t brag about it, preach about it etc. They’d be a nice person, but lots of people are nice peeps. They would be doing the Eph 2:10 they were saved to do. Those works suit their gifts, and would give them peace, love, joy, etc… They wouldn’t have time to talk about sinless whatever, they would be too busy being God’s instrument of righteousness on earth.
2) This is addressed above, and if you like contact me I can address it more. How is Paul who was not in the flesh in Rom 7:5 now struggling with the flesh in Rom 7 last third of the chapter? That’s like saying you were drowning in the lake and still are now that you are out of the lake…
3) More likely it’s a Historical Present Tense. When a white politician is in a black congregational church, and he is saying we and us and such, do you assume he is Black?
I explained to the young man that it is exegetically impossible to dismiss Romans 7 as the expression of Paul’s former life. We examined the passage closely and the man finally agreed that indeed Paul was writing in the present tense. His next response was, “Well, maybe Paul was speaking of his present experience, but he just hadn’t received the second blessing yet.”
*****Historical present tense, see arguments above. This actually puts RC S in the precarious position, not the Christian Maturity crows. RC takes a view that requires you to “work with the scripture” to get it to suit the conclusion he draws, rather than take it as read and assume a perfectly normal historical present tense.
I had a difficult time concealing my astonishment at this spiritual arrogance. I asked him pointedly, “You mean that You, at age nineteen, after one year of Christian faith, have achieved a higher level of obedience to God than the apostle Paul enjoyed when he was writing the Epistle to the Romans?”
***** Phil 3, Paul was perfect. The issue isn’t whether or not he was, it is what does the word Perfect mean.
In one strand of the Wesleyan tradition there is another type of qualified perfectionism. Here the achievement of perfection is limited to a perfected love.(1) We may continue to struggle with certain moral weaknesses, but at least we can receive the blessing of a perfected love. But think on this a moment. If we received the blessing of a love that was absolutely perfect, how then would we ever commit any kind of sin? If I ever loved God perfectly, I would will only obedience to Him. How could a creature who loved God perfectly ever sin against Him at all?
1) 1 John 4:17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
If your beliefs of heaven and God revolve around sin, you are likely paying WAY too much attention to sin and miss the point. On these two commandments lay the whole of the law….
I am leaving this open from here on. I think the most relevant objections have been addressed.
ask, seek, knock!!!