What is moral perfection?
The doctrine of moral perfection is one of the top most hated doctrines of the Bible. When Jesus Christ preached it in the Sermon on the Mount he not only endorsed it but likewise expected his followers to aim for it. Yet, moral perfection is clearly a doctrine that is misunderstood by many. It is a doctrine that the bulk of Christian professors believe is impossible to conform to, in spite of Christ’s command. And moral perfection is also a doctrine that arouses tremendous opposition, hatred, and hostility from its opponents - usually professing believers. In short, one believes in moral perfection or one tends to believe in amoral perfection (the absence of being able to conform to the character of Christ). Why do we say this? Everyone has heard professing believers cry out - no-one is perfect but Christ!
Even though Jesus Christ preached perfection in Matthew chapter 5, we find moral perfection going back all the way to the book of Genesis. “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Gen.6:9). We know this is moral perfection because this chapter contrasts the moral character of Noah with the wicked who had corrupted themselves through every evil imagination and violence. We also read of Abraham being commanded by God to “walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen.17:1). God also expected the Israelites, as instructed through the Mosaic law to “be perfect with the Lord thy God” (Deut.18:13). King David, after being delivered from Saul said: “God is my strength and power; and he maketh my way perfect” (2 Sam. 22:33). Later, King Solomon declared “let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day” (1 Kings 8:61). We also read “Asa’s heart was perfect with the LORD his God, as the heart of David his Father. Hezekiah also pleaded with God “remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done good in thy sight” (2 Kings 20:3). And lastly “there was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1).
While some of these verses show characters who were declared perfect, the others reveal the expectations of God to walk in moral perfection.
But what about the New Testament? Does not the New Testament declare that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10)? This is true, no doubt, but only before salvation in Jesus Christ! However, consider these scriptural declarations that show the opposite of ‘no-one is able to live it’. God said “… Joseph her husband, being a just man…”, not a wicked man(Matthew 1:19)! Also, regarding the characters of Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). They were not wicked sinners! Furthermore, Joseph of Arimathaea was also declared “a good man, and a just” (Luke 23:50). Therefore if God declared these characters good and just, then if ‘once saved, always saved’ is true, then the Apostle Paul must be referring to individuals prior to salvation or out of the will of God. Jesus Christ himself made a statement that shows that Paul’s “no, not one” verse is limited to those who don’t walk with God. “That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:35). In other words, there were those who lived it! Jesus Christ would not declare someone righteous who actually was wicked! He himself declared in the Old Testament “woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
There is a strong call to walk in moral perfection in the New Testament, not just the Old Testament. Jesus Christ said, “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:4)! (Please don’t buy the lie that we need to be mature like our heavenly Father for He was there from eternity past and needed not to mature.) Likewise, to the rich young ruler, Jesus said “if thou wilt be perfect…”, showing clearly that it is possible (Matthew 19:21). This then, is what Jesus expects of us. Luke 6:40 declares “the disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master”. The Apostle John said it this way: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement: because as he is, so are we in this world” ( 1 John 4:17). News flash - you can walk like Christ! Jesus commanded it and expects it from us!
The Apostle Paul also called for perfection in this life! “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you” ( 2 Cor. 13:11). In Colossians 1:28 Paul said: “that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”. Paul also mentions Epaphras labouring in prayer that “ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” ( Col. 4:12). To Timothy, he says “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17).
The apostle James also states that we should “…let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4). Then he says “if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:1). So, does God expect us to be morally perfect? “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (Rev.3:2). God would not hold us accountable to something and rebuke us if we could not perform it by his Spirit living in us! Just because some people refuse to live it, doesn’t mean we can’t live it.
Here is further proof that He will hold us accountable to walk in this moral perfection. Paul said that God “shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). To the Philippians Paul said, “that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” ( Phil.2:15). To the Thessalonians Paul wrote “and the very God of peace sanctify you wholly (not partially); and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessa.5:23). Of leaders in the church, Paul wrote: “a bishop then must be blameless…” (1 Tim. 3:2), and “of a deacon, being found blameless” (1 Tim. 3:10). Regarding elders in the church, Paul stated “these things give in charge, that they may be blameless” (1 Tim. 5:7). These admonitions are repeated in Titus chapter 1 to “be blameless” (Titus 1:6 and 7). Finally, the Apostle Peter writes “wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).
Isn’t there one Apostle who doesn’t agree with moral perfection, you ask? What about Jude? He says “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh”! He continues “now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” ( Jude 1:23-24). These words echo exactly what the Apostle Peter says when he declared “be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14). If you were honest then, you would have to agree that it sounds like all the apostles received their moral perfection message from Jesus Christ who preached on the mount “be ye perfect”! Why strive for anything less? And in spite of these many verses, we still hear the bulk of sermons today declare that we will never stop sinning.
What perfection is not. It is not intellectual perfection. We will forget things. Our knowledge may be limited. We may make wrong calculations from time to time. Our memory may fail us. Although the Bible says we have the mind of Christ, yet intellectual perfection is not commanded of us. Having the mind of Christ means we can discern spiritual matters in contrast with the world that cannot.
It is not physical perfection. We live in a fallen world and dwell in an earthly tabernacle. We are subject to infirmities and sicknesses, tiredness, decay, and ageing just like all of humanity. When Paul declared that he was not yet perfected in Philippians 3:12 he said: “not as though I had already attained”. Here he was referring to the glorification of the body and not moral perfection, which he preached elsewhere. So we will only be physically perfected on resurrection morning.
Perfection is not instantaneous maturity in Christ. It does not mean that one does not need more wisdom, knowledge, and experience, etc. These all come with trial and error. But in contrast, many today teach that it takes decades to overcome sin. The common doctrine of dual sanctification, where it is said that in Christ we receive positional and progressive sanctification is merely another doctrine that encourages one to linger in sin rather than forsake it and walk in holiness. Is salvation something we grow in? Or is it instantaneous? The moment you teach sanctification is progressive then you introduce something that is not in the Bible and encourage sin.
Furthermore, the perfection that Christ calls us to, does not mean that believers would never be able to sin again after conversion. “Pray that ye enter not into temptation” implies that believers can fall. “Resist the devil, and he will flee” suggests that we can give into the enticement of the enemy. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father” shows that a believer can sin. Nevertheless, this should be emphasized strongly - it does not say when we sin, but if we sin! King Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:61 was “let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments…, implying that they were able to walk it (see also 1 Chron. 28:9; 29:9; 29:19)”. And although he started off on the right path and obeyed God, we read in 1 Kings 11:4 that later in life Solomon’s “wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father”. Therefore moral perfection can be lost. People can sin and have their heart darkened again. That’s why we are exhorted to be “diligent…” to be found “without spot”!
So then, just what is it to be morally perfect. How can my heart be perfect with the Lord Jesus Christ? Looking at the characters in the Bible who were or weren’t declared perfect, we then can deduct in a clearer way what moral perfection is. Let’s look at certain cases in point and draw a clearer picture of moral perfection.
From the life of King Solomon, we read that later in life his wives influenced him to worship other gods and as a result, he was declared to not have a perfect heart. Then to have a perfect heart would mean that you can’t have more than one God obviously. The rich young ruler served God, so he thought, but when exhorted to be perfect, his true god (money) was revealed. Today, many professors of Christ don’t have a perfect heart since they have other gods in their lives like materialism, riches, idols, etc.
King Asa is another example of a perfect heart that served God. 2 Chronicles chapter 15 details the Godly King’s reforms and how he served God with all his heart. However, in chapter 16 we read that his heart was no longer perfect as Asa now trusted in the Syrian army to deliver Judah from a conflict with Israel. “At that time, Hanani the seer came to Asa King of Judah, and said, unto him, ‘Because thou hast relied on the King of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand.’” “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” “ Herein thou hast done foolishly…” (2 Chron. 16:7,9). Later, when God diseased his feet to chasten him we read “yet in his disease he sought not the Lord, but to the physicians” ( 2 Chron. 16:12). One can have a perfect heart towards the Lord and fully trust in God with all the heart and then in the hour of trial turn to some other source for help and deliverance, as in the case of Asa, and never fully return and actually become worse (see 2 Peter 2:20). Let us remember that God is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14; 20:5; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)!
In the record of the reforms of King Jehoshaphat we read in 2 Chronicles chapter 19 that he instructed the judges to faithfully apply the law to the people of the land by not taking bribes, nor respecting persons, nor family members, and do it “with a perfect heart” ( 2 Chron.19:9), in other words a heart that is undivided in loyalty. In other words, they were to have a completely devoted heart toward the matter and not deviate in the least. This is echoed in the words “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). A perfect heart then is one that is not divided in any sense. You can only have one God and must love Him supremely! You cannot serve sin (Romans 6)! If the heart is in the right place and your love relationship with Christ is burning hot, then the sin issue should not be a problem. You should be walking blameless, overcoming sin in the flesh. “If your eye be single”, (not double) your whole body will be full of light! You can’t serve two masters!
King David’s heart was perfect with God at one time. Then David sinned and his sin was wicked. He committed adultery and murder. God chastened him and David reaped the consequences (the sword never left his house) for the rest of his natural life. Had King David died in this state his soul would have been lost (see Psalm 89:39). Yet the scriptures declare that aside from the numbering of Israel, this was the only incident in his life wherein he disobeyed God. King David did not sin every day in thought, word, and deed as many teach today, thus implicating all believers in a constant state of defeat over sin! The New Testament teaches that we can “walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal.5:16)! We are told that we have “overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13)! We are told that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who “will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape…” (1 Cor. 10:13)! Also, we are told, “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:9)! It is also written “there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Romans 11:26)! Finally, it says “for whatsover is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4)!
It is truly sad that victory over sin is hardly preached today! Instead, we hear the repetition of pre-salvation verses that universally apply to every sinner alike. Verses like “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3)”, “if we say we have not sinned (this is a reference to the false professor in 1 John 1:6 two verses before)”, “oh wretched man that I am (Romans 7)”, “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64)”, etc., etc. How then can we reconcile these verses with the overcoming ones? Can both be true - you’re defeated in sin and victorious at the same time? Impossible! It could only mean that these verses on being sinful apply to un-converted people prior to salvation or to backslidden believers who return to their old sinful ways. This is the message of the Bible - sinner or saint - not both at the same time! Although it is possible for a believer to sin after salvation, the scriptures give many verses showing even young believers walking in victory (see 1 John 2:13-14 for example). The Apostle Paul also set out Timothy, a young convert to be an example for others to follow in moral purity (1 Tim. 4:12)!
But “it is not fair to put this burden on believers” you say. Really? “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy (not sold under sin), acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). It is reasonable to expect this, says God. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification… (1 Thess. 4:3)! “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). Therefore, moral perfection is possible in Christ! A perfect heart is completely devoted to God, no idols or other gods. It is a heart that is just, blameless, and having victory over the sins of the flesh and love of the world! To teach anything less is to depart from scripture and encourage believers to walk in moral corruption.