When do Christians become perfect?
The Bible teaches us that we are credited with Jesus righteousness, and are made perfect before God, when we believe in Jesus and become Christians (Romans 3:21-24, 2 Corinthians 5:21). However, the honest Christian knows that their daily behaviour (thoughts, words and deeds) is not yet perfect! So, when do Christians become perfect?
This righteousness from Jesus is not something that we can work for, but something that is given to us by God when we believe in His Son (John 3:16, Romans 1:17). We need to be righteous if we are to be able to see God and have a relationship with Him. However, this righteousness does not mean that we are living perfect lives today.
Look at what the Bible says about righteousness:
Ephesians 1:13 – we were included in Christ when we heard the Word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. Having believed, we were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.
Romans 10:4 – Jesus ended the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Romans 5:17 – We will receive God’s abundant provision of grace and gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Galatians 5:5 - by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
None of these verses state that we are now perfect human beings as we live our lives day by day. The Ephesians passage says that the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our inheritance because our redemption is not yet complete. Galatians 5:5 says that we are waiting by faith, for a future righteousness which we do not yet have.
In Romans 8:23-25 Paul tells us that we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Jesus credited us with His righteousness when we believed in Him (Romans 4:5), and our sins are covered by it, but it is clear that we are also waiting for what we do not yet have – the redemption of our bodies!
Look at what the Bible teaches about human nature:
1 John 1:8 – writing to Christians the apostle John says If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Clearly he is including both the Christians who would read the letter, and himself! He continues in verse 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. This process of temptation, sin, repentance, forgiveness and purification happens throughout our lives for we are a people who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14). Finally, in verse 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives. John’s teaching here is very clear.
Hebrews 10:14 says by one sacrifice He has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy, and this clearly shows us our situation. Yes – Jesus death on the cross has made us perfect forever, but in this time before Jesus return, we are being made holy every day in the way that John describes.
In James 3:1-8 James says to the church We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is the perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check (v2) but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (v8).
The Bible teaches that we were made perfect forever when we believed in Jesus, and yet we are still in the process of being made holy every day. There is a clear call to Christians throughout the New Testament to turn from sin and live a holy life. For example:
1 Timothy 6:11 – But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
2 Timothy 2:22 - Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Paul tells us not to gratify the desires of the sinful nature, but to live by the spirit (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 4:17-5:2, 5:11, 5:15). He tells us to set our hearts and minds on Christ and put to death our earthly nature (Colossians 3:1-6), and the writer to the Hebrews says let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1).
In 1 Peter 1:13-15, Peter tells us not to conform to our evil desires, but to be holy, and in 1 Peter 4:1 to arm ourselves with the attitude of Christ, and to be finished with sin. The writers of the New Testament clearly understood that sin is a real problem for Christians, and one which we must actively fight against if we want to move on in the faith.
An honest look at our lives, and a way forward.
If we look honestly at our lives we can see this to be true. Every Christian thinks wrong thoughts (that is sin to God – Matthew 5:28), speaks wrong words and has done wrong things – maybe not every day, but we do. These wrong thoughts, words and deeds from the Christian are sin before God, just as they are from the non-Christian. None of us are perfect (Job 15:14, Proverbs 20:9, Psalm 143:2, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10), but when Christians sin they decide to stop, repent and ask God for forgiveness.
This is what John is speaking about in 1 John 3:9-10 where he says No-one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are – they are the ones who do not want to continue in their sin, but repent, seek forgiveness and receive purification by the Holy Spirit.
When we first believed we were given Jesus righteousness, and a part of us is already seated with Christ in God (Ephesians 2:6). However, today, we still live in earthly bodies that are not perfect. Instead, we are being made holy day by day. If we continue in the faith the day will come when we stand together with Jesus, perfect forever, just as God intended (Colossians 1:22-23).
All scripture quotations from NIV84