Striving for Perfection: Are You a Sinless Saint? Part 1

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Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
April 18, 2012

Last Updated :
April 18, 2012

NOTE: This article or series has not been updated recently. As such, it may possibly contain some outdated information, and/or ideas and beliefs which I no longer embrace, or which have changed to some degree.

Background, Be Ye Therefore Perfect, Humanly Impossible Feat, Jesus Didn't Mean Sinless Perfection Or Being A Sinless Saint, Perfect Means To Be Complete In The Scriptures, Invention Of Religionists And Organized Religion, Sinless Perfection Is A Mechanism To Keep People In Bondage To A Church, Extremism, Self-Righteous Works And Trying To Prove Our Holiness To God, Old Testament Saints Won't Be Complete Without Us, Judged As Individuals By Our Own Works, Apostle Paul's Recognition Of His Sinful Condition, Sin That Dwelleth In Me, Paul Did Not Attain To Perfection, Establishing Our Own Righteousness, What Hope Is There For Us?, Obstacle Placed By Religionists, Strive To Avoid Sin, Woman Taken In Adultery, Go And Sin No More, Man Who Could Not Walk, Our Sins Carry Consequences, Wages Of Sin Is Death, Not All Sicknesses Result From Sin, Resist Sin In Our Lives, Old Man Versus New Man, God's Grace Or Self-Righteous Works, There Is None Righteous, Justified And Made Righteousness Through Jesus, Our Struggles With Sin, Burden Of Sin, Jesus' Yoke Is Easy And His Burden Is Light

The following article actually began as a message thread on a certain unnamed person's Facebook page. I made a number of Bible-based doctrinal statements with which this person did not agree. As a result, rather than try to understand what I was saying, this person very hastily deleted my posts from his page, and basically stated that I don't teach Scriptural truth on the Bill's Bible Basics website. Immediately after this sad incident occurred, rather than allow myself to be defeated by this person's close-mindedness, I decided to post the same material on my blog. However, after doing so, and after having the post syndicated to my own Facebook page, I continued to make improvements and additions to my original blog post. I then realized that this subject really merited its own complete article. Thus, here it is for your personal consideration.

In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus saying the following to His listeners in His famous Sermon on the Mount:

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
Matthew 5:48, KJV

No doubt a lot of people will read that verse and think to themselves "Man! . . . that is really a steep mountain to climb! Who can possibly accomplish that? Who can be perfect? That is humanly impossible!" Well, guess what? You are right. Not only that, but you will be happy to know that there is some relief for you, oh weary traveler. That is because many people -- including a lot of Christians -- have completely misunderstood what Jesus actually meant when He spoke about being perfect in that verse. Does it make any sense at all that Jesus would purposely ask us to do something which He knows that we cannot do? Does it make any sense at all that He would place a stumbling block and an obstacle in our way which He already knows will hinder our faith and discourage us? Is it possible then that this insurmountable obstacle was placed in our path by someone else; that is, by organized religion and the religionists?

The simple truth of the matter is that, contrary to popular opinion, and contrary to what so many Christians have been erroneously taught, Jesus wasn't speaking about trying to be a so-called "sinless Saint" who never does anything wrong, and who never makes any mistakes. As I will now demonstrate by way of the Scriptures, He was not talking about trying to reach some unrealistic state of sinless perfection while we remain in this earthly body of weak, sinful flesh.

Personally, I don't know anyone who never makes mistakes; do you? I will occasionally meet people who claim that they do not sin anymore, but let us be brutally honest: These people are really just deceiving themselves. In my view, even trying to achieve such an impossible feat -- that is, a sinless life -- amounts to embarking on a self-righteous works trip. It is not Salvation by Grace. I will be discussing this issue more at length in just a moment. So let's set the record straight. According to Thayer's Greek English Lexicon, in the previous verse, the word "perfect" is derived from the Greek words "teleioo" and "teleios", which actually mean to be complete. We can confirm that this is what the word "perfect" means in the New Testament by examining verses such as the following:

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
James 1:2-4, KJV

Please note that in the previous verses, the word "wanting" actually means "lacking". It is derived from the Greek word "leipo". So by employing the use of the phrase "and entire, wanting nothing", James is clarifying what he means by the word "perfect". If we rely upon the actual Greek words that are used in that sentence, we could actually read it like this:

"But let patience have her [complete] work, that ye may be [complete] and entire, [lacking] nothing."

Now, tell me; doesn't that verse make a lot more sense when we use the correct translation of the Greek words? So again we discover that in these instances, the words "teleioo" and "teleios" are better translated as "complete", rather than as "perfect". To reiterate, the word "perfect" is not referring to being a "sinless Saint". That misguided definition was invented by organized religion -- such as the Roman Catholic Church and the "holiness" people -- who rely upon their own supposed "good works", instead of relying solely upon the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. Sinless perfection is in reality an invention of man. It is a false doctrine which was concocted by organized religion. It is not what God's Word really says or means concerning this issue of being perfect.

The "sinless Saint" doctrine is likewise a mechanism which is used by some churches as a means to keep people in bondage to their particular denomination, and to their particular belief system. It is this desire to become a "sinless Saint" which sometimes leads to extremism such as self-flagellation. It is people foolishly trying to prove their holiness -- as well as their worthiness -- to God. Their attitude seems to be "Well, maybe if I do this, and perhaps if I do that, and maybe if I mortify my flesh, maybe if I fast for forty days, maybe if I beat myself to death, and maybe if I say twenty Our Fathers, twenty Hail Marys and twenty Glory Be's, I'll somehow make it to Heaven." Again, such acts are merely self-righteous works of the flesh, and nothing more. It is depending upon our own self-righteousness, and not the righteousness which we only receive through Jesus Christ.

Allow me to share another verse with you in which the Greek word "teleioo" is used, which clearly proves again that the word "perfect" in the Scriptures means to be complete, as in quantity, or to render a thing full. At the very end of his Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul writes as follows concerning the Old Testament heroes and Saints who he has just discussed in that chapter:

"God having provided some better thing for us, that they [meaning the Old Testament Saints] without us should not be made perfect."
Hebrews 11:40, KJV

Now, if we accept the erroneous doctrine which claims that the word "perfect" in that verse refers to a state of sinless perfection or being "sinless Saints", then that verse simply does not make any sense. After all, doesn't the Bible teach us that we will each be judged by the Lord as individuals? Doesn't it also teach us that we will each be judged based upon our own works, and not by the works of others? Consider these verses:

"If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?"
Proverbs 24:12, KJV

"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works."
Matthew 16:27, KJV

"And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:"
1 Peter 1:17, KJV

". . . I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works."
Revelation 2:23b, KJV

"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
Revelation 14:13, KJV

"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works."
Revelation 20:12-13, KJV

It is clear then the Old Testament Saints cannot possibly be made perfect -- or become "sinless Saints" -- based upon the actions of other Saints who have lived many years after they have. Therefore, we must conclude that the word "perfect" in that verse must have some other meaning, other than what the religionists would have us to believe.

Considering that the Greek word "teleioo" actually means to make complete, to complete, add what is yet lacking in order to render a thing full, to bring to the end or to accomplish, it is easy to determine that what Paul is actually saying, is that until the remainder of the Saints join the ranks of the Old Testament Saints in Heaven, God's Work simply will not be complete, and the assigned number of predestinated, chosen and saved persons will not be complete. The number will not be full. To reiterate, this is the very same Greek word that is used in the verse that we discussed at the beginning of this article:

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
Matthew 5:48, KJV

So again, if we apply the so-called "sinless perfection" definition to Hebrews 11:40, it does not make any sense at all. In order to remain consistent in our interpretation of the word "teleioo", we must apply the same meaning to both verses. When we do that, both verses make perfect sense. Now, if after reading my explanation, you still remain convinced that Jesus is saying that we must be "sinless Saints" in the flesh in the above verse, then it seems to me that you are going to have a very difficult time explaining verses such as the following, where even the Apostle Paul is honest enough, and humble enough, to recognize his sinful condition, which he was not able to overcome in the flesh. Paul was no more a "sinless Saint" than are you and I:

"For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me."
Romans 7:14-20, KJV

Notice that Paul clearly states "sin that dwelleth in me." If, as Paul states, sin dwells in him, then obviously, he cannot be sinless, or a "sinless Saint". Thus we can only conclude that Paul was not perfect, and that he was in fact a sinner just like you and I. He kept doing things which he knew that he should not do. So even Paul was not able to live by Jesus' words "Be ye therefore perfect"; that is, if we believe the religionists and equate the word "perfect" with sinlessness. Should we just assume then that Paul was a failure insofar as being a Christian is concerned, because he was not perfect in the flesh, sometimes yielded to his flesh, and made mistakes?

If you have any doubts whatsoever that this is exactly what Paul is saying in the previous verses, then he makes it even more clear for us in his Epistle to the brethren at Philippi when he writes the following:

"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."
Philippians 3:12-14, KJV

What?! Paul didn't attain to perfection? He wasn't perfect? He didn't apprehend -- take hold of or attain, from the Greek word "katalambano" -- perfection? He wasn't really a "sinless Saint"? Well, if he didn't, and wasn't, then how dare certain modern Christians foolishly claim that they have in their own pride and deception. Paul offers his own rebuke for deceived people such as these when he writes the following:

"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."
Romans 10:2-3, KJV

If -- according to the definition of the religionists -- the Apostle Paul sacrificed so much, and was persecuted so much, and still was not perfect, and wasn't able to make the grade, how much hope does that really leave for us to also become "sinless Saints"? What realistic expectations can we have for ourselves who are nowhere near the status of the Apostle Paul?

It becomes clear then that if we toss out this false doctrine of "sinless perfection", and simply realize that this is not what Jesus is saying in that verse, then everything falls into place. God would not place a mountain before us which He knows we cannot climb. The obstacle was placed in front of us by the false doctrines and traditions of men of organized religion -- and not by the Lord -- in order to keep us in bondage to their systems.

No doubt some of my critics will ask "So are you saying that we should just do as we please and sin as we please, and not worry about any consequences, because God does not expect perfection from us?" Please don't be ridiculous. Of course I am not saying that! We should all strive to avoid sin in our lives as much as possible. As even Jesus told the woman who was caught in the very act of committing adultery:

". . . Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
John 8:11b, KJV

Some people have erroneously interpreted Jesus' words as meaning that He was telling her to go and be a "sinless Saint", but that is not the case, in my view. Such people are extending the meaning of Jesus' words in order to make it fit their own man-made doctrine concerning attaining to some state of sinless perfection. If we take the time to read the entire story, we discover that it is specifically about the sin of adultery -- and self-righteousness as well. Thus, Jesus is simply telling the woman to stop committing adultery. He was not expecting her to become a "sinless Saint" overnight; because as Paul wrote in the above verses "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing."

In an earlier incident that is also found in the Gospel of John, we find Jesus offering the very same warning to a man He had healed, who had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years. In this case, we are not told precisely what his sin was. However, whatever it was, not only does Jesus tell him to stop doing whatever it was that resulted in him becoming sick in the first place, but the Lord also warns him that if he falls back into that same sin again, a worse thing may come upon him, as we see here:

"Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."
John 5:14, KJV

Clearly then, our sins do carry consequences; and the final consequence of our sins -- should we choose to not repent and accept Christ -- is to remain in sin, and death, as we see by the following verses:

"Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins."
John 8:21-24, KJV

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 6:23, KJV

On a side note, as I point out in the article "Are Personal Tragedies Due to Sin?", it should also be mentioned that not all sickness results directly from sin in a person's life. In the very next chapter of the Gospel of John, we find the Lord healing a man who has been blind since birth. In that incident, consider what Jesus said when His Disciples asked of Him concerning the man:

"And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
John 9:2-3, KJV

Along these same lines, you may also want to read my 1999 article entitled "Why Doesn't God Heal Me?", as well as my four-part series called "Demonic Possession and Sickness: A Biblical Perspective".

Returning to our main topic of discussion, like the Apostle Paul, we need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that we will never attain to some state of sinless perfection in the flesh. However, just because we cannot hope to achieve some state of sinless perfection by our human endeavors does not mean that we should not resist sin. After all, as the Apostle Paul also wrote:

"Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin."
Hebrews 12:4, KJV

In the previous verse, the word "striving" is derived from the Greek word "antagonizomai", which means to struggle or to fight. Thus, we must struggle or fight against the sin that dwells in our flesh. As I point out in such articles as "Are You Crucified With Christ?", we must continually wage war against the old man of the flesh with his sins, in order that the new man of the Spirit may thrive in us. Consider the following verses:

"Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."
Romans 6:6, KJV

"That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;"
Ephesians 4:22, KJV

"Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;"
Colossians 3:9, KJV

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV

"And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
Ephesians 4:24, KJV

"And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:"
Colossians 3:10, KJV

Think about it. If it were really possible for us to become "sinless Saints" by striving hard enough to avoid sin in our lives, then we would not even need Jesus, would we? In such a theoretical case, He died in vain. Furthermore, by even striving to attain perfection by our own human endeavors, we have basically converted Salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ into a self-righteous works trip, just like the Scribes and the Pharisees of old. But consider the truth of these verses:

"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."
Isaiah 64:6, KJV

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"
Romans 3:10, 23, KJV

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;"
Titus 3:5, KJV

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV

"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."
Romans 11:6, KJV

In short, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, the only righteousness we have, is that righteousness which is solely obtained through faith in Jesus Christ, and being washed in the Blood of the Lamb. He is the only one who can justify us all, as we see by the following verses:

"And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses."
Acts 13:39, KJV

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith."
Romans 3:20-27, KJV

"For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) . . . That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 5:17, 21, KJV

"Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God."
Romans 7:4, KJV

"And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness."
Romans 8:10, KJV

"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."
Romans 10:4, KJV

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified . . . I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."
Galatians 2:16, 21, KJV

"But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith."
Galatians 3:11, KJV

"Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace."
Galatians 5:4, KJV

"And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:"
Philippians 3:9, KJV

Now, if Jesus truly expects us to be "sinless Saints" as some of these holiness religionists seem to believe -- and falsely teach -- then I have to candidly admit that after all of these years that I have known the Lord and His Word, and preached His Word to millions over the past forty years or so, I have apparently still failed at being a Christian; because like the Apostle Paul, I still have not attained to a state of sinless perfection. Have you? Be honest with yourself and with the Lord. Don't you still struggle with some of your same sins of the flesh day after day, and year after year?

No doubt you have prayed many desperate prayers and said "Jesus, please help me with this sin. I am just too weak to overcome it alone. I really need your help." And yet, you eventually fall back into the very same things again, don't you, just like the Apostle Paul and all the rest of us. Well, Jesus said that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light; so if we feel that we are so loaded down by the burden of sin, then something must be wrong somewhere. Is it possible that the problem is that we are trying to carry the load of sin by ourselves, and that we are endeavoring to perfect ourselves through our own works of the flesh, instead of relying upon His Atoning Sacrifice for our Salvation? In our pride, are we trying to prove something to ourselves, to others, and perhaps even to God? Consider these verses:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30, KJV

Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.

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