Pastor Ted Hegre
“Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Heb. 13:20-21
Does the above passage and others teach “sinless perfection”? While almost everyone fears it as he would the plague, still he is very indefinite as to what is meant by this term. The general conception is that “sinless perfection,” in spite of its high-sounding name, is the embodiment of all that is evil. A drunkard or a fornicator, both of which are excluded from Heaven, will often be tolerated in the church, while one who believes in “sinless perfection,” rightly or wrongly-we will discuss this later, -is at once accused of believing in a “damnable heresy” and dismissed.
While ‘sinless perfection” does not seem to be taught in Scripture, true Christian should so long for holiness or Christ-likeness that the tendency should be to believe more than is promised rather than less. It would seem to be commendable if he were to put more value on the blood of Christ instead of trying to depreciate the atonement by saying that Christ’s death on the cross brings peace in the heart and will somehow get us to Heaven, but we must not expect too much in this life; -“We are only human, you know.”
“Sinless perfection” is a term that is not found in the Bible, and its definition is ambiguous; therefore it ought not be used. The term, however, is generally thought to mean a state where one is not only clean from all sin, but also freed from temptation and where, therefore, the atonement is no longer needed. This is unscriptural. This is not promised, neither is it necessary for the living of a victorious life. God has promised and made provision for our every need both for the present and the future. Rather than discourage one who is seeking a more satisfactory Christian experience, we ought to press on ourselves and also hold others to do the same. The devil has coined the term “sinless perfection” and he uses it to scare away those seeking a holy life. We have let him have his way long enough, and he should be exposed and defeated in his purpose.
In our wide reading of books on the subject, called by various names such as sanctification, victorious life, holiness, or Keswick teaching, we have not found so much as one writer who taught “sinless perfection,” and we have a large library on this precious theme of sanctification, having collected the best books concerning it for many years. The devil has so succeeded in scaring hearts and blinding minds that few dare to make a personal investigation of the subject, choosing rather to put absolute reliance on what someone else has said-and too often that is based not on knowledge of what Scripture and others teach but on what they think is being taught.
Is there not, though, a perfection which is scriptural? What has God promised? What are the needs of a true Christian and what does he long or? Does God expect the Christian to be as perfect as the angels who have never known sin, or as Adam was before the fall? Can we attain to the perfection of God? We need clear thinking here, and our thinking must be based on the Word of God. This much is plain. We are not angels; we are not God: nor are we Adam before the fall. We are sinners saved by grace, called Christians, and it is that perfection that God expects of us-to be all that a Christian should be, not by any reason or strength of our own, but by the grace of God.
We learn from the Word that we are born in sin. More than that, we also learn from Scripture and experience that one born in sin soon chooses sin and thus becomes a voluntary transgressor; but not only does he commit acts of sin-he also resists the will of God, ad thus becomes a rebel. With some, this anarchy expresses itself in an open, outward way. Others are more skillful in hiding their antagonism to the absolute authority of God. But to those of us who are true Christians there came a day when deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit we repented of our sin, yielded to Christ, and were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. As we look back we see the depths of sin from which we were saved. Our hearts and voices are lifted to God in praise for His wonderful grace of s salvation.
SAVED TO THE UTTERMOST
But have you noticed that Hebrews 7:27 passes over that which we are saved “from” and makes mention only of that which we are saved “to”? For the Word says, “Wherefore also He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. It does not say “from” the uttermost; it says “to” the uttermost. And there is an “uttermost” salvation, and that is what the true Christian longs for, that he may possess it in experience and not only aspire toward this uttermost salvation as an ideal.
Again we ask the question, “What is this uttermost salvation? What is Christian perfection?” Our Lord Himself has something to say about perfection in Matthew 5:4a, “Ye therefore shall be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Is Jesus commanding something that is possible, or is He trying to drive us to despair? There must be a perfection that is possible or Christ would not have commanded it. Even an earthly father would not command his children to do what he knew they could not do, much less, our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. If we read the context carefully we will see what is enjoined here in the verse we have quoted: The rest of the passage says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be Sons of your Father which is in Heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only what do ye more than others? Do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
CONTRARY TO NATURE
By nature we do not love our enemies. We love those that love us. We love especially those that do good to us, but we read that the Father loves all and blesses all, not only the good, not only the just, but the unjust. It is in love that we are to be perfect; it is not the perfection of the head but of the heart that is enjoined. Such love are we to have that we even love our enemies and those who persecute us. This is not natural love; this is divine love, the love of God Himself, the love that God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, absolutely impossible to the natural or carnal man, but is it impossible for the spiritual man? Perfection of love is Christian perfection. We turn to another passage where holiness is commanded: I Peter 1:15, 16, “But like as he who called you is holy, be yourselves also holy in all manner of living because it is written, ye shall be holy for I am holy.”
The ready answer to this passage for those who are not seeking the uttermost salvation is that we are holy in Christ, that we are perfect in Christ. Peter anticipates this excuse-for it is but an excuse-and adore this phrase we cannot mistake, which says, “in all manner of living.” In the King James version it says, “in all manner of conversation.” That is, the whole expression of life should be an expression of holiness, -practical holiness. We are not to be holy by proxy only, nor are we to be perfect by proxy. We are to be holy in life and perfect in love. It is a mistake to stop at the great truth of justification by faith. That is just the beginning of what God wants to do for us. He justifies us for Jesus’ sake so that He can make us just and holy. The Bible does not only teach imputation of life, but also impartation, for it says, “We are partakers of the Holy Spirit” and through His power He makes us who we ought to be.
This is entirely contrary to our fallen nature. It is so contrary many think that the change needed is beyond our reach and impossible. It may be beyond our reach, but is this change beyond the reach of God? We are all orthodox enough to know that we cannot save ourselves, but most of us have the idea that we must sanctify ourselves, not realizing that sanctification as well as justification is by faith. This change from natural love to divine love, from sinfulness to holiness is of course beyond our power, but thanks be to God, we are not left to our feeble efforts in striving after the life that pleases God. If we will meet the conditions, God will do what we cannot do.
This change that must take place is called in Scripture by different terms, sometimes transformed or transformation; in another place translation, or being translated; renewal; death and resurrection; freed from sin; ceased from sin; died to sin; delivered. All these terms speak of a conclusive act, not just a process. One of the plainest passages is that found in Colossians 1:13, where Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes, “Who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” We see that there is mot only the deliverance from the power of darkness and the placement into a new kingdom, the kingdom of Christ, but between these two kingdoms there is a translation; a change has taken place. That change is wrought by God. We cannot do it. It is nothing we can attain to by our own reason and strength. It is something that God can do. It is something that God does to those who will trust Him.
So many of us think of sin and sinfulness as being identified with the body and thus believe that it must be retained until we close our eyes in physical death. But sin is not material. The body is but the house in which we live; the real person is something beyond the body, -the spirit. The body is but the member of the real person. Sin is not some thing material that must be extracted or eradicated; sin consists of a wrong relationship, of perversity, of depravity, taint; but it is deeper than the physical. It is the soul and the spirit that is affected.
Can the spiritual nature of man be changed? And if so, where and how is it changed? Yes, friends, the Bible teaches us that we can be changed, changed absolutely, changed entirely. When Jesus Christ went to the cross on Mount Calvary, He not only suffered for our sins; indeed, He took them upon Himself, as the Scriptures declare.
But there is a deeper truth, too, and it is this: He also took the sinner there himself, for the Word says, “For the love of Christ constraineth us, for we thus judge, that one died for all; therefore all died, and He died for all that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again.’ II Cor. 14:15
There is the change. It has already occurred on Calvary almost two thousand years ago. God believes it. He declares it. While it is true for us all positionally, it will be also true for us in a practical way if we will believe it as God does. Therefore His command to us is “Reckon yourselves therefore dead to sin but alive unto God.” Romans 6 over and over again repeats that blessed truth that we died with Christ. We are crucified with Him. We died with Him. We are buried with Him. Now, because this is so, believe it. Reckon on it, and that blessed change will take place, and we will be transformed, translated, purged, cleansed. Sin’s reign will have ended. Holiness will have begun. As we were grateful to God for justification, so much more now, having faith in our identification with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection, will we rejoice in the Double Cure, and our hearts and our voice will again be raised to God in deep gratitude for His “so wonderful salvation” that saves us to the uttermost.
It is not that something must be extracted from us, but rather that the wrong relationship to the devil and the world and self must end, an a right relationship to God and His kingdom must begin. It is this transforming work of the Holy Spirit that we can experience if we will but submit to the cross, being willing to die to ourselves and to all our right as Jesus says we must if we expect to be disciples of His; for His Word says we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Our death to self must be as real an experience as His death was on Calvary. We cannot make ourselves perfect in love. We cannot make ourselves holy in life. God alone can do that, but even He cannot do this unless w make an entire, irrevocable surrender to Him in full consecration, so that He may carry out His own blessed work in us, unhindered by our will which can stand in the way unless it is fully and forever yielded to Him who gave it.
Don’t you see, friends, that it is all of grace? We can but yield to Him, and in faith receive what He offers. Don’t be satisfied with anything less than His perfect work! Remember, “We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God afore ordained that we should walk in them.”
But if we do yield fully to Christ and believe Him for His uttermost salvation, embracing the Cross in its fullest and deepest meaning, allowing the Holy Spirit to crucify us so that we can reckon ourselves dead with Christ and raised with Him too, does this mean that we will not be tempted again? that we cannot sin any more? that the battle is over and that we just wait for Heaven? No -not at all! Rather, it means that temptation will become more acute, -the battle really begins; there is work to be done and a fight to be fought, for the devil will contest our every step.
No, friends, we must now begin to live a life consistent with our experience. It is not enough to know the facts of the Cross, nor is it enough to have faith in the Cross and the deeper meaning of the Cross, but we must also manifest the spirit of the Cross, the lamb-like spirit of Christ. A life consistent with the experience we profess is a life of brokenness where the old spirit of retaliation is gone forever, and we manifest the spirit of the Cross in true brokenness, being always aware of what our sins cost Christ, always aware of the possibility of a mistake, the possibility of again being ensnared by the devil and falling, deeper now than ever before. Thus it is a life lived in utter humility, in absolute dependence on Christ and on His blessed Holy Spirit, with one desire only, -that of pleasing Christ in every thought, word, and act.
It is a life lived in perfect openness, willing to call sin, sin; willing to admit our mistakes; no longer concealing our true thoughts, but being willing to walk in the light; being willing to be judged by the light; being willing to be exposed, tried and tested on every point; and if the light reveals something that is not consistent with this new life, being ready to confess it immediately, judge it at the cross and put it under the blood, claiming forgiveness and deliverance. Having been made clean, we must be kept clean, and if anything whatsoever inconsistent with the holiness of Christ is revealed it must at once be confessed, put away, cleansed again in the precious blood of Jesus Christ that makes spotless as the new fallen snow or the white wool of the mountain lamb.
There are some who erroneously think that professing the experience of Christ’s uttermost salvation causes men to be careless, with the tendency to excuse sin. Nothing can be farther from the truth than that. This experience makes man’s conscience more tender and sensitive than ever before, and the tiniest smirch or spot that would have been overlooked before now feels as a weight, heavy as lead, and cannot be tolerated, but causes one to flee afresh to Christ for cleansing, adjustment, instruction, or whatever may be needed. The precious blood of Jesus Christ not only cleanses once but continues its work of cleansing, and thus keeps clean all who trust in Him.
CUP RUNNING OVER
This leads to the final stage of fullness where receiving the Holy Spirit, first as a Person and then as an abiding Presence, being empty of sin and self-ness, worldliness, -clean through the blood of Christ, – we are not only filled, but we are caused to overflow, and we can truly say, “My cup runneth over.” God expects us to be “cups running over” all the time. This is what God promises. This is what He has provided. This is the uttermost salvation. It is all of grace. It is all of God. It is simply living out the life of Jesus by the power of the indwelling Spirit. What a wonderful salvation is this!
This article was originally published in Message of the Cross, 1952. Pastor Ted Hegre was the founder-leader of Bethany International.