Most readers of Themelios will be aware that the word “perfectionism” is commonly attached in theological circles to one subset of the Wesleyan tradition. As far as I can tell, the numbers who defend such perfectionism today are rather depleted.
So begins an editorial by D.A. Carson on Perfectionism. The perfectionism that he is referencing in these, his opening sentences, is also called “entire sanctification” whereby a person who is saved by God can attain true, sinless perfection in their lives by their own will and God’s enabling grace. This is simply false – there is no perfection this side of the veil of death. We get glimpses of true perfection in the work of Christ revealed to us in scripture. Similarly, we see the shadows of it in our own lives while the Holy Spirit does His work in us by progressively striping off the layers of our sinful passions and idols like a huge rotting onion to enable us to do the work that God has placed before us. Perfection in this life? No way. Perfection in the glory with Christ? Guaranteed!
But how do we deal with the knowledge of our sins that our conversion produced within us and the acknowledgement that we’ll never be wholly sanctified until we reach Heaven? As I’ve often told others, each willful sin that we commit is another layer of flesh torn from our beloved Savior or another stripe added to His sensitive and hanging flesh as the Roman Soldier releases all of his energy on the bone and glass embedded leather straps of the flagellum. Each sin that we knowingly run toward, despite our conscience screaming at us to turn away wrath or lustful desires, is another agonizing breath that Jesus must struggle toward, bearing His weight on bare bone and torn flesh to lift Himself – opening recently closed wounds and exposing them to the air again, before finally breathing His last. How can we, as Christians, not seek perfectionism in our daily lives, and how can we not be flattened in horrid understanding as we realize that our fleeting moment of pleasures in our sins have now brought Jesus more agony and torture in our stead? It’s with this understanding that Carson’s quote ties me directly to his editorial:
Precisely because their consciences are sensitive, they are often ashamed by their own failures—the secret resentment that slips in, the unguarded word, the wandering eye, the pride of life, the self-focus that really does preclude loving one’s neighbor as oneself. To other believers who watch them, they are among the most intense, disciplined, and holy believers we know; to themselves, they are virulent failures, inconsistent followers, mere Peters who regularly betray their Master and weep bitterly.
D.A. Carson then, as usual, unpacks the thought process beautifully that leads to this understanding, then provides information that, while not entirely comforting to those who understand this mentality so dearly, at least reminds us that it was for this that the cross bore God on that Friday afternoon. The article, while not bringing total comfort, reminds me that God’s grace has already covered my sins and that, while horrid and disgusting to myself and God, it is in light of these things that God chose to save me. That He stepped into time and placed Himself in the breach to take the full punishment for my sins so that God would be glorified in His righteous judgment and so that all eyes would turn to Him and acknowledge His kindness and mercy.
May I seek perfection in this light, and may God continue to lift me out of my despair over my personal sins so that I may glorify Him while I still draw breath.