I recently received the following question from our AskMark page:
As human beings we are born into sin nature and will sin within our lifetime. Once being born again we are then free from sin and have triumph over sin and death. Paul in Romans chapter 6:11-14 goes on to even talk about how sin should no longer be our master... the ultimate question I have is this... is a sinless life once being born again and not of our own strength what we should ultimately strive for? Since Jesus lived a perfect sinless life and we are instructed to try and become more like His image?
Thank you asking this as it is a common question among passionate believers. It’s also the area that brings the most condemnation because it deals with one of the many subjects that are best defined by the phrase “Already, but not yet.” For example, many verses say- we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. We have been made blameless in Christ and we will be made blameless at His coming. We have been made perfect and we are being perfected, etc. God can speak this way because He sees us already done AND He sees us in the process of this life. (See Hebrews 4:13-16)
First, we must get our definitions right so that we mean what they meant...
Sin is anything that comes short of Christ’s perfection.
Perfection is measured by Him, His glory and image. His image is the “mark,” or “bullseye” that we so often miss. His image is what He is “making” us into.
Because we cannot even come close to fully understanding His perfection yet, we sin and often don’t even know it. Do we ALWAYS love perfectly as He does? Do we ALWAYS think perfectly as He thinks? Do we ALWAYS believe as He believes? Yet, He died ONCE to forgive it all!
So, yes, we will sin in this life and that’s completely normal. Our final end is to be “like Him.” But this can’t happen until we see Him face to face.
Perfection was not their obsession because they knew it could never fully happen until we see Him face to face. Their obsession was to grow in knowing Him and experience the greatness of His love.
Phil 3:10-11- “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” NIV
Eph 3:16-19- “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” NIV
Drawing life from the “Vine,” growing in trust of Him, resting in His promises, and growing in our cooperation with the Spirit within us; these things were their passion.
Perfection, being fully made into His image, is what He will do in us when we finally see Him face to face.
1 John 3:2-3- “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” NIV
They understood this cannot happen completely until we see Him so they did not give in to condemnation when they “missed the mark.”
Phil 3:8-16- “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul knew he was “becoming,” but not completed yet, and that was normal.
Paul willingly admitted the truth and had no expectation of “sinless perfection” in this life.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (The prize only comes when the journey is over.)
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” NIV
Vs. 12 reminds us that we are “being made perfect” by the Spirit living in us and not by human effort.
All the apostolic leaders understood that their trust must be in what Christ did for us on the cross. He made us perfectly acceptable to the Father. Not by our perfection in this life. They had no problem with admitting the present truth about themselves. In fact, it is admitting the truth about ourselves, AND putting our faith in true, transforming grace, that enables grace to work.
James 3:1- “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” NIV
Romans 6 lays out the eternal, spiritual truth. We are free from sin and death. Yet, our bodies still die. Clearly Paul was talking about the eternal issue.
Romans 7 lays out the struggle. “I don’t understand myself.”
Romans 8 lays out the answer for us now, in this life.
Rom 8:1-4- “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” NIV
Paul freely admitted he was not yet “perfect,” so he would have many reasons to rightfully feel condemnation. Except, he knew what Christ had already accomplished for him and for us who believe. He knew he had been made right with God, forgiven of ALL sins, made blameless and perfect in Christ. He also understood this was “already, but not yet.”
Will we feel more passion to grow sometimes, and less passion at other times? Yes, but that’s part of the normal Christian journey.
This was Paul’s hope and must be ours.
Phil 1:4-6- “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” NIV
Their journey was not yet finished, and neither is ours.
Keep asking good questions!!
Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.