Webster defines perfection as being "blameless" and "flawless" with characters "fully formed," "completely developed," "satisfying the highest expectation," and having reached "full maturity." It is stated that perfectionism from a theological viewpoint is "the doctrine that a state of freedom from sin is attainable, or has been attained, in the earthly life."
We, of course, know that the goal of the plan of redemption is to bring man back to the perfection of Adam before he sinned, and to fully restore in man the character of unfallen beings. This is the goal of the gospel—to restore all that was lost through sin. We are assured that when the gospel has fully completed its mission everything will be restored as fully "as if man had never fallen."
There are scores of texts of Scripture indicating that perfection is the character goal of the gospel, of which the following are samples: "Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments" (1 Kings 8:61). "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4: 11-15).
Only Mentally Immature Deceived by Offshoots
It is here made clear that only those who are childish or spiritually and mentally immature can be deceived by apostate and offshoot movements and leaders, and that only mature Christians are safe and will be candidates for the kingdom of God.
In understanding this subject we must recognize that in this life there are different spheres of perfection. Otherwise the puzzling statement "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) would be impossible of explanation. We know that created beings and especially human beings cannot in any sense be as fully perfect as are the members of the Godhead. How grateful we should be for the divinely inspired commentary of the Bible, the Spirit of prophecy, which gives a wonderful explanation with the statement: "We may be perfect in our sphere, even as God is perfect in His."—Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 77; see Gospel Workers, p. 366; and Selected Messages, book 1, p. 337.
Jesus used the expressions "be perfect" and "be ready." The only means by which we can be perfect and be ready at all times is through an experience in both phases of righteousness by faith. Note the following: "The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven."—Messages to Young People, p. 35. We are told that justification or imputed righteousness is "the work of a moment" deals only with sin, and therefore with the past (for there are no sins until they are committed), and gives us only "our title to heaven." Through this experience we become candidates for heaven and our names are written in the book of life. On the other hand, imparted righteousness, sanctification, conversion, or spiritual growth is the present and continuous work that "gives us our fitness for heaven" and is "the work of a lifetime."
Grow or Die!
Spiritual growth begins with justification or the new birth and then, as in the physical realm, continues through life. This is beautifully illustrated in nature and is made clear in the following quotation:
The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a beautiful figure of Christian growth. As in nature, so in grace; there can be no life without growth. The plant must either grow or die. As its growth is silent and imperceptible, but continuous, so is the development of the Christian life. At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God's purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be continual advancement. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime.—Christ's Object Lessons. p. 65.
Therefore continual spiritual growth is an important phase of perfection, as illustrated in the realm of nature. The redwood tree General Sherman is said to he the largest living thing on earth. It is 37 feet in diameter and is believed to be at least 2,500 years old. It was therefore a large tree when Christ was on earth. Since its growth has been "the work of a lifetime," it has been perfect during the two and a half millenniums of its existence.
The following are only a few of the many statements that could be quoted to prove that sanctification or spiritual growth is the slow and steady work of a lifetime:
"There is no such thing as instantaneous sanctification. True sanctification is a daily work, continuing as long as life shall last." —The Sanctified Life, p. 10. "Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime. It is not gained by a happy flight of feeling, but is the result of constantly dying to sin, and constantly living for Christ."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 560. "We are not yet perfect; but it is our privilege to cut away from the entanglements of self and sin, and advance to perfection."—Ibid., p. 565.
"Character building is the work, not of a day, nor of a year, but of a lifetime. The struggle for conquest over self, for holiness and heaven, is a lifelong struggle."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 452. "Do your best, and heavenly angels will help you to carry the work on to perfection."—ELLEN G. WHITE in Review and Herald, June 1, 1905. "None are living Christians unless they have a daily experience in the things of God and daily practise self-denial, cheerfully bearing the cross and following Christ. Every living Christian will advance daily in the divine life."—Testimonies, vol. 2, P. 505.
Continual Reaching After God
"Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience. None of the apostles and prophets ever claimed to be without sin. Men who have lived the nearest to God, men who would sacrifice life itself rather than knowingly commit a wrong act, men whom God has honored with divine light and power, have confessed the sinfulness of their nature. They have put no confidence in the flesh, have claimed no righteousness of their own, but have trusted wholly in
the righteousness of Christ. . . There will be a continual reaching out of the soul after God, a continual, earnest, heartbreaking confession of sin and humbling of the heart before Him. At every advance step in our Christian experience, our repentance will deepen."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 561.
What will be the attitude of those who are daily advancing toward perfection? "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life" (job 9:20, 21).
This statement is in full accord with the following quotations: "True holiness and humility are inseparable. The nearer the soul comes to God, the more completely is it humbled and subdued. . . . The more closely and continuously we behold our Saviour, the less shall we see to approve in ourselves."—That I May Know Him, p. 175. "So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. . . . Let not God be dishonored by the declaration from human lips, 'I am sinless; I am holy.' Sanctified lips will never give utterance to such presumptuous words. . . . Let those who feel inclined to make a high profession of holiness look into the mirror of God's law. As they see its far-reaching claims, and understand its work as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, they will not boast of sinlessness."— The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 560-562.
As the result of a vision of Christ, the prophet Daniel said, "And there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength" (Dan. 10:8). Commenting on this experience, the servant of the Lord wrote:
All who are truly sanctified will have a similar experience. The clearer their views of the greatness, glory, and perfection of Christ, the more vividly will they see their own weakness and imperfection. They will have no disposition to claim a sinless character; that which has appeared right and comely in themselves will, in contrast with Christ's purity and glory, appear only as unworthy and corruptible. It is when men are separated from God, when they have very indistinct views of Christ, that they say, "I am sinless; I am sanctified."—The Sanctified Life, p. 50.
Not Able of Ourselves
The following statements constitute "good news" and "glad tidings of great joy" to all who are experiencing normal spiritual growth toward perfection: "The will must be placed on the side of God's will. You are not able, of yourself, to bring your purposes and desires and inclinations into submission to the will of God; but if you are 'willing to be made willing,' God will accomplish the work for you."—Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 142. "When it is in the heart to obey God, when efforts are put forth to this end, Jesus accepts this disposition and effort as man's best service, and He makes up for the deficiency with his own divine merit."—My Life Today, p. 250. "Christ looks at the spirit, and when He sees us carrying our burden with faith, His perfect holiness atones for our shortcomings. When we do our best, He becomes our righteousness." —Selected Messages, book 1, p. 368. "The Father beholds not your faulty character, but He sees you as clothed in My perfection."—The Desire of Ages, p. 357.
Made Perfect When Jesus Comes
The following text and quotations prove conclusively when only we can claim full perfection: "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil. 3:20, 21). This is fulfilled only when Christ returns and the resurrection and translation of the righteous takes place.
"We cannot say, 'I am sinless' till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body. But if we constantly seek to follow Jesus, the blessed hope is ours of standing before the throne of God without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, complete in Christ, robed in His righteousness and perfection."—That I May Know Him, p. 361.
In Selected Messages, book 2, pages 31 to 39, there is a chapter entitled "The 'Holy Flesh' Doctrine" in which are the following statements: "If those who speak so freely of perfection in the flesh could see things in the true light, they would recoil with horror from their presumptious ideas. . . . Let this phase of doctrine be carried a little further, and it will lead to the claim that its advocates cannot sin; that since they have holy flesh, their actions are all holy. . . . It is at His coming that Christ is to 'change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body' (Phil. 3:211."
"To those who have tried so hard to obtain by faith so-called holy flesh, I would say, You cannot obtain it. Not a soul of you has holy flesh now. No human being on the earth has holy flesh. It is an impossibility. . . . When human beings receive holy flesh, they will not remain on the earth, but will be taken to heaven. While sin is forgiven in this life, its results are not now wholly removed."
We are told also that "holy flesh" teachings will appear among us again before the end. This is taking place today and is one of the signs that the return of Christ is near. We should remember that only when Jesus comes can we be made perfect