Has God Ever Expected a Perfect, Sinless Life?

Searching the internet for topics on grace, I found this Our Daily Bread devotion on ‘False Hope’. In it was a statement I have heard many times in my life, and at one time would have believed/said myself.

Many people today have false hope that they can earn a place in heaven by working at being good or by doing good things. God’s standard of perfection, however, requires a totally sinless life. There’s no way any of us can ever be “good enough.” (Italics mine for emphasis.)

First, I quite agree we can never be ‘good enough’. I don’t want to take away from God’s work. But, for whatever reason, this middle statement brought me up short and grated on me. Has God ever really made it a standard that we would have to lead a perfectly sinless life in order to be saved? This almost sounds as if God was in the Garden of Eden, just after Adam and Eve had eaten the apple and he thinks, ‘Well, now they need to be perfect if they are going get back here with me. Wait, I have an idea! I will send my son to die so that they don’t have to do that. Tough break for everyone until that happens.’

OK, slightly oversimplified. I don’t want to deny the work of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, but is that really all that’s keeping us from having to trudge it on our own? What does that reduce Christ’s work to? Has God actually made it as simple as ‘believe in Jesus or never sin’? (Actually, Paul claimed to be blameless under the law, but that rarely gets talked about at any length.) Did God actually expect us to hold to that standard?

Any thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “Has God Ever Expected a Perfect, Sinless Life?

  1. Interesting post.

    What would be your take, Will, on Christ’s teaching (in Matthew 5?) that our righteousness must exceed the scribes and Pharisees or we will not see the Kingdom of Heaven? (Asking honestly here.)

    I also am wondering how Jesus’ words (Matthew 5 again, I think), “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” comes into play here.

    Also, also, I’m wondering how the biblical emphasis on the sinlessness of Christ as a perfect sacrificial lamb comes into play.

    Thinking aloud…

    W

  2. A Wesleyan answer to your question is that we are to believe in Christ and go on to perfection. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, growing more and more into the image of Christ stamped on our hearts.

    I don’t think Christ as the short-cut past holiness is a helpful way to cast it.

    And God of the Old and New Testaments has always had ways to atone for sins, so he must have anticipated a lot of people needing access to grace through them.

  3. Wyman: Thanks for pointing out what I didn’t make clear in my post. I thought of it after I wrote it. I think what I am trying to separate out is God’s view of what, for lack of a better way of saying it, we have have to do for salvation. Those passages are, as John says in his comment below, still a call on our lives as we live in Christ. I have yet to hear a good evangelical reflection on the passages you mention. It is either neglected or sounds overly legalistic (and often too focused on some vague holiness that talks about what it doesn’t mean). Maybe this is a challenge for you to preach on them so I can hear you! Regardless, my take on those passages would be that they are still our calling to live out, especially more so now that we have the Spirit who enables us.

    John: As I said, I didn’t distinguish very well, so as a Wesleyan, I would agree with you! I don’t mean it as providing a short-cut to holiness, but more a short-cut to salvation (well, almost!). So, my reflection gears more toward you last statement. I don’t think God really ever thought that we could do it ourselves (whatever that means). So, I think it’s almost a false dichotomy to say either believe in Christ or be perfect on your own.

    Thank you both for your comments!

  4. Those are indeed challenging verses!

    Will, you’ll be glad to know that I threw down some John Wesley in our last Wednesday’s prayer meeting and Bible study. And, yes, it was in a positive way!

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