If God has saved us, why do we continue in our sin? If he can save us instantly, why does he not also perfect us instantly? If sinless perfection then comes later, can we expect it before we die?
There are those denominations which do believe in perfectionism, meaning a person can be sinless before death. While those of the Baptist persuasion generally disagree with this doctrine, most who do hold to the doctrine of sinless perfection still hold it up to be the grace of God. There are others, such as Todd White, who are complete and total clowns and believe that they have achieved sinless perfection themselves. The two should not be equated.
The question still remains, however, of what to do with the sin that remains. How does the lifelong process of sanctification deal with sin? On the issue of sanctification, the Confession continues,
“This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”
We must insist that we will one day be made perfect. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul makes two requests in this verse, that God would do the work of sanctification, and that God would keep you blameless at Christ’s return. Paul makes both of those requests of God, not of the Thessalonians. This tells us that sanctification continues throughout this life, and it culminates in the second coming of the Lord. To this humble reader, Paul’s statement seems to exclude sinless perfection in this life. If I need to kept blameless until the second coming, then that implies I will be perfected at the second coming.
The meaning of Romans 7 is often debated, because the question arises about to whom Paul is speaking. I’m of the mind that Paul is speaking as himself. Beginning in chapter 7, Paul is clearly addressing Jewish Christians. So at the very least, the inner monologue of the end of Romans 7 is from the perspective of a faithful Jew, one who delighted in the law of God as opposed to a Gentile who did not, who has now been brought to faith in Christ.
As Paul speaks about his struggle to see Christ as the culmination of the law, he writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (v.18). When faced with the obligations of the law, he is unable to meet those expectations. But in this internal dialogue with himself, as a Jewish Christian, Paul can say that nothing good dwells in him. Anything good is from Christ, not the law. Even with a new desire, or a new heart, he still lacks the ability to be completely sinless.
Elsewhere Paul writes about how his flesh and the Spirit of God fight each other. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). There is great opposition between the desires of the old man and the desires of a renewed heart. This opposition is the constant struggle of the believer. When sin gets the upper hand, the believer mourns his offense to God. He seeks forgiveness through repentance, trusting that God has forgiven him and subsequently sets his heart upon not repeating that same offense.
The Confession continues,
“In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word hath prescribed them.”
Even though perfection and sinlessness is a foregone conclusion while on the grassy side of the grave, that is not the end-state. Paul writes, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). The believer’s hope is that upon the second coming, the Lord will grant that perfection we desire in the present moment, though even our desire is imperfect.
That perfection will include a complete removal of the desire for sin and being given a body without the effect of the curse. When Moses descended Mt. Sinai from being with God, he had to veil his face to keep from blinding the people with the glow of God’s presence lingering on him. But God’s people look upon Christ as the “Head and King” for our sanctification. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The whole life of the believer is one of glory, even if we are not as glorious today as we will be then. We let the heavenly glow shine on us.
And instead of being deflated by our current sins, we press on toward the promise of God. There is no room for self-mutilation, just sin-mortification. "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). It is the promise of perfection that causes the believer to persevere. Will we sin less as we mature? Most certainly! But we still carry the old man around on our backs until he is completely removed by the power of word of God.