American Christianity is facing a huge crisis.
From Jimmy Swaggart and his sexual indiscretions, to Ted Haggart’s involvement with a male prostitute in Denver, to thousands of Christians viewing pornography, the church in America is in deep trouble, and I am afraid we Seventh-day Adventists aren’t far behind them.
Why is this happening?
A major cause of what is happening is depicted in a “Christian” song by Francesca Battistelli from 2008, the chorus of which goes;
Cause I got a couple dents in my fenders
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
Is perfection our enemy? Too many Christians have bought into this idea; “…perfection is my enemy" I’m afraid that some Seventh-day Adventists also think that “…perfection is my enemy”
And thus we find some of the same spiritual pathologies present in God’s church as we find in Spiritual Babylon, and for the same reason.
Where does this idea come from?
Didn’t Jesus tell us "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
Does Jesus say that “perfection is my enemy”? No, rather it is a goal to keep in view, a dream to be desired. What we see today is fulfillment of Bible prophecy:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
How often we read these verses and think it is referring to world outside of the church, until we read verse 5. "Having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Oh, these are Christians, or at least they say they are Christians anyway. They have this “form of godliness”, they read the Bible, attend church regularly, donate money to the cause, but they are also doing those things in verses 2-4. And why?
Because they are “denying its power”, the power of godliness, that is. So verses 2-4 describes the kind of “Christians” you get when they deny the power of God in their lives. They even act like Jimmy Swaggart sometimes, as described in verse 6;
"For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts" (2 Timothy 3:6).
"having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5). What power are they denying?
"By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life" (2 Peter 1:3a, New Living Translation).
According to Romans 1:16, there is power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is because Jesus came to save people from sin and its power
"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)
But is this being taught in the churches of today, even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
No, a false gospel has replaced the Gospel of power, one that says you can never be perfect until you are safely in heaven, so don’t even try. In essence saying that it is not possible to not sin in this life.
Is it any wonder then that there are Christian men who think it is acceptable to live with a woman that they are not married to? Is it any wonder that Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Bakker thought is was acceptable to cheat on their wives, or cheat people out of money?
If they really believe this gospel that says that it is acceptable to be imperfect until Jesus comes, it doesn’t matter what I do while I am under grace. In fact, “perfection is the enemy”!
Unfortunately, we have Seventh-day Adventists teaching and believing this false gospel, and not surprisingly, we are experiencing some of the spiritual pathologies that evangelical Christianity is experiencing.
What does the bible say about perfection?
Paul’s goal for his ministry was for believers to be perfect:
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28).
And perfection was the goal of the apostle James as well:
But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4).
Now nowhere in the Bible are people perfect at conversion, but it is still the goal to keep in view, the dream to be cherished. In the view of the New Testament apostles, perfection is not the enemy, it is the goal of faith!
Does perfection have to mean that we never sin after conversion?
Noah is said to be perfect;
This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9).
Did Noah ever make mistakes? Shortly after the flood we find him dancing around naked in his tent. And this is the man who is perfect in God’s sight? This decree of perfection probably has something to do with verse 8:
"But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8).
It would seem that being perfect has something to do with finding grace according to Genesis 6.
How does grace relate to perfection?
Part of the definition of grace is
1 a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification b : a virtue coming from God c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace –Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “grace”
True, biblical grace will always lead us to perfection, in fact grace alone makes perfection possible. And if we are on our way, living in the power of grace each day as we seek that grace, then God will account us as perfect knowing that the power of divine grace will get us there.
Paul defines perfection this way
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me (Philippians 3:12, New Living Translation).
Notice while admitting he is not there yet, he presses on to possess this perfection that Jesus desires him to possess. Then he goes on to explain what this pressing on looks like:
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:13-14, New Living Translation).
And what is Jesus calling us to? We read it a little while ago:
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Now notice what he says next:
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded (Philippians 3:15a,King James Version)
So we can be accounted perfect if we hold to this mindset:
1. Forget mistakes of past
2. Look to the prize of perfection Jesus is calling us to and press on in the power of grace through faith
God knows if we maintain this mindset, He can empower us to reach this goal of perfection through the power of His grace!
This is probably how Noah could be seen as perfect in God’s eyes, for he clearly wasn’t. This is in essence what it means to have the faith of Abraham. Paul says:
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
What exactly did Abraham believe with regard to God? This is a quote from Genesis 15:6, a point at which Abraham chose to believe what God had just told him:
…but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir (Genesis 15:4b).
What God was promising him was physically impossible at his and Sarah’s age. He was accounted righteous for believing that God would do what is impossible for him to do on his own.
Do you know how impossible it is for any of us to be perfect? Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?
Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil (Jeremiah 13:23)
But God has promised to do the impossible for us in this situation as well, as in:
being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
That good work is the sanctification process begun at conversion, and God has committed Himself to complete it so long as we maintain the faith of Abraham, a faith that dares to believe the impossible, simply because God has promised that He will do it.
The question we must ask ourselves is do we believe like Abraham? Do we believe His grace is sufficient to prefect us by the time Jesus returns? If your mindset is “…perfection is my enemy”, then this is not salvation faith, the faith of Abraham. It is at best a limited faith that fails to comprehend the power of God and His grace, and thus doesn’t believe like Abraham.
This is a question we all need to be asking ourselves who are living in the end times, for soon we will all stand before God for a brief period of time without an intercessor:
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake (Revelation 8:4-5).
That censer is a symbol of mediation for us, and its being cast down means it ceases to be used for intercession. The “noises, thunderings, lightnings and earthquake” are all things that happen during the 7th plague, just prior to Jesus return.
This time is depicted for us by Ellen White:
As Jesus moved out of the most holy place, I heard the tinkling of the bells upon His garment; and as He left, a cloud of darkness covered the inhabitants of the earth. There was then no mediator between guilty man and an offended God.
In that fearful time, after the close of Jesus' mediation, the saints were living in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor (Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p.280).
Only those who possess the faith of Abraham, who have the mindset depicted in Philippians 3, who by grace through faith in the promises of God have found victory over all sin will be adequately prepared for this fearful time yet future.
As Jesus promised the blind man “According to your faith let it be to you” (Matthew 9:29).
This is true for all of us today as well. If you choose to believe the promise, then like Abraham, you will receive what is promised. It’s just that simple.
But if you chose “deny the power” and not believe the promise, thinking that “…perfection is my enemy”, then the promise is not for you. You are on your own without the promised grace, and when you stand before God without an intercessor, you will be found wanting, having not believed the promise.
Do you believe Him today?
Will you refuse to say “…Perfection is my enemy”?
Will you put your faith in His power to make you perfect?
Will you make the perfection of His Holy Law the goal of your faith?
Dale is an Iowa farm boy who has become a dedicated Christian who seeks to reconcile men to God. Dale serves as men's college dean at Ouachita Hills College.