Imperfect Christians

by | Jan 1, 2010

(Pointedly the founder of Methodism explains that even entirely sanctified believers are subject to mistake and error. Thus, as he would state later, they continually need the cleansing blood of Christ’s atonement.)

No one is so perfect in this life as to be free from ignorance or mistakes, since now we know only “in part” and are continually liable to make mistakes about what we do not know. It is true that the children of God do not mistake as to things necessary to salvation.

For they are “taught of God,” and the way which He teaches them, the way of holiness, is so plain that “the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.” But in things nonessential to salvation they do err and that frequently.

The best and wisest persons are frequently mistaken, even with regard to facts, believing those things not to have been which really were, or those to have been done which were not. Or if they are not mistaken as to the fact itself, they may be to its circumstances, believing them to have been quite different from what they were.

They may believe that either past or present actions which were evil to be good or those which were or are good to be evil. They also may not judge accurately with regard to the character of others. Not only may they suppose good men to be better, or wicked men to be worse, than they really are. But they may also mistakenly believe those to be good who are in fact very wicked or to believe to be wicked those who are holy and unreprovable.

It is also true that as careful as they are to avoid it, the best of Christians are liable to mistake the meaning of the Holy Scriptures, especially with respect to those parts which less immediately relate to practice. For even the children of God are not agreed as to the interpretation of many places in Holy Writ. Nor is their difference of opinion any proof that they are not the children of God but is rather proof that we can no more expect any living person to be infallible than to be omniscient!

Christians, therefore, are never so perfect as to be free either from ignorance, error, and infirmities. Only let us take care to understand this word “infirmities” correctly and not apply it to known sins. Sometimes someone will say, “Every man has his infirmities, and mine is drunkenness.”

Another has the infirmity of moral uncleanness and another that of taking God’s holy name in vain. All those who thus excuse themselves will go quickly into hell along with their “infirmities” unless they repent of them.

But what I mean by the “infirmities” that even true Christians have are those inward or outward imperfections which are not of a moral nature. These include weakness or slowness of understanding, dullness or confusion in apprehension, incoherency of thought, or heaviness of imagination.

They may suffer from the lack of a ready or retentive memory or from slowness of speech, impropriety of language, or awkwardness of pronunciation. To these one may add a thousand other defects either in conversation or behavior. From these none can hope to be perfectly freed till the spirit returns to the God who gave it.

Christian perfection, then, does not imply exemption from ignorance, mistakes, infirmities, or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness.

But remember that there is no absolute perfection on earth, even among the finest Christians; and there is no perfection that does not admit of a continual increase. This means that however far we have attained, we still need to “grow in grace” and daily advance in the knowledge of Christ our Saviour.

From the sermon “Christian Perfection,” condensed and updated by Larry D. Smith.