The False Doctrine of Perfectionism

1 John 1:8-10


Introductory Thoughts


·        The problem of balance in this doctrinal area

·        Extreme Views

Ø     First Extreme View: No holiness, or, “Holiness, what is that?”  Many in the churches believe that a consistent Christian lifestyle is optional.  They believe in conduct-neutral Christianity.

Ø     Second extreme view—Perfection (much rarer today)

·        The True Doctrine—God is Light è 1 John 1:5

·        The First False Doctrine we looked at—Antinomianism è1:6-7.  Antinomianism is against all law, is against any ethical requirement for the Christian.  It teaches that the evidence of a person’s life is irrelevant.

·        The True Alternative Doctrine—1:7

·        Now we deal with the false doctrine of perfectionism.


1. First Form of Perfectionism—claiming to have no tendency to sin è John 1:8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.


a.      The Language


(1)  In the Greek, this is what is called a Subjunctive sentence, a third class condition—it is an “if, then” statement.


(2)  “If we up and say…”, this is the Greek aorist tense—if we have up and said at any time...


(3)  “that we do not have sin” (present tense). 


(4)  What he is saying is: “If we up and say that we live continually in such a way that we have no principle of sin in us....”


(5)  Then...We are leading ourselves astray, and The Truth is not in us


b.     Extreme views in this area historically


(1)   Gnostics—the first cult


(a)Some denied that believers had any principle if sin, therefore, no matter what they did, it could not be considered sin—they actually used this kind of perfectionism as an excuse to sin!

(b) Others taught that a spiritual believer had no sin in their life, so they could live to perfection




(2)   Other perfectionists since then have taught that by an act of sanctifying grace, the tendency to sin can be taken away from us in this life.


(3)   In contrast to the perfectionist view is the The Carnal Christian Theory, which says that one can live totally in sin, fully surrendered to it, and still be considered a Christian


(4)   All of these views are heresy—they are out of balance.


c.     The balanced Biblical view is:  when we become Christians......


(1)   We receive a new nature—2 Cor 5:17

(2)   The born again Christian will not practice sin as a style of life.


1 John 2:29  "If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him."

1 John 3:9  "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God."


(3)   The old man can be reckoned as dead, Sin no longer has the power to dominate us—Rom 6:1-15.  Therefore, we should be growing in grace—2 Pet 3:18, progressing in holiness.


(4)   This progression in holiness is not optional, it is the normal Christian life.  To say that a progression in holiness is OPTIONAL is to state a heresy.


(5)   Having said that, because we are still in flesh, we still must struggle against sin, even as we grow in Grace and holiness.


(a)By flesh, we don’t mean the body only, but the mind and soul, our total humanness.

(b)  Systematic theologians like to draw very distinct lines on this question, but the Bible does not tell us where our humanity begins and ends and where the new man is.

(c)   Our mind and body together remember the pleasures and ways of sin, and this must be put to death daily.

(d)  As long as we live with our humanness (which is as long as we are alive) we are in danger of sinning, and must constantly be on our guard to fight against it, and fight against it we must and will


d.     But to say that we have no sin, that we are beyond sin, is a heresy


è If a person believes in this kind of perfectionism, this is self deception èThis amounts to NO TRUTH


* (skip verse 9 monentarily, we will come back to it)




2.     The Second form of perfectionism—claiming to be sinless in practice è 1 John 1:10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.


a.      Language


(1)   “If”—again, a third class condition sentence

(2)   We say—aorist—if we at any time have said

(3)   We have not sinned—perfect tense—have not sinned throughout the past.

(4)   “...we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us....”  This is all in the present tense—if we say that we have not been sinners in practice, we are continually making Him a liar and His word is continually not in us.


b.     Perfectionists say that a second work of Grace can “fully sanctify” a person so that they are totally above sin, and they will claim that they live above sin.  This is a false doctrine.


(1)   Sinless perfection is our goal—but we will never reach that level of holiness in this life

(2)    To claim perfection in our lives makes God a liar!  Rom 3:9-12, 23,  Eph 2:1-3


3.     The Remedy for both heresies in chapter 1—the balanced Christian life—1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


a.      Language—


(1)   Again, a subjunctive sentence, conditional


(2)   “...If we confess...” is present tense—if we go on confessing...


(a) The word for confess, ¿ìïëïã§ìåí , means to agree totally with, and to identify with.

(b)  When we truly confess, we are saying something about us, and we are saying something about Him.

(c)Rom 10:9-10—when we confess Christ, we confess His Lordship

(d)  When we confess that He is our Savior, we are confessing that we need a Savior, that we are sinners.

(e) And this is in the present tense!  Our confession is perpetual and constant—we always say to our Father, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”


(3)   So, the remedy for the first type of perfectionism-- perpetual repentance.  If we are continually confessing to Him, we will not get the idea that we are perfect!






b.     “...He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins...”


(1)   Language—“” è present tense—continual.  Jesus is always faithful and always just.

(2)   If we confess Him and His Lordship in our lives èHe is faithful and just to forgive us...What does that mean?


(a) He is faithful


(b)  He is just—because the price of redemption has been paid, and because of the propitiation through faith in His blood, God is just and righteous to forgive us—See Romans 3:25-31


(c)To forgive—aorist—we confess continually, the the forgiveness of sins is something that takes place once.  When He is our Father, the forgiveness of sins has happened, and God will no longer impute sin to our account—Rom 4:6-8.  The sins that a believer commits are sins, but the legal status of the believer is that sins are now a family matter between Father and Son—you can lose fellowship, but never relationship.


(d)  “...And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness...”—“...cleanse...” is aorist, so this is again talking about the great transaction that occured at our salvation.


(e) So, here is a strange thing:


(i)               Our confession is continual

(ii)             Our forgiveness from sin is granted once.

(iii)           But back in 1:7, the cleansing was continual—the point is that we are cleansed once from the guilt of sin, then we are cleansed continually from the pollution of sin in our lives, and one day we will be cleansed from the very presence of sin.