Conditional or Actual Perfection?
For believers, becoming more perfect in Christ is the essence of life. Of course, this only makes sense if you understand that there are two aspects of perfection in the Christian’s understanding.
My term for this is the perfect state one enters into when obeying the gospel (obeying the gospel = believe and confess that Christ is the Son of God, repent, baptism). The Bible refers to this (conditional perfection) in various ways throughout the New Testament:
- Saved – Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-40
- Born Again – John 3:3
- Justified – Romans 3:24
- Washed – I Corinthians 6:11
- Redeemed – I Peter 1:18
- Righteous – I Corinthians 1:30
These are all ways of expressing the results of receiving forgiveness and reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. His death pays our moral debt for sin. In receiving Him through faith, expressed in repentance and baptism, we are purified of all sin, blame and spiritual imperfection. Because of our faith in Christ, we are considered perfect in God’s eyes (or as the Bible says, saved, justified, etc.). This conditional perfection has absolutely nothing to do with our performance, our actions or efforts. It is given to us freely as a covering to guarantee our entry into heaven when the time comes. This means that when the time comes for us to face God’s judgment, we will be judged in light of this conditional perfection. When God looks at us as the judge of all mankind, He will see the covering of our conditional perfection, not the degree of actual perfection we have obtained. This is why Paul can say in Romans 3:27-28:
27Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
This is where the other type of perfection enters the picture.
Actual perfection (again, my term) is the actual progress that we make in spiritual development while we are still in this imperfect body, living in this fallen world. Christ is actually the perfect human ideal, and being like Him is the Christian’s spiritual goal. When we are saved/justified/born again, etc., God bestows on us the state of perfection which Jesus already has. Jesus achieved this perfect state because He obeyed the Law perfectly and obeyed the Father perfectly.
Jesus earned the state of perfection by His actions and life. We, on the other hand, are given this status because of God’s grace. We receive the status of perfection because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith we are considered as perfect as Jesus is (not in our own eyes or men’s eyes) but in the eyes of God.
The problem, as I have mentioned before, is that we (the ones considered perfect by God) live imperfect lives here in this imperfect world while we await the end of our lives. What will we do with the time? Go back to doing the sinful and ungodly things that led us to condemnation in the first place? How can we, who are considered perfect by God in Christ before all the angels in heaven, how can we dishonor our God and Savior with such actions and attitudes? Or as Paul says:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
– Romans 6:1
The answer is, “No!” How can we, who are considered perfect by God, continue to pursue imperfection as a way of life anymore? So what, then, is the alternative? The alternative is to pursue the perfection that has been revealed to me in Jesus Christ. This, then, is what I refer to as actual perfection. It is the day to day effort that Christians make to imitate the perfect Christ.
The Bible refers to this exercise in various ways:
- Sanctification – Romans 6:19
- Faithfulness – III John 1:5
- Perseverance – Ephesians 6:18
- Holiness – Colossians 3:12
As those who are considered perfect in Christ, we choose to pursue actual perfection through Christ. We do this because Christ calls us to this exercise of pursuing perfection as a way of life.
1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:1-2
To follow after actual perfection consciously is important because if we refuse or neglect to do so, the pull of our imperfect past will draw us back into the life that will ultimately destroy our faith and the conditional perfection it produces.
And so, we have the two:
- Conditional perfection, freely given to us based on our faith in Christ and protecting us against condemnation at judgment.
- Actual perfection which is the spiritual exercise we pursue in order to confirm our faith before God and man.
The “more perfect you” that the title refers to is the “you” who is constantly striving to draw closer to the perfection of Christ while in this human form. In other words, the “conditionally perfect you” striving each day to achieve actual perfection as both a witness of faith before men and a declaration of faith before God.
Christians have no other options. Putting off the pursuit of actual perfection in every aspect of life is either a sign of weak faith, a compromise with the world, a lack of gratitude for Christ, or a show of love for sins great and small. Seeking the virtues that Paul lists in Galatians 5, on the other hand, proves that God’s Word and Spirit are firmly in control and leading one to the actual perfection seen and desired in Christ.