Review of “Keep in Step with the Spirit" (Appendix: A Perspective on Christian Perfection)

2008/11/05 at 5:46 上午 發表留言


A Perspective on Christian Perfection

Since this is only part of
a book review and not a study on “Christian Perfection,” space will not allow
me to thoroughly discuss other approaches to Romans seven and eight and also
some possible definitions of “perfection” in the Bible. But I will attempt to
lay out another Romans 7:14-25 interpretation, in conjunction with Romans
8:1-11, that is different from the book’s (perhaps reveal some of its
interpretive inconsistencies). I will also try to bring up some Scriptures and
questions to show that many Christians’ idea of “perfection” might be very
different than what the Bible seems to say.

        First and foremost, Packer notes
“imperfection” as “when something can be improved upon,” or “when one can
perform better” (E.g. p.108). He means primarily “moral imperfection” due to
sin’s influence since his central non-perfection text is Romans 7:14-25. I
affirm a few summary points he has made from this passage: (1) the law in
itself is holy, just, good, and spiritual (v.12, 14); (2) its purpose is to give
men knowledge of sin (v.7); (3) it does not give men power over sin to do what
is spiritual and good. I also agree with Packer that the “wretched man” is
Paul, and it is Paul the Christian and not Paul the unconverted Jew. In a quick
analysis, Packer’s idea is one reasonable approach. However, I do not believe
that it is the only possible interpretation. It is true that verses 14
to 25 are talking about a present state. But it seems to me to interpret verse
25 and the first portion of chapter eight, which is unmistakably part of Paul’s
theme in 7:14-25 with the word “therefore” in the beginning of the chapter (and
there were no chapter divisions in the original manuscripts of the Bible), as
being largely futuristic is inconsistent. It makes no sense for Paul to talk
about something in the present, and then suddenly jump to something in the
future arbitrarily without any clear transitioning in less than one verse. It
is true that chapter eight did include the hope of future body redemption
(v.23), but it starts out with a present deliverance since Paul uses the
present and even the past perfect tenses, just like he did in 7:14-25, in the

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are
in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according
to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me
from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that
it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the
flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do
walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who
live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but
those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be
carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and
peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to
the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot
please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the
Spirit of God dwells in you
. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of
Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of
sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him
who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the
dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in

(Romans 8:1-11; emphasis mine).

It seems to me that this passage does not negate 7:14-25, but rather
completes it. The promise of future deliverance of the physical body does not
contradict the fact that there is also a present provision available to offset
sin’s claws. Chapter eight begins with the present means of freedom
(counterbalance sin’s power) and then moves to the future means of liberation
(the total removal of sin nature). Paul is saying that, while on the earth,
there is a constant war between the flesh (sinful nature) and the Spirit that
is dwelling inside all believers (7:23). That is why both 7:14-25 and 8:1:11
are referring to a present state. He first describes the forces of sin-nature
on all living Christians. Then starting from 7:25, Paul begins to describe, on
the other hand, how the way for Christians to be victorious over sins has been
opened. Through Jesus Christ (7:25), believers are able (but not
automatic or easy) to win this war by God’s Spirit through the accomplished
work of Christ (8:3), and live a life free from the influence of sin (not
sinlessness). It is clear that the sin-nature inherent in the flesh will not be
completely removed in this present age. However, Romans seven and eight is
speaking of a potential and possibility of freedom from sin by
neutralizing the effects of sin-nature. Again, this is not applied to
believers automatically and permanently the moment when they are regenerated.
In other words, there is an ongoing tug of war between two opposing forces.
Even though the Spirit is more powerful, He respects human free choice;
therefore, when Christians do not submit to the Spirit’s way, sin’s influence
will dominate them. That is why verse 25b is not a “shattering anticlimax”
(p.224) but an explanation of this continuing conflict. Subsequently,
this struggle is more fully clarified in 8:1-11 with an emphasis on the
Spirit’s superiority (8:2), and thus exhorting believers to walk in this
victory since God’s Spirit is already in them (8:9-10).

Most probably, anyone who reads Romans 7:14-25 together with
8:1-11 without any colored spectacles produced by personal
experiences/theological/cultural background, will see that it is not talking
about an eschatological salvation but a present possibility of completely
neutralizing sin’s power. Therefore, the victory is not the removal of sin
nature, but walking free from its effects. Verse two does not say that the
Spirit has made Christians partially free from the law of sin and death;
neither does it say that the Spirit will make Christians free. This
verse uses past perfect tense “has made” (
ἠλευθέρωσέ με), meaning the potential for complete victory is now made possible
through Christ’s finished work by the Spirit Who is already living inside
followers of Christ. Whatever our experiences of failures and mistakes may
contribute to our thinking, theology is not based on experiences but on the
Word of God. The depths of God’s Word may not always make sense to (very)
finite minds, but this seems to be an alternative viewpoint to the Reformed
idea. I do not think this view is the only way of seeing these verses, but I do
think this interpretation is more convincing than the book’s arguments. I am
not simply presenting a version of Keswick Holiness teaching because I do think
the second-blessing sanctification theology is unscriptural. Although sanctification
is definitely progressive (Heb. 12:14; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 3:18), but it
commences at the time of regeneration since believers are a “new creation” (2
Cor. 5:17) the moment they are saved.[i]
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that a significant part of Packer’s
critique of Keswick’s weaknesses is methodological- and temperament-oriented,
and not doctrinal. Issues such as elitism, man-centeredness, misleading
presentation, passivity, and poor pastoral advice are all problems that could
happen to all theologically sound doctrines. He uses a bad personal experience
to illustrate his point, but I think, depending on the reader, this may have
actually weakened his statements (Besides, there are also many who have
unpleasant experiences with Augustinian holiness). One might ponder whether
Packer’s own background gave rise to subjective evaluations.

        Although it is true that as long as sin
nature is in the body, then a Christian is not “perfect” in absolute terms.
This is right and valid. However, in another sense, if the powers of sin could
be completely cancelled by the indwelling Spirit, then it could be seen as a
type or quality of “perfection” (we have yet to explore the definitions of
“perfection”). The reason for this is because, in the final analysis,
Christians have the potential to be free from sins (I am differentiating “sin”
as “sin nature” from “sins” as the “influence of sin nature”). Christians will
not likely always remain in this freedom, nevertheless, this still does not
contradict the fact that it is, at least theologically and theoretically,
possible for Christians to be free from sins at times. This also does not imply
that many will achieve this, if only very few will ever and still fall short
every now and then. But the Bible does give the impression that it is possible
to be free from all sins regardless of whether the most majority of Christians
are walking in this truth or not. I believe this is one of the many Bible
teachings that Christians need to embrace by faith. Sometimes some doctrines
are even “contradictory” to human logics. For example, the Trinitarian doctrine
is clearly delineated in the Bible, but the Trinity is a paradox to finite
minds. How can three distinct and different Persons be, at the same time, the
same one God? It is the same with discussions on Christ’s nature. How can the
one single Person Jesus be human and divine at the same time? It is not
surprising that the Bible just tells the truth as it is without always
explaining them; Christians should accept its teachings by faith (without
contradicting other parts of the Bible) even when they do not yet have perfect
understanding. Bible-believing Christians should adjust their views to the
Bible rather than adjusting the Bible to fit their preconceived ideas. I am not
trying to defend either Wesleyan Holiness or Keswick, but only endeavoring to
show that there are other equally sound, if not more convincing,
interpretations other than the Reformed exegesis on sanctification.

        Another area where the book does not
discuss is perfection in the area of, for tripartitists, spirit, soul and body.
Is there such a thing as “spirit perfection,” “soul perfection,” and “body
perfection”? Can the spirit be perfect while the body is imperfect? I believe
regenerated human spirits are already perfect. They are “born again,”
re-created by God (Ezek. 11:19, 36:26; John 3), and hence, perfect (how can God
create anything that is not perfect?). The soul needs renewal (Rom 12:2), but
the aforementioned interpretation seems to indicate that it is possible that a
total renewal is attainable. If Paul says that believers have (not “will have”)
the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), is the mind of Christ not perfect? (Read the
next paragraph to see the discussion on the definition of “perfection”). As for
the body, 1 Thess. 5:23 states that the body could be “preserved blameless”—the
verse is specifically speaking of a preservation of spirit, soul, and body prior
to Christ’s second coming. Whatever this “preservation” means, I will not go
into details. Suffice it to say that this is an important and interesting, but
unexplored area in the study of sanctification in Keep in Step with the

        As to the meaning of perfection in
the Hebrew (root) words translated as
“perfect” in the King James Version are:
,שׁלם .כּוּן כּליל ,תּמם ,תּם ,מכלה ,גּמר (Aramaic) ,תּכלית
. The Greek (root) words
translated as “perfect” are:
τέλειος, ἀκριβῶς, καταρτίζω, τελειόω, ὁλοκληρία, ἀκρίβεια, ἀκριβέστερον, ἐπιτελέω, ἄρτιος, πληρόω. After reviewing the nuances of these words, the
general idea for words particularly describing “perfection” of certain
individuals or groups (or the lack of it), or God commanding them to be
“perfect” (e.g. Gen. 17:1 God commanding Abram to be perfect; Matt. 5:48 Jesus
commanding His disciples to be “perfect” like the Father), is that of
“completion,” “wholeness,” and/or “integrity” (Strong’s, Thayer,
Brown-Driver-Briggs). One can argue that “perfection” in these passages simply
means “integrity,” or something similar and not in the sense of “faultless.”
However the major connotation seems to be that of “completion” or “wholeness”
against the context. For example, when cross-referencing Matt 5:48 (“Therefore
you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”), we find a
parallel saying in Luke 6:36 (“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also
is merciful”), which substitutes the word “perfect” in Matthew with “merciful”
(New King James). Hence, it is not just talking about one’s integrity, but
mainly one’s heart attitude. Therefore, is there such a thing as “heart
perfection” (I know this sounds like John Wesley but I am not quoting from John
Wesley)? The passage reveals that being merciful is being like the Father. The
words “just as” clearly refers to the standard that Jesus has set for His
followers in that particular area, which is to be perfect in being merciful
(and the context points to being perfect in love and character), because the
Father is and will always be indisputably perfect in His Being. In John 15:12,
“My (Jesus) command is this: love each other as I have loved you” (NKJV), is
not the love of Jesus perfect? Would Jesus command something that believers
will never ever achieve in this life? In fact, the very word “command” implies
that there is potential to obey the commandment fully. Would Jesus command His
disciples while on the earth something that will only be possible when
they have all died and gone to Heaven? How about all the other passages that
exhort Christians to be perfect (see p.230; and there are many more that are
not listed)? It does not make sense to simply explain them as futuristic
in-heaven-we-will-all-be-perfect declarations. If we will be perfect in Heaven
(which all Christians will), what is the point of instructing us to be
perfect when all Christians will automatically be perfect in Heaven?
Whether perfection carries the sense of being faultless or sinless is intended,
the idea that where there is always room for growth does not imply

        On the other hand, there is a reality
that Christians will never be as merciful and loving exactly like the Father in
all eternity. The Father “cannot” love more and be more merciful in the sense
that His love and mercy are already perfect in absolute terms. Hence we see
that, when referring to human beings, “perfection” in the Bible does not imply
zero potential for further progression. Regardless of whether Packer may have
agreed or disagreed with this statement, his presentation of the concept
of perfection and imperfection seems insufficient, thus misleading at times. If
a Christian can be “perfect” while on the earth, as I have tried to argue, but
one will never be as godly as God, logic demands that there must be different
levels of perfection. Here is where we see that the idea of perfect is, as the
original Hebrew and Greek words suggest, more in the sense of “completion” of a
particular level of an aspect. 2 Corinthians 3:18 is outspoken in this matter:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being
transformed into the same image from one degree of glory (
δόξα) to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”
(italics mine; English Standard Version; Packer served as one of the general
editors for this version). In this verse, the “degree of glory” has its source
in the “glory of the Lord,” that is, the perfect glory of the Lord. When
a level of perfection is achieved, one goes on to the next level of perfection.
Undoubtedly, one could always fall back and regress at any given time when s/he
is not walking closely with the Lord. In the passages describing Lucifer’s fall
(Ezek. 27), he was made perfect by God (v.3-4), yet he fell. This tells us that
in each particular degree of perfection, there is a limit by its design. When
one crosses over that limit or function, imperfection comes. When Satan tried
to operate beyond his given design of perfection at the time, he became
imperfect and fell. It is the same with humans. Mankind was not designed for
sin, but when Adam and Eve sinned, imperfection comes. These illustrations
confirm that perfection for created beings is both progressive and limited in
each level. This is why the Hebrew and Greek words for “perfect” denotes
primarily “completion” rather than “absolute perfection.” I believe there are
many aspects of perfection, and there is not a specific “completion
requirement” measuring system for the various levels and areas in the Bible.
Perhaps it is because only God could judge one’s heart (which is so
complicated) rightly since the heart cannot be judged by external regulations.
At any rate, the Bible does seem to say that there are degrees of perfection.
This is best exemplified by the life and ministry of Jesus, Who is always
perfect in all things. Luke 2:40, 52 shows that when Jesus came as the God-Man
into Mary’s womb, He had to grow physically (obviously), as well as mentally
and spiritually (while remaining divine and human all the time). Jesus had to
learn the languages spoken at the time (Aramaic, biblical Hebrew and some
believe also Greek and Latin), and He had to learn the Torah Law (Luke 41-47)
as well as carpentry (Mark 6:3). Also, when Jesus was in His earthly ministry,
His human nature did not have perfect knowledge (Mark 5:30, 13:32; but not His
divine nature). Besides these growths, Jesus was capable of being physically
tired (John 4:6; Mark 4:38). Does His advancement in all these various
areas indicate that Jesus was not “perfect”? Certainly any Bible-believing
person would disagree. Jesus is God Himself, the perfect Lamb of God at all
times, even His human nature is perfect. Hebrews 2:10 says Jesus was made
perfect through sufferings. If Jesus was all the time “perfect” prior to His
suffering, and He was later “made perfect,” then it is showing that there are
degrees of perfection. Jesus could grow while on this earth as a Man, but this
does not mean He was not all the time walking in perfection. (In these
discussions on Christ, I am viewing from the evangelical Chalcedonian
Christology (A.D. 451)—two natures, one fully divine, one fully human, united
in the One Person of Christ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1994). Thus,
here I am referring to Jesus’ human nature and not His divine nature. For in
Jesus divinity, He is God, always and absolutely perfect in all things, and
therefore, is not “able” to grow. It is interesting, however, to mention that
for those who hold the Kenosis Theology, Jesus did actually temporarily gave up
some divine attributes while on the earth according to Phil. 2:5-7 (Kenotic
Christology does not deny Christ’s divinity. “Kenosis” is the Greek word
meaning “emptied” from verse seven).

The same argument can be applied to mankind. Adam and Eve were perfect
prior to their fall, but they could still grow in their capabilities. When
saints return to Heaven, all will be perfect, but it does not mean that they
will cease to “be better.” Therefore, words like “better,” “improvement,” or
“perfect” need to be clarified when examining the doctrine of sanctification.
In addition, it is a fact that the use of these terms is oftentimes very
subjective. There is no more sin in Heaven, so one’s love for God will be
without sin’s effect. But “perfection” is not just a synonym for “sinlessness,”
and “sinlessness” is not synonymous with “no more room for growth.” If “perfect”
means that there is no more possibility for advancement (I am using the words
“growth,” “improvement,” and “advancement” interchangeably meaning the same
thing, that is, further progression of whatever type or quality), then it is
saying that Christians’ love for God will not grow anymore for eternity the
moment when they enter into Heaven. But this is certainly not true. Saints and
angels will continue to grow in the heavenly realm, maturing from “one degree
of glory to another” for eternity. It is true that when one comes short in a
particular area and level of perfection, s/he then is not perfect. A student
getting 80% on an exam can do better because it is not a perfect score.
However, as I have tried to contend from Romans seven, eight, and other passages,
that it is nevertheless theoretically and theologically possible to achieve
100%, spiritually speaking. Even if we assume that no one has or will ever
attain a level of perfection for a time in this earthly journey, it still does
not counter this Bible truth. In the same way, I do not believe any human has
or will figure out the mystery of the Trinity or the Incarnation completely in
every little detail in this life, but this does not suggest that sincere
Christians should stop believing these two fundamental doctrines. However, I
believe there have been saints who have realized a degree of perfection and
Christlikeness for a time. Could one of the reasons that Enoch and Elijah were
translated directly to Heaven without seeing death is that they have walked in
a certain level of holiness while on earth for a time (I am not saying they are
free from sins 24-7, but perhaps for a time)? Since death is the result of sin,
it is not inconceivable that if sin’s power were so neutralized that God
decided to take them home by-passing sin’s wages (through the blood of Christ).
It does not mean we have to constantly walk in a degree of perfect state in
order to live a life pleasing to God. Believing in Christian Perfection also
does not mean we should be overly concerned if we make mistakes. Elijah was “a
man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17), and he has made blunders even not
too long before his translation. It is the same with men of God like Abraham,
Joseph and David, whom have acted foolishly. However, God’s grace is not only
sufficient to cover their mistakes, but it is also the source of
ever-increasing perfection (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is also possible that because
Moses lived a divine-like holy life (Exo. 34:29; Deu. 34:10), relatively
speaking, so that his body was buried by God Himself (Due. 34:6) and later
taken up by Michael the archangel (Jude 1:9) before all other Old Testament
saints at Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 27:52). The fact that when the
120-year-old Moses died, “his eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor
diminished” (Deu. 34:7) seems to confirm that his body was preserved (1 Thess.
5:23) because he was walking in a degree of perfection (maybe for some time).
This is also true of Caleb’s life in Joshua 14:10-11 (NKJV): “And now,
behold, the Lord has kept me (Caleb) alive, as He said, these forty-five years,
ever since the Lord spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the
wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am
as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was
then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in

(emphasis mine). I do not think these words are merely figure of speech meaning
something like “Moses and Caleb were still relatively strong and healthy in
their old age.” If we do not interpret these verses as literal descriptions of
their physical conditions, we might as well interpret Jesus’ bodily death and
resurrection as symbolic—which is not true of course. I am aware that some
theologians think the best candidates for the two witnesses in Revelation 11
are from these three: Enoch, Elijah and Moses. Therefore, Enoch and Elijah will
probably taste death as well. I also understand that some believe Old Testament
saints were not raised up together with Christ’s resurrection but rather they
ascended to heaven the moment they passed away. However, these theological
differences do not deny the fact that these saints probably have entered into a
realm of holiness that produced what they experienced in their lifetime.

I believe if this is true, then this potential to live perfectly
sanctified life is available for all Christians since God “shows no partiality”
(Acts 10:34). Furthermore, those folks were living under the Old Covenant, and
the New Covenant is a better covenant than the old (Heb. 7:22, 8:6). Not to
mention that the Scriptures did not say that these were the only ones who have
walked closely with God and/or translated, there were probably more unrecorded
or unstressed saints like them (cf. 1 Kings 19:18). It would be wrong to
conclude that everyone who lives a perfecting life will experience exactly the
same things in the same ways, because each has a different calling and gifting.
However, it would be senseless to say that there are special people whom God
favors in the past but whatever they experienced, in terms of relationship with
God, is not available under a better covenant today. The first Church
martyr Stephen probably is one good example of someone who exemplified a degree
of perfected life. His face shown like an angel when he was about to be stoned,
which is actually quite reminiscent of Moses’ glory-shining face (Exo. 34:29;
Acts 6:15). Jesus promised that He would sanctify and cleanse the Last-Day
Church, so that He might “present her to Himself a glorious church, not having
spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without
blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27). Could it be that as the Church learns to walk in the
truth of Christian Perfection more and more, to prepare for Christ’s coming, in
the last days, that part of the reasons for the Rapture (for those that believe
in the Rapture) is because she will have attained a certain beauty of
perfection that God decided that it is time to take her home just like Enoch
and Elijah were taken up without seeing death? (I know some view that the old
physical body being transformed is a type of “death” since the old is no more;
nevertheless, this rapture transformation is still vastly different than the
normal bodily death that most people experience on earth). At any rate, it is a
common reality that those who aim higher usually end up achieving higher than
those who do not aim as high. In the same way, it is likely that those who
believe in that Christians can walk in a certain measure of perfected
completeness while on earth will finish with a more sanctified life than those
who do not believe in it. Here I close with another Bible promise depicting the
Last-Day glorious Church from the Amplified Bible Ephesians 4:12-13:

intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His
consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward
building up Christ’s body (the church), [that it might develop] until we all
attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the [full and accurate]
knowledge of the Son of God, that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood
(the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the
standard height of Christ’s own perfection
), the measure of the stature of
the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him

(emphasis mine).


[i] However, there
are others who say that the Keswickians teach that the “’fullness of the
Spirit’ (sanctification) is a definite act of faith, distinct from but usually
coincident with regeneration
” (Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der
Maas, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic
, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, 2003, pp. 820-821.), which is
an opposite view from Packer’s understanding. He thinks that Kewsickians
believe that sanctification is always subsequent to salvation (p.124).
Moreover, Packer also did not mention the influence of Keswick on the great
Welsh revival.

See also: Review of "Keep in Step with the Spirit" (Main Body: On Sanctification & Charismatic Theology)

Entry filed under: 神の話分享. Tags: .

牽引我心 Review of “Keep in Step with the Spirit" (Main Body: On Sanctification & Charismatic Theology)


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