How Perfect is ‘Christian Perfection’?

How Perfect Is 'Christian Perfection'?

Chapter Five

How Perfect Is 'Christian Perfection'?
Are You Attracted To Christian Holiness? 42 The Reasonableness Of 'Christian Perfection' 50
How 'Perfect' Is 'Christian Perfection'? 43 Christian Love–The Most "Excellent Way"! 51
What 'Christian Perfection' Is Not 44 Preaching Motivated By Love! 52
Treasure In 'Earthen Vessels' 45 The Tenderness And Wisdom Of Love 53
'Christian Perfection' Is Not 'Sinless Perfection' 46 The Supremacy Of Love 54
What Is The Essence Of 'Christian Perfection'? 47 Discussion Questions: 55
Characteristics Of Christian Love 48 Discussion Questions: (Continued) 56
'Perfect Love' Is 'Progressive Love' 49    

Matthew 5:43-48

Are You Attracted To Christian Holiness?

Notes Wilber T. Dayton, "AI though there are no exact synonyms in any language, there is, for the most part, remarkable agreement in the use of a number of terms as somewhat synonymous and, at times, as almost interchangeable. This similarity, as well as the distinct connotation and symbolism, should be observed in such words as entire sanctification, Christian perfection, holiness, perfect love, gift of the Holy Spirit, purification, cleansing, and fullness of the Spirit." (A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology, vol. 1, p. 528)

In an earlier chapter of this devotional book, we discussed the meaning and application of the concept of 'Entire Sanctification'. This concept is almost synonymous with the concept of 'Christian Perfection' which we will look at in this chapter. Why does there seem to be so much prejudice against or even outright hostility to the concepts of 'Entire Sanctification' and 'Christian Perfection'?

J. A. Wood offers four reasons for this: "(1) The doctrine is misunderstood. Multitudes misapprehended its true nature. It is often taken to mean more than is intended, and more than is taught. (2) The doctrine and experience of entire sanctification has been prejudiced among common people by being frequently identified with culture, social refinement, and the highest finish: then of course it can be possessed only by the few who have the time, the means, and the opportunity to obtain the highest development and brightest polish, and cultivation. (3) Many of our ministers are at guilt in this matter, in not seeking this blessed experience themselves. For not studying and mastering the subject; and for not preaching it more clearly, strongly, and explicitly to the people. (4) Much of the prejudice and opposition to this doctrine comes from remaining depravity in unsanctified believers. Indwelling sin is an antagonism to holiness, and, in so far as any Christian has inbred sin, he has within him opposition to holiness". (Perfect Love, p. 23-24)

It is the purpose of this chapter to present clearly the meaning of the Biblical idea of Christian perfection. It is important to point out those misconceptions regarding perfection which have caused many to be prejudiced against this doctrine altogether. An attempt later will be made in this chapter to point our clearly the essential meaning of Christian perfection.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect". (Matthew 5:48) This is a Biblical command. What God commands, God provides. But, because of the misunderstanding concerning this subject, we must look at what Christian perfection is not, and then seek to understand what Christian perfection means, as it is taught within the context of Matthew 5:43-48.

"Father, create within me a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Don't let me fall short of experiencing everything you have for me to experience and enjoy in life. Because you are a holy God, you have called your people to be a holy and a happy people. Give me a vision of the Holy One, and, as a result, I shall never be satisfied with anything less than a holy life. In Jesus' name. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The empowering Holy Spirit is powerful enough to remove the indwelling sin in my life and to replace it with the overflowing love of Christ!

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Philippians 3:12-16

How 'Perfect' Is 'Christian Perfection'?

It is probably not wise to use the phrase 'Christian Perfection' in popular preaching today, for most people have negative connotations when 'perfection' is used to describe fallible Christians. William Sangster, one of the greatest twentieth-century holiness preachers, wrote, "It is best to avoid the word 'perfect'. Though the term is biblical, it has been fruitful of such wide misunderstanding, and it so often misdirects the interest of people from sanctity that it is best to keep the Biblical use of the word 'saint' " . (Daily Readings From W. E. Sangster, p. 124) Even John Wesley, whose emphasis on the holy life was perhaps the strongest in modern history, wrote, "I have no particular fondness for the term (' Christian Perfection'). It seldom occurs either in my preaching or writings … But I still think that perfection is only another term for holiness, or the image of God in man". (quoted in A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology, vol. 1, p. 521)

However, while the term may not be the most helpful term to use to describe the deeper life, it is a term used in the Bible. Jesus commanded believers: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect". (Matthew 5:48)

Our perfectionist-oriented society does not negatively react when the word 'perfect' is used to describe technologically-created gadgets: "That is a perfectly running jet engine". "This computer is engineered to perfection". Also, in the life of Nature, we gladly use the word 'perfect': "Here is a perfectly formed rose!" "This is a perfect night to take a walk!" And, it is not uncommon for a man, who has been deeply in love with his wife for half a century, to say: "She has been a perfect wife to me!"

But, in applying the term to the life and experience of a Christian, we are generally very hesitant. To talk of 'Christian Perfection', is to sound presumptuous, or spiritually-proud, or self righteous.

But the fact still remains that Jesus gave a command in Matthew 5:48– "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect". What could Jesus possibly mean? Is this not an impossible standard, an ideal that no one really realizes in his life?

'Christian Perfection' is not a popular phrase, but it is a Biblical concept. However, to understand what it means, we must spend considerable time in telling what it does not mean. If' Christian Perfection'; is a realizable goal, then let us pursue this goal with an open mind and an eager heart! "Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection". (Hebrews 6:1) "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." (Philippians 3:15, KJV)

"Father, it matters little what term I use to describe the 'experience' –the experience of Your nature penetrating my nature; the experience of Your love replacing my indifference; the experience of Your purity replacing my pollution; the experience of Your power replacing my impotence. I am not much concerned in analyzing terms, but I am deeply concerned in personally experiencing the reality of Your indwelling Spirit in my inner spirit!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: He who commands me to be holy is the same One who will empower me to become holy!

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James 1:1-8, James 1:16-18

What 'Christian Perfection' Is Not

Because of the misunderstanding concerning this subject, let us first look at what 'Christian Perfection' is not. 'Christian Perfection' is not Absolute Perfection. One would be theologically insane to teach that mortal man can be absolutely perfect! Only God enjoys absolute perfection. God is eternal; man is subject to time. God is present everywhere at one time; man is confined to one place at a time. God knows all things; man knows only partially. God is all-powerful; man is very weak and subject to decay. God is invisible; man is tangible flesh and blood. God's wisdom is beyond measure; man's wisdom is incomplete and derivative. God is good altogether; man is corrupt and sinful. God is altogether just and righteous; man is biased and prejudiced. God possesses all facts and knows the whole truth; man possesses some of the facts and knows part of the truth. "God's moral perfections are like an infinite ocean, as boundless and fathomless as immensity. Up to this perfection, neither man, nor angel, nor seraph can ever come. Between the highest degree of human perfection, and the perfection of God, there is the difference between the finite and the infinite. Absolute perfection belongs to God alone." (Perfect Love, p. 24; J. A. Wood)

'Christian Perfection' is not Angelic Perfection. The angels are God's ministering spirits and as such perform perfect service to God and to man. God's ministering angels are unfallen angels, never having been polluted by sin. The angels enjoy a much higher order of intelligence than does moral man. The angels are not subject to bodily affliction or temptation. They are confirmed in righteousness and as such are free perfectly to obey God.

'Christian Perfection' is not Adamic Perfection. "There is a wide difference between a pure-hearted Christian saved by grace, and unfallen Adam in his Paradisiacal glory; a difference in range of powers, innocency, and grounds of justification. Adam was justified by works, and was free from the broken powers, and infirmities of fallen human nature." (Ibid, p. 24-25) Adam enjoyed blessed communion with his Creator. Innocence, uprightness, strength, and obedience characterized Adam's life. Adam's body was strong, his mind superb, and his spirit unblemished. Adam's perfection surpasses any perfection that a Christian enjoys.

'Christian Perfection' is not Legal Perfection. The Law cannot save, but God's grace can. No flesh shall be justified by the Law. The Law is God's perfect standard but man in his fallen state is not able to keep the Law. The perfection required of man is not a perfection that is based upon a standard that assumes man's righteousness.

"Father, allow me to see the possibilities of divine grace. Deliver me from 'perfectionism'–that tendency to deny my human limitations–and enable me to see the possibilities of 'perfect love '–that supernatural experience, lived out naturally and spontaneously in a world of practical human relationships."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The God who has begun his great work of perfecting holiness in my life will bring it to eventual completion!

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2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Treasure In 'Earthen Vessels'

We said in the last devotional that 'Christian Perfection' is not Legal Perfection. By this, we mean that the perfection of the Christian is not the perfection of works based upon an already righteous life, but it is the perfection of faith based upon a divinely-transformed life. The "righteousness which is of the law" "supposes him to whom it is given, to be already holy and happy, created in the image and enjoying the favour of God; and prescribes the condition whereon he may continue therein, in love and joy, life and immortality". The "righteousness which is of faith" "supposes him to whom it is given, to be now unholy and unhappy; fallen short of the glorious image of God, having the wrath of God abiding on him, and hastening through sin, whereby his soul is dead, to bodily death, and death everlasting. And to man in this state it prescribes the condition, whereon he may regain the pearl he has lost; may recover the favour and image of God; may retrieve the life of God in his soul, and be restored to the knowledge and the love of God, which is the beginning of life eternal." (John Wesley)

'Christian Perfection' is not Service Perfection. The most sanctified Christian performs imperfect service to God and man. God's treasures are contained in weak earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). Because the flesh is weak, the service to God is very imperfect and incomplete. It is the Christian's desire to serve God perfectly, but the idea of perfect service is never quite realized. The Christian is plagued with awkwardness, clumsiness, flaws, and mistakes–and yet his motive is only to do God's will. One's attitudes can be pure, but his actions can and will be very imperfect. A new bride's love for her husband will be complete and total, but her actions are imperfect. Her heart can be perfectly fixed on her husband, but her actions can be very imperfect. She may desire to make 'perfect' biscuits for her husband, but, while her motives and desires are 'perfect', she may nevertheless make biscuits that are impossible to eat!

'Christian Perfection' is not Behavioral Perfection. Christians differ in their temperaments. Some have a fiery disposition; some have a very placid disposition. One's emotional make-up affects his behavior. The skeptically- minded person may appear to be a perpetual doubter. The strong-willed person may appear to be intolerant. The easy-going person may appear to be compromising. The affectionate person may appear to be too intimate. The systematic and ordered person may appear to be rigid and inflexible. The care-free person may appear to be too indulgent. The ambitious person may appear to be proud. The very forceful and expressive person may appear to be domineering. One's outward behavior is not a true gauge of spirituality. Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.

"Father, my service for you is incomplete and my behavior before you is fallible, but, in spite of my imperfect motions and movements, cleanse my inner motives, that they may be pure and perfect and righteous. Thank you for accepting imperfect persons like me."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I may be a 'clay vessel', cracked and imperfect, but the Treasure within me is Christ–the Perfect One whose mission is to perfect me within and to strengthen me without!

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1 John 1:8-10 1 John 2:1-2

'Christian Perfection' Is Not 'Sinless Perfection'

We noted in the last devotional that 'Christian Perfection' does not guarantee perfection in one's behavior. Notes J. A. Wood, "Christian perfection does admit of numberless infirmities and imperfections, such as slowness of understanding, errors of judgment, mistakes in practice, erratic imaginations, a treacherous memory. They are not sins; they are innocent; and although they may be our misfortune, they are included in the 'all things' which, by the grace and blessing of God, shall work together for our good." (Perfect Love, p. 33; J. A. Wood) Notes a great evangelist, John R. Church, "We need to remember that each of us has inherited certain temperaments and that there are some things which are part of our physical nature. They are not carnality, but they are part of our humanity. They are not de-stroyed in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but they are sanctified. There is as much difference in the temperaments of people as there is in horses. Some horses are slow and easy going by breeding, while others are spirited and high-strung by breeding. They can both be broken and used in a great way, but their natures will never be changed. The same is true of people. Some people are by nature slow, placid and calm. They were born that way; they do not deserve any credit for being that way … On the other hand there are some people who are by nature high-strung and of a nervous temperament. Now when they get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, all of that temperament is not taken away. If it were, they would be useless. It is a part of their make-up. They will have to guard at this point and cultivate the grace of patience and learn to be patient with other people who are slower than they are". (Earthen Vessels, p. 51-52; John R. Church)

'Christian Perfection' is not Sinless Perfection. 'Sinless Perfection' is an unbiblical phrase. Even the cleansed, Spirit-filled Christian is susceptible to involuntary transgressions. Says Wesley, "Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict my self. I believe a person filled with the love of God is still liable to these involuntary transgressions. Such transgressions you may call sins, if you please; I do not". 'Sinless Perfection' carries with it the notion that the sanctified Christian is beyond the ability and danger of sinning against God. There is no state of grace that removes a person from the possibility of sinning and backsliding. The Spirit-filled Christian is still tempted and he must resist the devil (James 4:7). "Does Christian holiness exclude a liability to apostasy?" Notes J. A. Wood, "It does not; but it renders apostasy much less probable. Perfect love makes a strong fortress of the heart; this fortress will be attacked, but is not as likely to be taken as without holiness. Holiness makes no one impeccable, although it possesses all the elements of strength and stability. A liability to sin is an essential condition of probation. Holiness serves the safest possible condition on earth." (Perfect Love, p. 32; J. A. Wood)

"Father, help me to know and accept my unique God-created temperament–a temperament that is twisted by sin but that is restorable through the transforming and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. Protect me in my vulnerabilities and don't allow sin to exploit my weaknesses. In Jesus' conquering name! Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will allow the Holy Spirit to use my unique temperament to uniquely contribute to the 'Body of Christ'.

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Matthew 22:37-39, Romans 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:5

What Is The Essence Of 'Christian Perfection'?

Jesus said, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect". (Matthew 5:48) Immediately we ask, "How is it possible for men to be perfect? Is not only God perfect?" 'Perfect' in the Greek (teleios) does not mean abstract, philosophical, metaphysical perfection. This word is used in a special way. "A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, and designed, and made." (Daily Study Bible, Matthew, vol. 1, p. 176; Barclay) Thus, a screwdriver which is just the right length and which fits exactly into the groove of a screw, is a perfect screwdriver. A glove which fits exactly and comfortably in a hand, is a perfect glove. "It fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned." Thus, a perfect man is a man who fully realizes the purpose for which he was planned and created.

What was the purpose for which man was created? Man was created in the image of God, and His purpose is to be like God. The perfect man is the man who is like God in His love. What then is God's love like?

God loves all men, and the godlike man or perfect man will also love all men, regardless of their moral condition. This will involve an exercise of the will on the Christian's part and an impartation of divine love on God's part (Romans 5:5). Christian love is not mere sentimentality, but love that involves an exercise of the rational and volitional powers. God gives the Christian the power to love those whom he does not like and who do not like him. "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Romans 5:5) The Christian's love must be like God's love–personal and remedial. God seeks the highest good for all men, and so must the true Christian, regardless of how he himself is treated by his fellow men. The Christian must look at every man as being infinitely important and of eternal value. Christ prayed for his persecutors and forgave them, and so must the true Spirit-filled Christian.

Notes William Barclay, "What then is the meaning of this agape (love)? The supreme passage for the interpretation of the meaning of agape is Matthew 5:43-48. We are there bidden to love our enemies. Why? In order that we should be like God. And what is the typical action of God that is cited? God sends his rain on the just and the unjust and on the evil and the good. That is to say–no matter what a man is like, God seeks nothing but his highest good … Agape is the spirit which says: 'No matter what any man does to me, I will never seek to do harm to him; I will never set out for revenge; I will always seek nothing but his highest good'. That is today, Christian love, agape, is unconquerable benevolence, invincible good will." (New Testament Words, p. 21-22)

"Father, shed abroad your kind of love in my heart by the Holy Spirit. Cleanse my mind from negativism, cleanse my emotions from resentments, and cleanse my will from willfulness and rebellion. Help me to love the loveless, to befriend the lonely, to comfort the sorrowing, and to seek nothing but the highest good for all persons. Through Jesus' loving nature. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Jesus will love His love into my loveless heart, in order that I might love others supernaturally!

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Galatians 5:13-18, 1 John 4:16-21

Characteristics Of Christian Love

'Christian Perfection' is perfection in love. 'Perfect Love' is perfect in quality. The man who is made perfect in love has no alloy in his love for God. His love is pure and unmixed, with no carnal strivings and no inferior motives. Perfect love "casteth out fear–all slavish, harmful fear, such as the guilty feel. It excludes all those warring elements from the unsanctified heart which excite distressing and slavish fear. It casts out the fear of man, of want, of death, of hell, and all slavish fear of God. 'He that feareth is not made perfect in love'. It does not cast out the fear of caution, or a loving, filial fear of God. It induces this kind of fear". (Perfect Love, p. 34; J. A. Wood) Perfect love is perfect in that love fills the whole heart. There is no room in the heart for any less affection than affection for God. The whole heart is the home of God. He occupies every room.

What is another name for Christian perfection? Says Paul Rees, "Let's call it affectional and dispositional perfection. It is God's own gift to totally committed children of His, who, renouncing self-pleasing and men- pleasing, are inbued with a passionate eagerness to please Him in all things". (Prayer and Life's Highest, p. 61; Paul Rees)

"Commander Brengle's witness will serve as an example. He begins his little book … with the startling sentence 'On January 9, 1885, at about nine o'clock in the morning, God sanctified my soul', and then goes on: 'It was a Heaven of love that came into my heart, I walked out over Boston Common before breakfast, weeping for joy and praising God. Oh, how I loved! In that hour I knew Jesus! and I loved Him till it seemed my heart would break in love. I loved the sparrows, I loved the dogs, I loved the horses, I loved the little urchins on the streets … I loved the whole world'.

The heart of the experience is love–and love is a gift. When the moralist, in keen defense of ethical principle, asserts that holiness cannot be given, this is the reply. The heart of holiness so conceived is supernatural love–and love is a gift. Love is the key to holiness." (Daily Readings From W. E. Sangster, p.53)

'Perfect Love' is constant love. By 'constant' is meant that there is a constant preference for God, even in times when God's leadership is difficult to follow or to understand. This is what it means to love God with all of one's heart, soul, strength, and mind. To love him in this way is to love Him, despite the cost in personal sacrifice or loss. The love of the spirit- filled Christian is not sporadic and subject to the circumstances about him. Love that is perfect is love that prefers God at all times–in times of loss or gain, sorrow or joy, success or failure, sickness or health.

"If a human father, fallible as he is, is desirous to give good gifts to his trusting children, how much more is the Heavenly Father, perfect as He is, eager to give the greatest of all gifts to His believing children–the gift of the blessed Holy Spirit in all of His fullness! Father, I invite the Holy Spirit into every part of my heart. I open my life to experience a 'heaven of love'."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I do not get more of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit gets more of me–when, as a believer, I surrender everything to Christ!

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2 Peter 1:5-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

'Perfect Love' Is 'Progressive Love'

We noted yesterday that 'perfect love' is constant love–i. e., it is love that prefers God at all times, regardless of the circumstances. There are times of sorrow and grief and heaviness of spirit and times of severe temptation. Therefore, it is important to note that 'perfect love' does not mean a state of continual ecstasy. One can have a supreme preference and a deep loyalty towards God, even when his heart is breaking. Love for God is an exercise of the will, not simply an emotion of the heart. "The sea of perfect love is not always swept with a tempest of excitement. The life of the sanctified is often a sailing on a placid surface, beneath unclouded sun, where the gentle breezes of heaven produce motion without commotion". (Possibilities of Grace by Asbury Lowrey, p. 64)

'Perfect Love' is 'Progressive Love'. The question is asked, "How can holiness be perfect and yet progressive?" J. A. Wood clearly and logically answers this question: "Perfection in quality does not exclude increase in quantity. Beyond entire sanctification there is no increase in purity, as that which is pure cannot be more than pure; but there may be unlimited increase in expansion and quantity. After love is made perfect, it may abound more and yet more. Holiness in the entirely sanctified soul is exclusive, and is perfect in kind or in quality, but is limited in degree or quantity. The capacities of the soul are expansive and progressive, and holiness in measure can increase corresponding to increasing capacity. Faith, love, humility, and patience, may be perfect in kind, and yet increase in volume and power, or in measure harmonizing with increasing capacity. A tree may be perfectly sound, healthy, and vigorous in its branches, leaves, and fruit, and yet year by year increase perpetually its capacity and fruitfulness". (Perfect Love, p. 29; J. A. Wood)

Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians that they might grow more and more in their capacity of love. "And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, loving within you as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love". (Ephesians 3:17, Living Bible) There is opportunity for unlimited growth in love toward our fellowmen, as reflected in the following exhortation by William Law: "Let every day be a day of humility; condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow-creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind".

"Father, I see now that I can experience heart purity immediately at the time I surrender all to you, in faith, but that I can only experience life maturity to the extent that I grow daily in my capacity to love. May Christ feel more and more at home within my heart as I grow daily towards my greater maturity in love."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: There is no greater joy known to mankind than the 'joy of becoming' –the joy: of becoming more loving and loveable, and thus becoming more Christlike!

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Isaiah 1:18, Psalms 51:10-12, Romans 12:1-2

The Reasonableness Of 'Christian Perfection'

The standard of Christian perfection is a Biblical standard. However, many have tried to repudiate perfection because of the connotations surrounding the word. It is important to understand what Christian perfection is not. Christian perfection is not absolute perfection, or angelic perfection, or Adamic perfection, or legal perfection, or service perfection, or behavioral perfection, or sinless perfection. When Christian perfection is properly understood, it becomes reasonable for a Christian to accept it as the normal standard for Christian living. Christian perfection is supreme and constant preference for God. Such love filling the heart of man must increase more and more throughout all of life.

"Coupled with cleansing is the Spirit's work of perfecting the believer's heart in love to God and to his neighbor. This is a perfection of quality, not of strength, or of intensity, or of ability to manifest perfectly that love. This is a perfection produced within the deepest ranges of human personality where the springs of affection, of ambition, of motivation take their rise. This is an elimination of all that God would call sin in the moral and spiritual nature of the appropriating believer. This properly is Christian perfection as it was heralded by the Wesleys and since proclaimed by a host of witnesses. Wesley defined many times the perfection that he taught. On one occasion he wrote: "By Christian perfection I mean:

  • Loving God with all our heart–Do you object to this?
  • A heart and life all devoted to God–Do you desire less?
  • Regaining the whole image of God–What objection is there to this?
  • Having all the mind that was in Christ–Is this going too far?
  • Walking uniformly as Christ walked–And to this surely no Christian will object.

If anyone means anything more or anything less by perfection; by perfection, I have no concern about it".

Anyone acquainted with the carnal mind cannot hold that the foregoing level of divine grace is livable unless he is liberated from that indwelling bent to evil. Continued Wesley, "A person may be sincere who has all his natural tempers, pride, wrath, self-will in some degree; but he is not perfect in love till his heart is cleansed from these and all other corruptions". (Insights Into Holiness, p. 121-122; compiled by Kenneth Geiger)

If love is the essence of Christian perfection, then we must recognize that supreme love for God and sincere love for our fellowmen must be our goal in life. "Life has one purpose above all others–to give love to God and to those near you and to allow yourself to be loved in turn. Any work that expresses this love is great work, any that does not is nothing." (A Way In The World, p. 91; Ernest Boyer, Jr.)

"Father, I cannot have a happy or a heal thy life without your implanted holiness in my heart. Wash me and I shall be clean–clean from the deepest stains of inbred sin and selfishness! Fill me and I shall be full–full of your love and joy and peace and poise! I believe, but my faith often wavers. Heal me of my double-mindedness. Make me a single-minded and a Spirit- possessed man. In Jesus' name. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: He who rules all, will have my all, in order that I may enjoy His all!

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1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Christian Love–The Most "Excellent Way"!

Wrote Paul, "And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing". (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)

"There is nothing we can do, not anything at all, that rivals this in importance. To have loved deeply, profoundly, fully, even one other human being, and to have welcomed his or her love in return, expresses the essence of all that life contains. .Without love even those deeds that earn prestige, wealth, and power become hollow and empty. With life, the smallest, most ordinary of actions becomes sacred." (A Way In The World, p. 91-92; Ernest Boyer, Jr.)

If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but don't have love, I am no better than the heathen whose worship involved the clanging of cymbals and the braying of trumpets.

The carnal Corinthian Christians were contending and competing for the spectacular gifts, and were craving these gifts for selfish purposes rather than for the edification of the entire Church. Paul points out that no gift would be of value without the others, and therefore there should be no pride in a particular gift. Each gift must be used in service to every other person in the Church.

One of the gifts which was coveted at Corinth was the gift of speaking in tongues, It seems to have been one of the more spectacular, dramatic gifts, sometimes used in a way that led to confusion and disorder within the public services.

"The least edifying of the spiritual gifts was that of 'speaking in tongues' (glossolalia). During a service of worship first one and then another would fall into a trance and pour out, sometimes simultaneously, a flood of excited but unintelligible speech. When the ecstasy was past, someone with a kindred gift of interpretation explained the message, if he could. In order to prevent outsiders from concluding that the Corinthian Christians are mad (1 Corinthians 14:23), Paul orders that in each service not more than two or three should speak in a tongue, and each in turn. If, however, no one is present to interpret, each is to 'keep silence in Church and speak to himself and to God' (1 Corinthians 14:28)." (The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content, p. 227; Bruce M. Metzger)

"Father, it is not gifts I seek, but the Giver–the blessed Holy Spirit. It is not the ecstatic or the emotional or the dramatic experience that I need, but it is the ethical reality of a life of sanctity, issuing forth in practical acts of love, which I desperately need! Dearest Spirit, manifest your coming as you will–as the gentle breeze on a calm day or as the crashing thunder on a stormy day–but, above all else, come to me in all Your fullness!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: What God commands, my nature demands, and the blessed Spirit will supply–agape love!

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Romans 12:3-13

Preaching Motivated By Love!

Paul taught (in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13) that it is possible to exercise the various gifts selfishly, evidencing that one is not really filled with the Holy Spirit. The carnal Corinthians gloried in their gifts (eloquence, knowledge, speaking in 'tongues', etc.), and especially did they focus on the spectacular gift of speaking in 'tongues'. It was because of this wrong focus on the part of the Corinthian believers that Paul found it necessary to emphasize the importance of agape (love) as described in I Corinthians 13. What the tongues-speaking carnal Corinthians needed was a Baptism of love which would result in an inner cleansing from carnality and an outward redirecting of their particular gifts (including 'tongues') from selfish use to Christ-honoring use. Paul makes it clear that it is possible to have the gift of speaking with the tongues of men (actual languages) and with the tongues of angels (unknown tongues of ecstasy) without being baptized with love (1 Corinthians 13:1) . The Corinthians were too gift-oriented and not enough Giver-oriented. They had not yet experienced the Giver–the Holy Spirit–in all His fullness. They needed a baptism of love, as described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

The gift of tongues must not only be guided by love, but the gift of prophecy (preaching) must also be guided by love. There are those who preach or pray for show, not for edification of the Church. The words one speaks in teaching, or preaching, or praying must be spoken with only one purpose in mind–to build up and to help the entire body of Christ. "Whether a man is speaking or praying or singing, he must do it not only with his spirit, but with his mind. He must know what is going on and others must be able to understand it. And so Paul reaches the blunt conclusion that in a Christian congregation it is better to speak a few intelligible sentences than to pour out a flood of unintelligible sounds in a tongue." (Daily Study Bible, 1 Corinthians, p. 143)

"The greatest test of any part of worship is, 'Will this help everyone?' It is not, 'Will this display my special gifts?' It is, 'Will this bring all who are here nearer to each other and nearer to God?'" (Ibid, p. 145)

Preaching without love brings terror and condemnation–not comfort, solace and strength. The ultimate aim of preaching must be to give joy for sorrow, hope for despair, forgiveness for condemnation, peace for turmoil, strength for weakness. I recently talked to a young man, in his twenties, and I encouraged him to come to worship services. He said something like this to me, "I and my whole family quit going to Church. It seemed that every time we went to Church, the preacher would yell at us and point his finger at us and act as if he were mad at the entire congregation, while he was preaching". Every preacher must ask himself, "Does love for God and love for others motivate my preaching, or do threats and fears characterize my preaching?"

"Heavenly Father, I confess that sometimes I have contended for the right issues but with the wrong spirit. Let me speak the truth–in love! Make me an encourager–treating others with the tenderness of a nurse caring for her patient and with the understanding of a mother caring for her faltering children."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Affirmation–not vindication–will be the goal of my life, in all of the relationships of my life!

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Isaiah 40:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

The Tenderness And Wisdom Of Love

We noted in the last devotional that love must be the motivator for all preaching (1 Corinthians 13:2). Writes Bruce Larson, "I have a quotation by Victor Hugo on the wall of my office which says, 'Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread'. Jesus Christ is God's great affirmation of man. He loves us in our sins, He wants to change us, but He is totally on our side while we are yet sinners, and He calls us to enter into His great love and acceptance. When we have done this, then we go out and become this affirmation for others… I've been making an experiment lately as I watch many TV preachers. The words are about the love of God and forgiveness for sinners, but if you turn off the sound and simply look at the gestures and the faces, or if you turn the sound low to listen to the tone of the voices, all you see and hear communicated is anger. Television preachers are not the only ones guilty of this. How often I relate to people in my home or office or in my circle of friends as a prophet who must straighten out, teach, correct, bring down wrath, point out faults. But people are not changed by the John the Baptist approach. Rather as God through one of his people affirms their strengths, they find hope for their failures". (Ask Me To Dance, p. 63; Bruce Larson)

Intellectual Knowledge without love equals snobbery and contempt for the less fortunate. A cool head without a warm heart can only result in destructive social relationships. The intellectually-acute sinner is potentially the most dangerous sinner. A trained head without a controlled heart can equal a destroyed world! He who knows much about gadgets but virtually nothing about God may claim great knowledge but cannot claim wisdom, and knowledge without wisdom can bring untold misery.

"All the education in the world cannot make up for the fundamental need of being born again. One can become an intellectual theologian without know- God." (Ibid, p. 28) I may have all knowledge, but if it is not controlled by love, I am nothing! Why? (1) For knowledge without love brings hurts, not helps, to mankind. Knowledge of atomic energy can be used to help to save mankind or to help destroy mankind, depending upon whether or not this knowledge of a great energy is guided by love.

"How empty learning, 
How vain is art 
But as it mends the life 
And guides the heart." 

(2) For knowledge will die when the person dies, but love lives on forever in human character and never-dying soul, upon which death has no power.

Wrote Paul, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God". (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

"Father, let me never despise knowledge, but with all my getting of knowledge, let me get wisdom and understanding. Let your love guide me in the wise application of knowledge, that I might always be a blessing and never a curse to my world! In Jesus' name. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I will be a love-possessed man so that I might be a builder of men and of nations, not a destroyer!

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1 John 2:9-11,1 John 3:11-18

The Supremacy Of Love

1 Corinthians 13:2 b says, "If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing". Faith without love can be impersonal and unfeeling. There are those who strongly declare faith in God but who are intolerant and unloving in their judgments of others who differ from them. Strong personal convictions are, of course, important, but these convictions should be stated lovingly and kindly. There are those who are orthodox in belief and who often make faith-assertions, but who are cold and calculating and unresponsive in human relationships. There are those who claim faith but who essentially are critical and judgmental. A broken-hearted person would not feel welcome to use their shoulder to weep on.

"There was a man who visited his doctor and who was informed that his heart was tired and he must rest. He telephoned his employer, who was a notable Christian figure, and told him the news, only to receive the answer, 'I have an inward strength which enables me to carryon'. These are the words of faith, but they are the words of a faith which knew no love, and which was therefore a hurting and cutting thing." (Daily Study Bible, I Corinthians, p. 132; Barclay)

'Charity' or 'good works' can be performed without the presence and motivation of agape (love). "There is nothing in this world more humiliating than this so-called charity without love. To give as a grim duty, to give with a certain contempt, to stand on one's own little eminence and to throw scraps of charity as to a dog, to give and to accompany the giving with a smug moral lecture or a crushing rebuke, is not charity at all–it is pride, and pride is always cruel for pride knows no love." {Ibid, p. 132}

It is even possible to give one's body to be burned and yet not have Christian love. "If I give all I possess to the pour and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:3) There are great feats of courage performed by unbelievers. One Russian Communist, "when imprisoned at a terrible prison camp in Siberia, sought to protest the flogging' of the other men. He finally drenched himself in kerosene, set himself on fire and burned himself to death". {Ask Me To Dance, p. 40; Bruce Larson} In the time of Paul there was an Indian who had "burned himself in public on a funeral pyre and had caused to be engraved on the monument the boastful inscription: 'Zarmano-chegas, an Indian from Bargosa, according to the traditional customs of the Indians, made himself immortal and lies here'." (Daily Study Bible, I Corinthians, p. 132; Barclay)

"If the motive which makes a man even give his life for Christ is the motive of pride and self-display and self-glory, then even martyrdom becomes valueless." (Ibid, p. 132)

"Love is supreme, and without love–God's love in me–everything else is ultimately worthless. Father, I see that this love is a gift, given to the humble, surrendered, responsive heart. Just now, I open my life to you. Fill me with your love. I receive it, as a small child trustingly receives a good gift from a generous father. I gladly surrender the total control of my life to the Holy Spirit. Thank you."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I feel this warm love everywhere within me because God has given me the Holy Spirit to fill my heart with his love (Romans 5:5, Living Bible).

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Discussion Questions:

How Perfect Is 'Christian Perfection'?

  1. Give at least four reasons (as stated by J. A. Wood) why there is so much prejudice against or even outright hostility to the concepts of 'Entire Sanctification' and 'Christian Perfection'?

  2. Do you believe the phrase 'Christian Perfection' should be used regularly in modern-day teaching and preaching on the subject of Holiness? Why or why not? If not, what terms would better describe the 'deeper life' of Christian experience?

  3. How would you concretely describe the positive dynamics in the experience of 'Christian Perfection'? In other words, what are the positive actions of God in the human heart at the time a believer experiences 'perfect love'?

  4. List and describe at least seven various kinds of 'Perfection', and contrast each of these types of perfection with 'Christian Perfection'.

  5. What does the word 'Perfect' in the Greek language mean, and how is an understanding of this Biblical meaning helpful in understanding the meaning of 'Christian Perfection'?

  6. If the 'perfect' man, in the Biblical sense of the term, is the man who is like God in His love, what then is God's love like?

  7. What are the characteristics of agape (divine-like) love, as taught in the Bible? (Note Matthew 5:43-48)

  8. What fears are cast out and what fears are not cast out of a believer's heart when he is experiencing 'perfect love'? (Note 1 John 4:18)

  9. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statements: "Perfect love is perfect in that love fills the whole heart. There is no room in the heart for any less affection than affection for God. The whole heart is the home of God. He occupies every room."

  10. What, practically-speaking, is meant by the statement: "'Perfect Love' is constant love".

  11. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "I do not get more of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit gets more of me–when, as a believer, I surrender everything to Christ!"

  12. Should the one who professes to enjoy 'perfect love' be expected to live in a state of continual spiritual ecstasy?

  13. How can holiness by 'perfect' and yet 'progressive'?

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    Discussion Questions:

    How Perfect Is 'Christian Perfection'? (continued)

  14. What is your personal response to the following statement, (by William Law which describes the unlimited possibilities for growth in 'perfect love'): "Let every day be a day of humility: condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow-creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind".

  15. What did John Wesley mean when he used the term 'Christian Perfection'?

  16. What is your response to the following statement: "If love is the essence of Christian perfection, then we must recognize that supreme love for God and sincere love for our fellowmen must be our goal in love". What are your personal goals for life? Are they compatible with the Biblical command to love God supremely and to love your neighbors as yourself?

  17. With what motivation and for what purpose should the various spiritual gifts be exercised within the context of the local Church?

  18. What is your response to the following statement: "What God commands, my nature demands, and the blessed Spirit will supply–agape Love!"

  19. Why is intellectual knowledge which is not motivated and controlled by love so futile and even dangerous? (Note 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 13:8)

  20. What are the tragic results of having 'faith' which is not motivated and controlled by love?

  21. What are the tragic results of performing 'good works' when such performance is not motivated by love?

  22. Is it possible to make a great personal sacrifice which is not motivated by God's 'love in the human heart? (Note 1 Corinthians 13:3)

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