Sometimes “perfection” (Greek, “telieos”) is used to indicate the goal of maturity and completeness that is the grace-based goal for the Spirit-filled Christian.
“[Jesus Christ] Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).
“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” (Phil. 3:15).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16,17. See Luke 6:40; 1 Cor. 2:6; 2 Cor. 13:11).
But the believer cannot arrive at absolute (sinless) perfection this side of heaven.
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12. See James 3:2; 1 John 1:8,10).
This following summary of John Wesley’s description of “Christian Perfection” is from James G. Lawson’s Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians, chapter 10. Even those of us who are not Methodists need to appreciate the way God used Wesley, and to understand the way Wesley did–and didn’t–use the concept of “perfection” in reference to victorious Christian living.]
In his journal June 27, 1769, [John Wesley] defines what he means by “Christian Perfection”… [and] In his Journal November 1, 1762, he wrote concerning the views of a certain individual,
“I like your doctrine of perfection, or pure love; love excluding [intentional] sin. Your insisting
- that it is merely by faith;
- that consequently it is instantaneous, (though preceded and followed by a gradual work), and
- that it may be now, at this instant.
“But I dislike your supposing
- man may be as perfect as an angel;
- that he can be absolutely perfect;
- that he can be infallible or above being tempted; or,
- that the moment he is pure in heart he cannot fall from it.
“I dislike the saying, ‘This was not known or caught among us till within two or three years [ago].’ I grant you did not know it. You have over and over denied instantaneous sanctification to me; but I have known and caught it (and so has my brother [Charles], as our writings show) above these twenty years.”
In his Journal May 14, 1765, Wesley explains how he came to believe in the doctrine of “Christian Perfection,” and what he believed the experience to be. He says:
“But how came this opinion into my mind? I will tell you with simplicity. In 1725 I met with Bishop Taylor’s Rules of Holy Living and Dying. I was struck particularly with the chapter on intention, and felt a fixed intention to give myself up to God. In this I was much confirmed soon after by the Christian pattern, and longed to give God all my heart. This is just what I mean by Perfection now. I sought after it from that hour.
“In 1727, I read Mr. Law’s Christian Perfection and Serious Call, and more explicitly resolved to be all devoted to God, in body, soul, and spirit. In 1730, I began to be homo unius libri ; to study (comparatively) no book but the Bible. I then saw in a stronger light than ever before, that only one thing is needful, even faith that worketh by the love of God and man, all inward and outward holiness, and I groaned to love God with all my heart, and to serve Him with all my strength [Gal. 5:6; Matt. 22:37].
[“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts…” Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet.3:15a.]
“January 1, 1733, I preached the sermon on the circumcision of the heart, which contains all that I now teach concerning salvation from all [intentional] sin, and loving God with an undivided heart. In the same year I printed (the first time I ventured to print anything), for the use of my pupils, ‘A collection of forms of Prayer’; and in this I spoke explicitly of giving ‘the whole heart and the whole life to God.’ This was then as it is now, my idea of Perfection, though I should have started at the word.
“In 1735, I preached my Farewell Sermon, at Epworth in Lincolnshire. In this likewise I spoke with the utmost clearness of having one design, one desire, one love, and of pursuing the one end [goal] of our life in all our words and actions.
“In January 1738, I expressed my desires in these words:
“O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell but Thy pure love alone;
0 may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure and my crown
Strange flames far from my heart remove;
My every act, word, thought be love.
“I am still persuaded that this is what the Lord Jesus hath bought me with His blood.”
Wesley was almost constantly traveling and preaching. “The world is my parish” was his famous motto. In 1774, he wrote that he never traveled less than 4,500 miles a year. For many a year his annual record was 8,000 miles, and during this period he seldom preached les than 5,000 times a year. He … preached more than 40,000 sermons, some of them to congregations of about 20,000 people … With the power of God manifestly present, he expired triumphantly on March 2, 1791, his dying testimony being ‘Best of all, God is with us.’
[“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” 2 Cor. 7:1.]
Article’s title, bracketed introduction, and bracketed references – GN editor
For a biographical introduction to John Wesley (1703-1791) and several of his books, see CCEL.org
Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, King James Version.