Sermon Thirty Five Christian perfection

john                                                             audio clip

This is such a long sermon, even in comparison with other long ones of Wesley. And I have to say not very helpful. I feel like the child who just can’t reach the cookie jar. In one sermon he has put a downer on everyone who considers themselves Christian.


Because he says that if we are guided by the Holy Spirit we cannot sin. He uses lots of scripture both from the Old and New Testament to back up his argument. And it sounds peachy. We are Christian and therefore we do not sin. But hands up those who don’t. Never have even the beginning of a bad thought about someone?

He outlines how we are not perfect and uses the example of us not having full knowledge, the Trinity is a huge mystery to us for example. We are fallible, God is not. The Bible is infallible, we are not. We make mistakes.

Actually I feel like the cookie jar has been taken out of my hands. If I follow with Wesley’s theology I should be perfect. And I am not. I follow the law of the land, I follow the law of God but I live in a state of grace which means that my way of following those laws is different to a non-believer.

I follow them as part of the love that pours down on me, as I live with the gifts given and the fruit of the Spirit there are some sins that I couldn’t do without wrenching myself from the Lord’s arms. So why would I do that?

Everyday I am honed a little bit more, another aspect of my character needs some work. Today it was my propensity to sit and sleep rather than do something active to freshen my dull mind. I was struck by lethargy at the very time when I need to be sharp.

Wesley wrote a book about Christian perfection too, it was a major focus of his life. He believed we could attain perfection.

Now when God looks at us through the lens of Jesus we are washed clean and spotless, we are perfect in His eyes because he is looking through the blood of Christ.

God is not grim or a cosmic killjoy, if I were to get hung up on the Law, the sins I would lose my joy, that beautiful gift from God. We are free from the chains of sin and when we do sin we are immediately sorry, we throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

God gave to us a new nature, He put another principle into us, a third part of a perfective constitution; we have the spirit put into us, to be a part of us, as properly to produce actions of a holy life, as the soul of man in the body does produce the natural. God hath exalted human nature, and made it in the person of Jesus Christ, to sit above the highest seat of angels, and the angels are made ministering spirits, ever since their Lord became our brother. Jeremy Taylor 1652

Wesley therefore was not the only one talking about perfection. I get images of people not quite walking on the ground and ice cream. Taylor is talking about the perfect Spirit living within us and Wesley suggests that because the perfect Spirit is within us we cannot sin if we want the Spirit to stay. There is a tension within us, our human nature and the Spirit guiding us. We are sinful living in a broken world but the Spirit gives us the option of a new way of living.

It is but a very little while that our spirits shall be crusht and clogged with these heavy and sluggish bodies; at the resurrection they shall be refined from all dregs of corruption, and become spiritual, and incorruptible, and glorious, and every way suited to the activity and perfection of a glorified soul and the ‘spirits of just men made perfect. Tillotson 1652

Tillotson argues that it is at death this perfection occurs, I think but open to others interpretations. He goes on:

‘Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us always that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.’ Tillotson 1652

There is a movement here, a progressing. My friend has the phrase, “Work in Progress” always in her mind and quotes it frequently when we mess up. I can just see the words forming on her lips. God forgives us so much, I know he has endless mercy and grace and sometimes I understand that in a very personal way. It isn’t fair, if things were fair I would be heading to hell.

Recently I have discovered there are public sins, the ones that put you in the spotlight, that people have an opinion about where you went wrong, what you should do about it etc. Lots of human judgement and tsk tsking. And then there are ones that no one human knows about. Those are the ones that are a barrier to even attempting to reach perfection.

Some people sit with these secret sins, thinking that if no one human knows, sure it will be alright. Some people worry themselves about them but do nothing about them. Others struggle with them being unable to be free of them and others fall at the feet of the Cross and move onward and forward to that hope of perfection, the way the Lord sees us.

So no, at this moment in time on this issue I do not concur with John, would love to talk it over with him so he could explain it better so I might understand. Doctor, I need a lift…