Can a Christian achieve sinless perfection?

by Matt Slick
5/10/16

No, a Christian cannot achieve sinless perfection; that is, on this side of heaven. Though there are Christians who say they do not sin anymore, they are in error. In order to achieve a sinless state of perfection, the Christian's motivations would have to be pure and perfect at all times because God looks at the condition of the heart as well as our actions.  Consider the following verses.

  • Matthew 5:28, "but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
  • Matthew 22:37, "And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’"
  • Matthew 22:39, "'The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’"

We see that Jesus taught that the intention of the heart is important to God. This is because God's heart is perfect. He is holy which is why He says in 1 Peter 1:16, "Be holy, for I am holy."  God is the standard of holiness and Jesus reveals the necessity of the perfect standard.

Can any Christian say that his heart is perfect and that he never falters? That he never looks upon a woman with impure thoughts? That he loves the Lord God with all of his heart, and that he loves his neighbor as himself, all with a perfect state of mind? The standard is absolute purity. None of us can claim that.

But there are those who say the Bible says we do not sin.

  • 1 John 3:6, "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him."
  • 1 John 3:9, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
  • 1 John 5:18, "We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him."

The Bible is not saying that we don't sin. Those verses in 1 John are talking about abiding in sin. That is not what Christians do. In fact, 1 John earlier in the same epistle states the following.

  • 1 John 1:8, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us."
  • 1 John 2:1, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

Notice that John the apostle includes himself in the issue of sinning. Are the sinless perfectionist people more holy than John the apostle? I think not.

So, a Christian is to struggle against his sin and to see this before God. But we cannot say that every intention of our hearts is always perfect and pure. If it were, we would not need an intercessor before God once we are saved. The idea of sinless perfectionism is an error that is refuted by Scripture.