Godliness and Perfectionism (Part 1)

Sometimes it does feel impossible. We fail, we fall apart, and we fail again. In fact for many Christians there are times where it feels like it’s just not worth it. I am talking about pursuing godliness, and if you’ve been a Christian for more than three seconds you know just how hard that can be. But I fear that we’ve accepted a defeatist attitude when it comes to obedience and such an attitude is not only contrary to Scripture but turns us away from striving for holiness. Godliness is possible, even while perfection isn’t. The sooner we get that distinction the sooner we can begin to grow more consistently.

Humility is a good thing, but misapplied humility can be a dangerous thing. It is right and good for Christians to stand before a holy God and say with the prophet Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” It is right to see our standing before God as that of sinners saved by his great grace. But if we misapply this truth we may actually undermine our pursuits of holiness. I like how Kevin DeYoung says it, he writes:

With all the best intentions, we tend t flatten the biblical view on holiness until we squeeze out the dynamic nature of life with God. In an effort to own up to our own abiding sinfulness and highlight the gospel of free grace, we remove any notion that we can obey God or tha the can delight in our good works. (The Hole in Our Holiness, 64)

This is very important to understand. We must see ourselves and our relation to God rightly. We are sinners, but we are sinners saved by grace and given the powerful Spirit of God. If we are going to pursue godliness, then the first thing we must grasp is that godliness is possible.

For many of the young men and women in my church this is the key first step for them. They need to know, as we all do, that God has not consigned them to a futile existence on earth. They try to be godly, but seemingly can’t. And because they think they can’t be godly they tend to one or two extremes: (1) surrender (if I can’t be godly then I might as well indulge sin), or (2) self-condemnation (If I can’t be godly then I am either the worst Christian in the world, or maybe not a Christian at all). The key to helping all of us is to understand the distinction between godliness and perfection.

Godliness and perfection are clearly related. After all God is perfect and so to be like him seemingly means to become perfect. But here in is where the confusion I think lies. There is an assumption that if we are not sinless, if our motives are not 100% pure, if our actions are not free of all possible sin then they cannot be pleasing to God. Again DeYoung can help us here. He adds:

It sounds humble to say, “I cannot obey God for one nanosecond in my life,” but it’s not true. Acting like holiness is out of reach for the ordinary Christian doesn’t do justice to the way the Bible speaks about people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, who “were both righteous before God, walking blameless in all the commandments and statues of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). It doesn’t take seriously the Lord’s commendation of Job as “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). And there’s Paul, who frequently commends his churches and his ministry partners for their obedience and godly example. It sure seems like holiness is a possibility for God’s people. (65).

All these truths may not make your own pursuit of godliness easier. That is to say you will still struggle with sin and temptation, there’s no denying that. But if we begin to see what the Bible teaches about the possibility of holiness it gives us hope and resolve to keep pressing on.

Godliness is possible and next week I want to pick up on this theme again. The more we grasp it the stronger our pursuit of holiness before God in this life, here and now, can be. Friends, believe it today: godliness is possible for you, even if you’re not perfect.


  1. […] Looking for a good Systematic Theology textbook?  David Dunham offers a quick description of several leading systematic texts.  David also began a new series this week entitled, “Godliness and Perfectionism.” […]

  2. […] see, is without excuse. O, don’t misunderstand. Holiness is still hard, I’ve written elsewhere about that. But there’s still no justification for sin in the life of the believer. We have […]

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