(Are Christians truly perfect?)

Perfect Christians. Is there such a thing? The answer is actually yes, and no. (And this is not an intentionally obscure answer!) Here is my response to a question that relates to this.

Question: First John 3:6 seems to suggest Christians are perfect, that they never sin. But we know they do. What does John mean?

Answer: The text in question says: "Whoever abides in Him [Christ] does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. And vs. 9 says something similar: "Whoever has been born of God does not sin."

John cannot be suggesting here that Christians are perfect, or that if a professing Christian ever commits a sin, it shows he is not saved at all. We certainly know believers are not sinless from personal experience and observation. And John has already indicated in his letter that God has provided a remedy for believers who, in their weakness and fallibility, do stumble into sin sometimes (I Jn. 1:8–2:2).

Most commentators believe the statements in 3:6 and 9 refer to sinning as a habitual lifestyle, a characteristic state. (And several of the translators reflect this view.) Sinning in the believer's life is serious, and must be dealt with. But sinning is not his characteristic state. "No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him" (3:6, NIV).

The other key to interpreting this statement lies in the word "abiding" (which the Lord Jesus discussed in His Upper Room Discourse, Jn. 15:4-7, 10). Abiding does not refer to the believer's legal standing in Christ (a theme of Paul's, e.g. II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:3, 6; Col. 2:10), but rather to the saint's state of fellowship with the Lord.

We are placed into Christ, in the legal sense, at the moment of conversion. That is something God does (I Cor. 1:3). It gives us our eternal legal position or standing, by which the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection are applied to us. We are perfect Christians in God's sight, in this forensic sense.

Abiding is different. The followers of Christ are commanded to abide in Him (Jn. 15:4). So this is something for which we are to take personal responsibility. We must maintain our fellowship with the Lord by a walk of consistent faith and obedience, and by confessing and forsaking all known sin.

It is possible to be out of fellowship with God, because of unconfessed sin, yet still be a Christian. (A child does not stop being a child of his parents when he disobeys.) Our standing before God is based on Christ's righteousness, not our own. But our practical state is to be a daily concern; we maintain our fellowship with Him, and a godly Christian walk, by His enabling grace.

While in the state of abiding (fellowship), the Christian will not sin. The two are mutually exclusive. Since sin hinders our fellowship with God (Isa. 59:1-2), and sets up a barrier between us, we are at that time not "abiding." But that has to do with our state or condition in daily experience, not with our eternal standing or position in Christ.

"Everyone who in Him is constantly abiding is not habitually sinning" (3:6, Kenneth Wuest's Expanded Translation). "No one who abides in Him–who lives and remains in communion with and in obedience to Him [deliberately and knowingly] habitually commits (practices) sin" (3:6, Amplified Bible).

So, again: Perfect Christians? Yes we are, as to our position in Christ. But we are not always so in our day-to-day condition, and sin in our lives must be dealt with for fellowship with God to be restored. One day, when we go to be with the Lord, what we are as to our state will be perfected and become forever identical to our heavenly standing. But not yet.