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13. Perfection: Oneness

Chapter 13

Perfection: Oneness

 “that they all may be one…

 that they also may be one in us…

 that they may be one just as we are one…

 that they may be made perfect in one”

 (John 17.21-23, NKJV)

These words are spoken by Jesus in what is called his “high priestly prayer,” in which he makes some profound and striking state­ments. As we shall see, the prayer becomes exceedingly mean­ingful when we examine it in the context of perfection.

It is important to remember that perfection is not achievable in our own strength. Without God’s grace and power, perfection would be so unattain­able that it would be pointless for us to even talk about it. But because it is God’s will that we be perfect, and because He is the Father of mercies (2Cor.1.3) who gives us the power to do His will, we have no excuse for not striving towards it.

In this chapter we look at another important aspect of perfection: oneness. That oneness is a synonym of perfection can be seen from the following parallels:

Be perfect as He is perfect

Be holy as He is holy

Be merciful as He is merciful

Be one as He is one

We have considered the first three; let us turn our attention to the fourth. But before going to the main exposition, we need to grasp four important points regarding perfection which apply to oneness in particular.

 

Part One:

Perfection, Four Main Points

First: Perfection is Part of Salvation

Paul says, “To this end (namely, “to present everyone perfect in Christ,” v.28) I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col.1.29, NIV). Paul doesn’t shrink from using words such as “labor” or “struggle”—words that we ignore because they remind us of “works”. Paul not only uses such words, but does so with surprising frequency.

For what purpose does Paul toil and strive with all his might? To present everyone “perfect” in Christ (v.28). If salvation is really nothing much more than regen­eration, why would Paul work so hard to bring believers to perfection? All he would have to say to the newly saved is, “I wish you the best. There is nothing more I need to do for you. You’re on your own now.”

What is the prevailing situation today? What do churches do for the spiritual growth of the newly baptized? In most cases, nothing. Certainly they are asked to attend church and perhaps get involved in church activities. But generally there is no planned program of teaching or training designed to build them up step by step. Good Biblical teach­ing is hard to find; how then can young Christians be built up spiritually through solid teaching in God’s word? And if the essential ingre­dient of oneness is missing in the spiritual life of a church, how can a person grow up to spiritual perfection or maturity in that environment?

Perfection has for the most part disappeared from the teaching on salva­tion. Instead much is said and written in a scornful or derisive tone about “perfectionism” or “perfectionists,” words that have nothing to do with the Biblical teaching on perfection. (See the Appended Note at the end of this chapter on perfection and “Perfectionism”.)

Growing into Christ-likeness

God’s word has been given to us so that we may grow up to salvation (1Pet.2.2). Salvation has to do with growth. Growth is the evidence of the vigor of life. Growth is a process, just as salvation is a process rather than a one-time event. In that process of spiritual growth, we “grow up to salvation”. And the goal of that salvation is perfection, or Christ-likeness. As Paul puts it, “we are to grow up in all aspects into him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph.4.15). This is not an optional extra but some­thing vital to salvation.

If we are truly born of God, we would be “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pet.1.4), a nature that is holy and merciful. In other words, regeneration will inevitably take us on the road to perfection. If we are truly regenerate—truly born of God—then His nature is in us, and it remains for us “to grow up into him”.

Second: Perfection is not a Matter of Deliberate Policy

Secondly, the progress towards perfection (whether as holiness, mercy or oneness) is not a calculated course of action that we decide to take, but a spontaneous expression of the new life in Christ. It is not an ethical policy, but something that stems from an inner spiritual dynamic of new life by which holiness and mercy become a part of our nature. This distinction is very important. Occasionally I might show mercy willingly and, there­fore, intentionally. I may see a beggar and decide to give him a few doll­ars because that makes me feel good. That act of mercy doesn’t necess­arily stem from an inner merciful nature, but from my generous mood today, or from my belief that I should, as a mat­ter of policy, show some kindness from time to time because “it is good for my soul,” that is, it does me good in some way. The old ego is also capable of producing a few acts of generosity when it serves its purpose to do so.

In contrast to this, if we are truly regenerate, mercy will begin to flow “naturally” from our innermost being. Having been born anew, we are moved by the Spirit to be merciful. It doesn’t depend on any calcu­lated intention on our part. Regeneration has transformed me into a new man with a new nature, and now I am becoming merciful because of that new nature in me. It is not the result of a conscious calculation that goodness or holi­ness is good social policy, or that it is good for my mental health.

Most people agree that mercifulness is good. We too can aspire to holiness for personal reasons. But if we don’t have true inner holiness, we are no better than the Pharisees or religious hypocrites who have decided that holiness, or at least the appearance of it, serves a useful social purpose. The Pharisees, for example, have concluded that it is good for them to be seen praying in public (Mt.6.1,5). Piety has its social rewards, especially in a religious society (such as Israel was at that time) or in religious circles. But this kind of piety doesn’t stem from regeneration. We need to see the distinction.

In talking about perfection, we are not promoting a human ideal that we think is good and desirable. Perfection is indeed a good ideal, but that is not the reason we press towards it. It is because we have been born anew, and consequently God’s power im­pels us in the direction of perfection. As the apostle puts it, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil.2.13); hence he says, “I press on toward the goal” (Phil.3.14).

The pursuit of Christ-like perfection is the evidence of regeneration. Paul says, “Let a man examine himself” (1Cor.11.28)—and that includes examin­ing whether we are truly regenerate. The question is not whether you think that holiness is good. Every Christian agrees that holiness is good (even if few Christians think it is essential), but what really counts is that a person has been made holy and merciful because God’s Spirit has come into him, changing his nature and giving him an inner dynamic that motivates him “to will and to work for His good pleasure”.

If we truly have God’s life in us, wouldn’t we feel that He is at work in us, leading us to pray and to work for the oneness of those who are His? And isn’t it evident in Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17 that oneness—namely, the oneness of those who belong to God—is a central concern of His Father’s, and a central aspect of His will?

Do you have an inner dynamic that drives you towards perfection? Or are you merely agreeing that holiness, mercifulness, and oneness are good in principle? We are not talking about opinions or ideals but about life. It is life with which we are concerned, so it follows that a regenerate person, precisely because he has God’s new life in him, earnestly seeks the realization of all the qualities of the divine nature comprehended in the word “perfection”. He himself has become a partaker of the divine nature, and these divine qualities now reside in him in nascent form and are in the process of growing in him.

This being the case, it also follows that anyone who feels a strong inner resistance to holiness or mercy or oneness, or to perfection gener­ally, should let the Lord examine him to see if he has been born anew.

Third: Perfection involves Fruit-Bearing

In John 15, Jesus talks about bearing fruit. In this chapter alone, the word “fruit” occurs eight times. Jesus is telling us that we live for the purpose of bearing fruit. Linking this to our previous point, we can say that fruit-bearing must also come from an inner dynamic. It is the inner life that causes the branch to bear fruit. Fruit-bearing doesn’t depend on the branch’s calculated conclusion that fruit-bearing is a good idea, or that fruitlessness would be embarrassing.

If a branch fails to bear fruit, it will be thrown out and cast into the fire (John 15.6). It is a solemn warning that a branch that fails to bear fruit has failed to fulfill its purpose of being a branch. If it fails to pass on life, it will be cut off. Being a part of the vine does not automatically guarantee a permanent place in the vine.

Perfection means the transmission of God’s life through us to others. We have received from God what could be called a “transmissive life”—a life that is meant to be trans­mitted or passed on to others. If we claim to be Christians, let’s ask ourselves whether we are branches that are always trying to draw life into ourselves, giving nothing and producing nothing. This reminds us of the Dead Sea where water flows in, but no water flows out. Its water is “dead” because it remains stagnant in the Dead Sea.

From John 15 we see that life (salvation) itself is transmissive. If we seek salvation solely for our own benefit, keeping it to ourselves, we won’t have it in the end. We wish that every evangelist would tell his listeners, “Do you want to be saved? Good! But if you selfishly keep salvation for yourself, or keep God’s love to yourself without channeling it to others, you won’t be saved.”

On the authority of God’s word, we can be sure that no one will be saved who fails to fulfill the transmissive principle of the new life in Christ, and become a channel of God’s love and God’s life to others. The one who is concerned solely with his own salvation will be excluded from it. That is the Lord’s clear teaching.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (John 15.8). “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away …[such branches are] thrown away … cast into the fire, and they are burned” (vv.2,6).

Does a branch bear fruit for its own benefit or for the benefit of others? Do we see what Jesus is saying? Yet many Christians ignore these import­ant words; those who do so will have to face the fearful conse­quences that are so plainly stated.

We must not overlook one more fact about the fruit of the vine: The vine doesn’t produce individual fruits, but clusters or bunches of fruit. A grape is a part of a cluster of many other grapes. In the same way, “the fruit of the Spirit” is a single cluster of nine fruits; that is why the word “fruit” is in the singular (Gal.5.22,23).

The “fruit of the Spirit” is by definition the fruit that the Holy Spirit bears in us, not the fruit that we bear from ourselves. What then is the fruit we are called to bear? Jesus gives the answer in Matthew 28.19, “Go and make dis­ciples”. As we shall see, in the Scriptural pattern, disciples also form small units like clusters of grapes that grow together in oneness in the vine and its branches.

(1) The Self-Absorbed and Materialistic Mentality of Many Christians

What militates so strongly against oneness in the church of God is the fact that many Christians in this genera­tion are probably more selfish than many non-Christians. Most Christ­ians are engrossed with them­selves, their own blessings, their own salvation. Many hymns and gospel songs emphasize “me”. When I was looking for a hymn on the theme of passing on God’s love to others, I could not find one, neither in the Scripture index nor the subject index of the hymn book. The nearest title I could find was Channels Only.

In our individualism, we regard ourselves as the main, if not the sole, object of God’s salva­tion. “Hallelujah! God loves me and saves me and blesses me!” If this kind of attitude pervades the church, as appears to have been the case, what will be its outcome? Will it not breed people who are so selfish as to think that God exists solely for blessing them? They don’t exist for Him, He exists for them.

Self-preoccupation is alien to the word of God, the Bible. We fear for anyone who has this kind of attitude as a Christian, because that person may find himself or herself without a share in eternal life. Referring to our salvation in Christ, 1John 2.2 says that Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins [chief among which is our egocentricity], and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (NIV).

In his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus never gave a thought for him­self. After fasting forty days in the wilderness, he refused to turn one stone into bread to feed himself. In our human thinking, it would have been perfectly reason­able for Jesus to use God’s power to satisfy his hunger; yet he refused to use it for his own benefit.

But when the multitudes were hungry—5,000 men on one occasion, and 4,000 on another, along with women and children—Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes for them. For them, yes; for himself, no. Transmissive love goes out to others, and forgets about oneself.

(2) Who is Following Whom?

If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, what kind of Lord do we think we are following? Is it not truer to say that in our thinking it’s not a matter of our following him but of his following us! And for what end? To give us everything we want: that God will save, protect and bless us, and do our bidding! When we go out on a car trip, how do we understand the words “I am with you always” (Mt.28.20)? Are we going with Jesus accord­ing to his will, or is he coming along with us to provide for our every need, protecting us on the road and helping us arrive at our destination on time?

Who is following whom? Have we sorted out in our minds who is the Lord and who is the disciple? Who is the Master and who is the servant? Are we following him, or he us? Are we so self-absorbed that we cannot see the difference? Man’s appalling selfishness knows no limits.

Many messages broadcast on Christian television preach this kind of self-centered­ness with unabashed temerity. This kind of teaching can be heard daily on television in North America. The Lord is there to do our bidding and to give us a car, a house, money, and a good life, provided that we have “faith”. The preacher holds up his Bible and quotes verses (out of context) to demonstrate his point. As long as he quotes something from the Bible, that is all the justification needed as far as he and his hearers are concerned.

How appealing is this kind of teaching to the natural man. No wonder these churches are crowded with people who want to know how to get God to do what they want! By this “faith” we effectively control God such that He is obliged to give us whatever we want and make us prosperous in the world. This is “practical” religion! When it comes to money and prosperity, that is what the natural man would regard as “practical”.

Here is the ultimate irony: Selfishness is the essence of sin, yet these churches propagate a gospel that encourages selfishness. These Christians are focused on material prosperity, and their preachers preach the “pros­perity gospel”. They show little interest in salvation from sin and from the world, for it seems that it is precisely the world that they are after!

Despite the Bible waving done during the preaching and the use of Biblical words such as “faith,” this kind of Christianity has nothing in common with New Testament faith. The irreconcilable contrast comes out lucidly in Paul’s declaration that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith” (1Tim.6.10). His personal affirmation is, “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal.6.14)

Those who follow God don’t need to be anxious about their material needs, for God is merciful and caring. In His unfathomable love, God is totally committed to us. We can be confident that He cares for our every need when we follow Him. In this we rejoice. It is a truth that cannot be over­emphasized in a Christianity that is ob­sessed with “personal” salva­tion and personal benefits.

But how can anyone who has received God’s love and has gazed upon the cross of Jesus, still be self-preoccupied with pursuing their personal interests? In all probability, such people haven’t actually come to the cross of Jesus and haven’t really experienced God’s love.

At the cross where the Son of God gave himself for us, we see the powerful evidence of his total commitment to us. Can we accept his love and commit­ment to us and still remain committed to our­selves? Surely not! The Lord’s commitment to us is the vital first half of the story of our salvation. The other half is God’s call to us to be totally commit­ted to Him. In this second half we are called to deny our very selves, and follow God to bring His eter­nal life to a world perishing in sin, and to make disciples as He has called us to do.

Why do we stress that it is essential that every vestige of egotism in us be terminated? The answer is obvious in the context of this chapter: self-centeredness militates against the oneness of God’s people; other people and their interests don’t come within its purview, that is, within the scope of its own selfish preoccupations.

Fourth: Perfection is Commanded

Perfection is essential because it is commanded by the Lord. Even if we don’t understand the first three points or the rationale of perfection, we are still obliged to be perfect because Jesus himself calls us to it. True believers will obey his commands without hesitation. Scripture speaks of the “obed­ience of faith” (Romans 1.5; 16.26). Conversely, the opposite of faith is disobedience, which negates faith. We are justified by faith, a faith that is characterized by obedience to God.

Christianity is full of people who “believe” the gospel but few who obey it. We have been given the gospel for us to obey it, not just to believe it in some intellectual sense. God will “deal out retribution” to “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2Thess.1.8). There will be judgment on “those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1Pet.4.17).

These verses make it clear that the Gospel is not just to be believed but to be obeyed. Why is it to be obeyed? Because it is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; it has to do with his lordship. It is only by being under his lordship that we are freed from the dominion of sin, under which we once lived before we became new persons in him. If we should ever cease to live under his lordship, we would immed­iately fall back into the bondage of sin. But having been freed from the grip of sin, we gladly obey his commands because we now live in friendship and in fellowship with him.

Those who don’t obey God show thereby that they don’t have that vital “obedience of faith”. They don’t have that saving faith which Paul emphasizes throughout his letter to the Romans, for faithful obedience of the heart springs forth from and characterizes saving faith.

Do we think we can ignore what God’s Word affirms and enter salvation with a “faith” that has no obedience? Obedience is integral to saving faith; it is a vital constituent of it. Remove it, and what is left is not faith as far as God is concerned.

Do we think we will enter heaven on our own terms? Are we printing our own tickets to heaven? “God’s ticket is too costly, so I will make my own ticket.” Many Christians have printed their own tickets to heaven, with their own terms in fine print. On that day, they will know whether their tickets are valid or not. They will wake up to the spiritual reality of the matter.

I was once in a store in the Hong Kong district of Tsimshatsui, when some American tourists walked in. When they handed over some cash, the person at the counter took out an instrument to scan a greenback (an American bank note). A light turned on. The Americans were impressed, and they asked him what the gadget was. He explained, “This device can tell whether a bank note is genuine or counterfeit. If it’s genuine, the device lights up. If it’s counterfeit, it doesn’t light up.” These Americans had never seen anything like this before, not even in America, nor had I seen one myself. Most people would hold a bank note up to the lights, but that is unreliable in this age of sophisticated counterfeiting. Yet this small device can detect even the most sophisticated counter­feits.

If we think we can print our own tickets to heaven, we are going to be in for a big shock at “the gates of heaven”. Even if we use the best computer equipment to print the tickets, we won’t be able to sneak in with them. The only prepara­tion which will avail is obeying the gospel in response to God’s unfathomable love for us, as it is revealed by the cross of Christ (John 3.16).

Finally, obedience has to do with the implementing of oneness because, as we have noted, oneness is a central aspect of God’s will for the church.

 

Part Two: Oneness

1. “Perfected into One”

Let us now consider John 17.23:

I in them, and You in me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent me, and have loved them as You have loved me.

In these profound words, Jesus prays that God’s people may become “perfect in one” (literally “perfected into one,” i.e. brought into perfect unity through God’s indwelling presence), that they may become perfect­ly one, and the world will know that the Father has sent the Son, and has loved His people just as He has loved Jesus! This is an amazing statement: The Father loves us as He loves Jesus, His own most precious Son!

The fact that God’s love for us sinners could be mentioned in parallel with His love for His Son, in one sentence, is truly staggering. Yet it is unden­iably the cross of Jesus, the place where God gave His own Son for our redemption, that reveals and demonstrates the truth of this astound­ing statement. It also reveals that it is God’s perfect love for His people that binds us together into becoming “perfect in one”.

Since we are the object of God’s infinite self-giving love, wouldn’t that make our self-love utterly redundant? The vast ocean of God’s love can fill our little cup of self, but will never be contained within it. Selfishness is therefore pointless. God’s love can fill every person in the Body of Christ, yet it cannot be contained by all of us put together! There will still be vastly more of His love. If we could empty ourselves by pouring out that love to others, we would be instantly refilled again!

Through God’s love we become one as He is one. That is parallel to what we have been discussing all along: be holy as He is holy, be merciful as He is merciful, be perfect as He is perfect—be one as He is one. These four are similar in principle but the last one is different from the others in that it is not stated as a command. Jesus prays that God’s people may be brought into oneness through His indwelling presence in them—“I in them” (Jo.17.23).

Every quality is possible in us through God’s indwelling presence, but what needs to be observed in this prayer is that God’s presence is linked specifically and uniquely to oneness. Because oneness is the mark and measure of God’s presence in us, all the other qualities in us depend for their fulfillment on the fulfillment of His oneness in us.

That being so, it is clear that the other parallels (be holy, be merciful) become realities in us only insofar as His indwelling presence is able (i.e. not hindered by us) to draw us into an ever stronger oneness with God and with one another. Conversely, if the oneness in God’s people is weak, then holiness, mercy, and the other qualities of His nature will be proportionately weak in them. We cannot have the other divine qualities without oneness; only to the extent that oneness is realized in us will we have the other qualities.

Now we can better understand why it was at the conclusion of his earthly ministry that Jesus prayed this extended prayer for God’s people, that they should be one, and why in that final prayer he did not pray that they be holy or merciful, but that they become one.

2. Perfection is Communal, Not Individual

In speaking of unity, I am still addressing the important topic of perfection. The two are linked together in the following im­portant point: Perfection is a communal endeavor, not just a personal matter. There can be no perfection without unity or oneness. When we think of perfection, we tend to think of a solitary indiv­idual striving for perfect­ion. There is some truth to this, but not the whole truth. That is because perfection in Scripture is a communal matter. This is contrary to the prevailing understanding today. It has become a cliché among evangelicals to speak of a “personal” salvation or a “personal” Savior. Today we have personal checks, personal bank accounts, personal everything. All these cater to our egoistic individualism.

If, however, the term “personal salvation” is used to express the necessity for each person to get right with God, and not suppose himself or herself to be saved simply by being a member of a particular church, then there is no problem with the phrase. It is right to emphasize the need for a personal, direct, and living re­lationship with the living God in regard to salvation.

Is correct emphasis important?

But the stress on the personal in all areas of the Christian life to the neglect of the communal is as disturbing as it is wrong because the emphasis in Scripture is quite the reverse. Scripture constantly stresses the communal, that we are one body in Christ, that we share in one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph.4.4-6)—emphasizing what we have in common rather than what is personal. Likewise, in John 17, the oneness for which Jesus prays is for the community of his disciples as a whole.

Yesterday I was reading on the history of church dogma, and what I read shows the importance of what one stresses. The writer, a German professor, in his now classic work on the history of dogma, says that the difference between Calvin and Luther is fundament­ally a difference of emphasis. Calvin stresses law and decrees, as well as God’s plan in predestination, but Luther stresses God’s love for man. That is a vital and fundamental difference, and the writer argues that Luther is closer to the Scrip­tural emphasis than is Calvin[37].

My basic point is that what you emphasize is very important because it will, in the long term, affect the way you think and the way you behave. If we keep on stressing the personal, this can only lead to individualism. Oneness will become ever harder to attain. “I have my rights! I do what I think is right!” We think of our own rights and privileges rather than what will benefit the community.

Can we learn spiritual lessons from events in the world?

In the seventies and eighties, many people were intrigued by the strength of the Japanese economy. (The future decline of the Japanese economy was a much later development, mainly in the 21st century.) The strength of the Japanese nation lay exactly here, in the stress on the communal rather than the individual (though that may be changing due to Western in­fluence). The West was mystified that the Japanese could go from strength to strength, whereas the once powerful West German economy was struggling with deficits and economic problems. They looked across the globe and said, “Japan used to lag behind Ger­many, but now it has reached Germany’s level, even surpassing it in some areas.”

The economic problems in the West were partly the result of an ongoing series of strikes pressing for better pay and better benefits. In some cases, the companies affected by strikes were already on the verge of financial collapse, but the strikers put their personal bene­fits first. If they carry on like this, the company won’t survive for long and the workers may end up unemployed.

In the United Kingdom where we lived for many years, there was a time when there were strikes, strikes and more strikes! A garbage collectors’ strike created mountains of garbage everywhere. If you ask these workers whether they care about the people and the community, the answer would be: “With the rising cost of living we need more pay.” Eventually even the nurses went on strike, and many others followed suit. We do, of course, sympathize with the financial needs of all who work for a living. That is not the issue. The issue is: Can the problem be solved by insisting on my personal needs and rights irrespective of its impact on the community as a whole, or will this insistence eventually worsen the problem?

But the Japanese functioned communally, usually within the context of the companies that employed them. When a company’s financial situation improves through revenue growth, it will be in a good position to raise the individual’s sal­ary. The in­div­idual will do better and better all the time. He realizes that his well-being is tied to the well-being of his company; that is why he is loyal to his company, and doesn’t want to destroy it with strikes. As the company does better, he does better. That makes sense, doesn’t it?[38]

In saying all this, we have no intention of endorsing one social system over another. But we must express alarm when we see that the church is conforming to the individualistic mentality that is so pervasive in the West. We need to see that it is a mortal danger for the church to conform to the world, which regards as appropriate the doing of whatever is right in one’s own eyes.

Does individualism benefit the church?

If individualism is the way to go, we church ministers ought to form a union! When the church deals unfairly with us, we will go on strike and teach this bunch of people a lesson. “You talk about personal salvation? Let’s talk about my personal salary. If you don’t give me a raise, I will go on strike! Next Sunday you will have no minister. Want to get baptized? No pay, no baptism!”

Few pastors would put it as bluntly as that, but this sentiment is actually quite prevalent, even if it is expressed in more discreet language. They may put the matter before the church board or committee in this way: “My pay is inadequate, so let’s give ourselves a month to adjust it. As reasonable people, we will handle it in a reasonable manner. But if you don’t come up with a raise by next month, please be aware that other churches are looking for a minister like me!”

It boils down to personal benefit. What happens to the church is secondary. A pastor personally known to me promptly left the church he was serving in when presented with an attractive offer from another church; he did this even though his church was left without a pastor and, indeed, could not find one for quite a long time. Personal interests, not those of the church, have priority.

Is holiness mainly an individual attainment in Scripture?

When it comes to holiness, the Bible likewise stresses the com­munal, not the personal. Yet some people think that they need to isolate them­selves (in a monastery, for example) to attain personal perfection. “I’ll lock myself in a room. Don’t disturb me until I become more holy. One day I will come out and help you. Until then, goodbye.” He turns his back on everyone, shuts the door, and pursues holiness. The intention may seem right, but the approach is quite wrong. The reason is that we are to grow in holiness together.

Paul says, “The whole body (the church), supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Col.2.19). The growth here is spiritual growth, not numerical growth. Holiness, mercy and oneness are integral and inalienable elements in spiritual life and growth.

God causes the individual member and the Body to grow toget­her, such that the individual grows in holiness, in the biblical sense, in tandem with the Body. This stands in contrast to the popular notion of a solitary “holy man” who gets on just fine alone, without needing the rest of the Body of Christ.[39]

If God’s life and God’s love are transmissive, they must flow out to others. But the spiritual life, by its nature, cannot be a solely individual matter. My life, as it grows in holiness, will affect another person. Then we grow together. He in turn will show me brotherly love, causing me to grow even more. This is the interchange of life, the essence of life in one body. We grow together as one body or we don’t grow as we ought to.

Why have we spent so much time discussing the communal aspect of perfection? It is because community and togetherness are an integral aspect of oneness. How can we speak of oneness without considering communal togetherness? And why are we so alarmed over the almost universal cancerous disease of indiv­idualism, which is innate to the natural man? It is because this characteristic of the old nature works in us to destroy oneness in the Body of Christ.

3. Becoming Overcomers Together

Let us recall that holiness, in Biblical teaching, is not the eradication of sin from our lives, neither in the individual nor in the church; it is the victorious overcoming of sin. We wrestle with the reality of sin every day. Every day we fight sin on the individual level and as a community. We overcome sin by drawing on God’s power and living by His grace.

Grace doesn’t come into our lives only once, as a one-time event when we believed in Jesus. On the contrary, we live by grace day by day, moment by moment. Anyone who thinks that this amounts to salvation by works doesn’t understand the Script­ural teaching. Salvation is indeed by grace alone, but it is not a one-time event of grace, but a grace that continues unceasingly through our earthly pilgrim­age, because we must overcome sin all the time or it will overcome us.

The Bible, notably in the Revelation, depicts the Christian as one who “overcomes”. In each of the letters to the seven churches, “overcoming” is mentioned (Rev.2.7,11,17,26; 3.5,12,21). The true Christian overcomes sin. For the church it means that we fight sin together. There is no need to pretend that we are holier than we really are. Pretense will only deprive us of help and prayer support because people will be unaware of our problems and our needs. We don’t need to pretend that we are holier than the next guy. He is fighting sin as I am. If we fight the battle shoulder to shoulder, we will win together.

That is the beauty of life in the body: we help each other overcome sin. We say to one another, “This is my weakness, what is yours?” As we become one in Christ, together we can win the battle. Oneness is achieved by an open attitude to one another, shar­ing a common realization that the battle is not won individually but together. Paul speaks of striving for the faith “side by side” (ESV) in one mind and one spirit (Phil.1.27). Isn’t that a beautiful picture?

What is the most difficult sin to overcome? Isn’t it our natural inclination towards selfishness in all its forms: our persistent concern for our own interests, our pride or self-pity, our insisting on our own ways and opinions, our impatience with others, our critical spirit, our incon­siderateness, and so on? Because these sins are so personal and some­times hidden, it is hard for us to help one another overcome them. We can overcome these sins together only if we are prepared to confess them to one another or to graciously accept cor­rection when they are pointed out to us; both are difficult, requiring much grace from the Lord.

4. Three Aspects of Oneness

There are three vital aspects to oneness, and these summarize Jesus’ teaching in John 17. To understand our present chapter, keep in mind these three aspects of oneness: our relationship to God, our relationship to one another, our relationship to the world.

First: Our Relationship with God

Our relationship with God is described in terms of one­ness with God. Verse 21 says, “That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us.” What do we see here? The Father in Jesus, Jesus in the Father, and we disciples in God and the Son of God.

Oneness with God is an internal unity with Him, a unity of spirit. People often think of unity in an organizational sense, but true unity takes place at the deepest level of the spirit. Oneness with God, which takes place on the spiritual level, is something that God calls and draws us into. It is not something we can attain by our own efforts. Jesus says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12.32). Jesus draws us into an intimate union with himself: “I in them, they in me.” The one is in the other. It involves the deepest possible inner communication. Unless we have inner union and communion with the Lord, we won’t be united with one another. You and I are united only because we are one with God and the Son of God.

If we are one with the Lord, we will have a deep understanding of him. Do we know his mind? First Corinthians brings out this theme, especially in the noteworthy statement, “We have the mind of Christ” (2.16). The term “the mind of Christ” appears only in this verse in the New Testament, and is all the more noteworthy for that. If we have the mind of Christ, we would under­stand his way of thinking and doing things. It is most vital that we know his mind. How else can we pray to God in a way that accords with His heart and will, and how else will He answer us?

Do you have a hard time praying? In the case of most Christians, the answer is “yes” in all likelihood. How can we pray if we don’t have oneness with God, being out of touch with Him? Prayer would be meaningless if we cannot communicate with Him.

On the human level, it is frustrating to talk with someone who is on a different wavelength. He says one thing but you interpret it to mean something else. So he says, “That’s not what I meant.” But you say, “Well, that’s exactly what you said. How do I interpret your statement apart from the words you actually use? Perhaps we should record our next conversation.” Such problems of communication wouldn’t arise if we shared the same mind.

Communication breaks down when one party says something but the other party understands it differently. Eventually one side will say, “Let’s forget about this tiring conversation. I’ll go watch TV because at least the TV won’t argue with me.” Man’s best friend is the television set because it never talks back. You can kick it, and it won’t retaliate. Entertainment comes out of the box non-stop. If you don’t like one channel, you can switch to another. (Try doing that to the person you’re talking to. If you try to change channels, his face will appear on every channel!)

You can now get hundreds of channels. That should provide enough variety to keep you entertained. That is why television is a friend to many people, and for some it may be their only friend. It can talk to you in music and color. That is why some people are happy to spend thousands of dollars on a large-screen TV set. Television is interesting but people are boring and colorless. Little wonder that many prefer the TV to people. True, you cannot communicate with the TV, but neither can you communicate with a lot of people.

Can we commune with God, or are we on a different wavelength from Him? Unless we are one with Him in heart and mind, and unless there is a union of our will with His such that the wills harmonize, communion with God would be impossible.

Of course we could recite a beautiful prayer from a prayer book or say pious words in prayer. But that kind of prayer is a religious exercise rather than communion with God. Without a union of our hearts and minds with His, no real com­munion can take place. We must take time to ensure that our spirit is completely in tune with His. When we are in complete inner harmony with God, we will be ready to com­mune with Him. There can be no communion without union; hence the importance of oneness with Him.

Second: Our Relationship to One Another

The second thing is to be united with one another through mutual inner understanding as disciples of Christ. But for this to happen, we need to be united with God. Only when everyone is in union with God and able to commun­icate with Him, will we be able to have inner understanding and communication with one another. In other words, our union with one another is rooted in our union with God. This oneness is fundamentally spiritual, not organizational. It is of God, not man.

These two things—our relationship to one another and our relationship to God—are tied together in John 17. Verse 11 says, “That they may be one, even as we are one”. Similarly verse 21, “that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us”. The constant refrain—that they may be one—appears four times (verses 11,21,22,23).

Oh that we may delight in one another! But it’s hard to delight in someone who is not walking with the Lord, isn’t it? A person who walks with God, who is united with God, who has the mind of Christ, and who communes with God—such a person is delightful and refreshing. The television set is no match for him. Try sharing your personal problems with a TV! When your boyfriend or girlfriend leaves you, try talking to the TV about it. You will begin to see that your brother or sister—if he or she is walking with the Lord—is much more precious.

The one who walks with God refreshes others. When you approach such a person, your problems become lighter and may even start to vanish. The secret is nothing more than this: he or she is passing on God’s life, love, mercy, power, truth, wisdom and kindness to you. Suddenly your problems diminish, and you begin to appre­ciate your brother or sister. When we give ourselves to one another, bearing each other’s burdens and taking each other to heart, we will begin to exper­ience the oneness that God has called us to.

Third: Our Relationship to the World

How does oneness relate to the world? The answer is found in verse 21: “That they may all be one… so that the world may believe that You have sent me.”

So that the world may believe because of our oneness! But what is our outreach strategy in this generation? We empha­size missions and evangelistic cam­paigns. Is this how we are going to save the world? Many churches think so. In North America, “missiol­ogy” is a popular subject in seminaries. I had never heard of it in England but they have it here in North America. Missiology is the study of missions. Even missions have now become a kind of “science” (-ology) that studies the techniques of evangelism.

But what does John 17 tell us? Unless we are one, the world won’t believe in the way it is meant to believe. Brothers and sisters, there is no shortcut to world evangelism.

People have asked me, “Why don’t you go out on missions?” In fact I have done more mission­ary outreach than have most people and most pastors. Have you done door to door evangelism? I have done that many times. I have spoken to people at the door or, if I am invited in, inside the house. Have you distributed gospel tracts? I have given out tracts on the streets and on cross-harbor ferry boats. Have you preached in the open? I have preached on city streets and thoroughfares. Would you like to try preaching at the marketplace next to the fruit vendors, your voice competing with theirs? I have stood on soap boxes and preached in marketplaces. And what about person-to-person evangelism? I have done that on buses, airplanes, and other places. Have you organized an evan­gelistic campaign? I have organized such cam­paigns, and have preached at these myself. Indeed, I have been greatly involved in evangelism and missions. But over the years, my eyes have been opened to the realization that so long as the church is not what God meant it to be, we won’t be able to reach the world effectively.

It grieves me when a non-Christian says to me, “Look at the church. What’s so special about it?” I have nothing to say in reply. The non-Christian is quite right when he says, “Church people are so ordinary. They claim to be saved and transformed by God’s power, but I see nothing special in their lives.” What excuses can we give? The standard reply is, “Don’t look at the church, look to God.” The non-Christian will say, “So you’re saying that Christians are no different from me and other non-Christians, and have nothing worth looking at. So why would I want to be a Christian? Or go for a salvation that doesn’t change people’s lives?”

“That’s beside the point,” some may argue. Sorry, but that is precisely the point! If regeneration doesn’t transform a person, what is the point of regeneration? If you say the point is to get to heaven irrespective of whether transformation has taken place, the non-Christian will say, “Are you saying that heaven will be full of selfish, untrans­formed people? What then is the point of getting to heaven?” If believers are not trans­formed in this life, what hope does the unbeliever have of a transform­ation in heaven?

By all means, go out and knock on doors, and try to get “decisions” for the Lord. I have done this too. But God has His own ways of doing things. We cannot bypass or short-circuit His ways. We cannot effect­ively bring salvation to the world unless God’s people become manifestly one in Christ and therein manifest God’s glory.

Is God not dishonored when people say, “Take a look at the church over there. People are fighting over the ownership of the church building! Both sides are going to court.”? And you say that’s beside the point? Tell that to the non-Christian. For him that is the point!

Jesus prayed, “That they may be one… that the world may believe that You have sent me.” There is no cheap and easy shortcut to effective evangelism and the salvation of the world. Our love is to be transmissive, going out to others. When the churches, or a part of them, are united spiritually and not just organizationally, God’s power will be manifested so power­fully that non-Christians will be drawn to Him.

We praise God that a good number of people have come to Him in this church, even when we have not organized evang­elistic campaigns, given out tracts, or knocked on doors. People are being drawn to God and their lives are being changed into new persons in Christ because of the love and oneness they see in the church. This amply demonstrates the truth of the Lord’s words, namely, that our oneness draws the world to believe in him.

5. Is Oneness Possible?

Is oneness attainable? Or is it a naive dream? Looking at the churches today and over the past two millennia, we may be pardoned if we wonder what has happened to Jesus’ prayer for oneness.

It isn’t as if Jesus is unfamiliar with human nature. He had himself observed the character and behavior of the twelve disciples he had chosen to be with him. They had their good qualities, yet their weaknesses were also painfully evident. He knew not only his disciples, but “He knew all men” and just how fickle and untrustworthy they can be (Jo.2.24). “He knew what was in man” (v.25).

How is oneness among men even imaginable unless man is so trans­formed such that “not I, but Christ” becomes an estab­lished reality in everyone who is a part of that oneness? The disharmony of just one member will disturb the harmony of the body. Anyone who has a toothache—and a tooth is a small member of the body, even smaller than a finger—would understand this point perfectly.

But if the harmony of the members within the Body is envis­ioned in Jesus’ prayer for oneness, and if the church is to be one as God is one with His Son, then we might be inclined to think this dream is impossible to realize at this present time on earth. We may think that it can only be realized when God’s redeemed people are perfectly transformed in both body and spirit in the age to come. That is to say, we must await its denoue­ment in heaven.

Since the final perfection of our spirits and bodies in heaven is the sure outcome of our redemption by Christ Jesus our Lord, the need for him to pray for something that is in any case not in doubt does not seem to make much sense. In other words, this cannot be what he was praying for. We are forced to conclude that he was praying for something to be realized on earth in the present age and not something that will inevitably take place in the age to come by virtue of his redemptive work.

Moreover, in the future age to come, the time for the world to believe in Christ will already have passed, so the central purpose of Jesus’ prayer for oneness, “that the world may believe,” will no longer be relevant.

If Jesus was praying for something to be realized among his disciples in the present age, what exactly was he praying for?

In the present age, given the innate selfishness of the human heart as well as its obstinacy and self-assertiveness, is it at all realistic to expect oneness of any community of human beings on earth? Disunity and schisms existed already as early as the Corin­thian church. Moreover, didn’t Jesus himself make it clear that the enemy has sown weeds among the wheat, so that both coexist within the kingdom of God? Surely there can be no harmony between wheat and weeds! So oneness of the whole church in the world is, in the nature of the case, unrealizable. Even a local church like the one at Corinth failed to attain it; what then remains for us to talk about in regard to the whole world?

Faced with these solid facts as seen in the Bible itself, we must ask, “What exactly was the Lord praying for, since he knows these facts better than we? It was he himself who taught us the parable of the weeds (Mt.13.24-30, 36-43).” He also taught about the sheep and the goats, which are not separated until the final judg­ment (Mt.25.31-46). Again, there is clearly no possibility of oneness or harmony between these disparate entities.

6. The Steps to Actual Oneness as seen in Scripture

In view of these barriers, what did Jesus envision in his prayer for oneness? Only one possible answer remains: The oneness of those who are faithful to him, who, like the disciples at Jerus­alem, will be of “one heart and one mind” (Acts 2.46; 4.32).

To understand this answer more fully, other pertinent facts must be taken into account:

(1) Mutual acquaintance is necessary as a starting point for oneness. There can be no meaningful oneness, on the level of practical implement­a­tion, between persons who don’t know each other personally. For example, we can speak of being united because of belonging to the same race or the same nationality, or even by the fact of being human (“from one,” Acts 17.26). But even within that union of identity, the fact is that I cannot be actually and functionally one with someone who is a stranger to me.

The oneness for which Jesus prayed has to be a union of those who know each other within a particular community of his disciples, such as that at Jerusalem. It is the people we see whom we are called to love (1Jo.4.20).

But even within a particular community, a person wouldn’t know all the other people very well. Usually only members of a small group within that community are more intimately acquainted. Therefore, spiritual oneness is more readily established within smaller units of a community of the Lord’s disciples.

From this it can be seen that oneness can be built up within smaller units through mutual caring and encouragement, doing household chores together, helping each other to serve God more effectively, and in whatever way God’s love can be chan­neled to one another. The stronger the bond of oneness, the greater the spiritual effectiveness of the unit.

(2) A small group provides the basis for oneness on a wider scale. In Matthew 18:19-20, a gathering of only two or three persons is mentioned. Many great spiritual movements, including mission­ary movements and societies, started with a small number of people united in one heart and one mind. These movements have had a great impact on the growth of the church and the evangelizing of the world. The early Methodist movement is one among many such examples.

It is not the quantity but the quality that counts. In general, the greater the number of people involved in a group, the weaker the bond in that group. It is well known that a large committee functions less effi­ciently than a smaller one. But when a large committee is sub­divided into smaller ones, each with its own special responsibilities, efficiency is increased.

It emerges that this is indeed what Jesus had in mind, namely, the establishing and proliferation of small, tightly knit cells, which together form the larger body of God’s people, “the body of Christ”. This can be seen in the brief but significant statement in Matthew 18:19,20:

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.

If oneness cannot be established even in a small unit of two or three persons, it would be nonsensical to expect the whole community to be one. It means that the unity of the body depends on the oneness of its cells. In turn the unity between the numerous cells is established through the unity of the cell leaders, establishing the oneness of the community. For if the leaders are not united as one, how can the church be one?

Looking at the Lord’s own teaching and practice, we see that the small unit he had in mind could range from two to twelve persons. Two is the smallest functional unit as can be seen from the verse quoted above, while twelve was the largest functional unit.

When Jesus sent out the seventy disciples (some versions say seventy-two), it is recorded that he sent them out in pairs (Lk.10.1). But when the twelve were sent out, there was no mention of such an arrangement (Mt.10.1ff). This doesn’t necessarily mean that the twelve went out as one group; it could also mean that in their case, the functional units for their mission were variable in number (there could have been units of two, three, or four). Our conclusions need not be rigid in this matter.

(3) The cell can serve effectively as the base for spiritual growth in the Body of Christ. The crucial importance of oneness at the cell level is that this oneness, because it derives from God’s life in us, can grow and spread to other small groups through regular interaction between members of one cell with those of other cells. In this way the oneness of the cells becomes the catalyst for the oneness of the body. There is, in fact, no other way in which the oneness of the body could be secured. The general health of the body depends on the health of its cells, and vice versa.

This oneness, beginning at the cell level, must not be something merely organizational but something profoundly spiritual. This is central to Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It is God’s own oneness with Jesus that is the basis of our oneness as his disciples: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17.21, ESV). Our oneness derives from our being in Christ, and not from our organizational efforts nor even from our imitating Christ. It is a oneness brought about by his life working in us through the Holy Spirit as we abide in him. It is a oneness that is brought into being and established by God, not man. It is the church of the living God, not merely a church of people, to which we belong and which concerns us.

That is why creating divisions within a community of God’s people, thereby damaging or destroying the oneness, is an act of the most hein­ous type in God’s eyes; He will destroy its perpetrators (1Cor.3.17). Scatter­ing the Lord’s people is an act of hostility against the Lord himself: “He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Mt.12.30; Lk.11.23). By contrast, those who labor to bring his people into oneness are working with him for the building up of the church.

7. The Lord is One

“God is holy” and “God is merciful” are descriptions of God that are much more familiar to Christians than “God is one”. But in Scripture the oneness of God is affirmed as a fundamental truth, just like His holiness and mercifulness. Right from the begin­ning of His relation­ship with Israel, God said to them, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one!” (Dt.6:4). This is to be understood as a numerical one—that Yahweh is one person—yet there is also the fundamental truth that God is also a God of oneness.

In answer to a question that someone had asked him about which is the most important command­ment, Jesus quoted the same words from Deuteronomy when he said, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord’” (Mark 12.29), and then he continued on with the rest of the command: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (v.30, quoting Dt.6.5).

If God’s oneness (as John 17 makes clear) is as much a part of His divine nature as His mercy, love, holiness and other attributes, does it not follow that if we become par­takers of His nature, these same attributes will become essential factors in our lives? And doesn’t it also mean that anyone who doesn’t partake of these qualities shows thereby that he or she is not a partaker of the divine nature and therefore do not have the new life?

Two Aspects of God’s Oneness

There are two aspects of God’s oneness as it relates to us:

(1) As it affects us internally, uniting our whole inner being.

Most people live in a state of greater or lesser inner tension. In the West, millions of people are dependent on stress-relieving drugs to get through the day. Stress confronts us continuously in daily life, whether it is at work, at school, in family relationships or, above all, within our own selves.

When the situation becomes a serious medical condition, it might be diagnosed as “schizophrenia” or some similar term, in which case a person is usually placed under the care and supervision of a psychia­trist. Under certain circumstances, stress can result in an inner disintegration of the person. Stress is known to cause a host of physical problems such as hypertension, heart disease, and other potentially fatal condit­ions, even when it doesn’t get as far as mental breakdown.

Oneness is the opposite of inner conflict, tension, disintegration, or breakdown. Oneness is experienced as inner peace and har­mony. So vital is peace for the Christian life that every letter of the apostle Paul begins with the greeting, “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Peace is an expression of God’s grace to us. “Shalom” (peace) is the standard greeting used among the Jews from ancient times to the present day. Without inner oneness there would be no inner peace. The psalmist prayed, “Teach me Your way, Yahweh; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Ps.86.11), or “give me an undivided heart” (NIV). Only when the heart is undivided, when it is wholly united and free of internal conflict, can there be peace of heart.

(2) God’s oneness as external to our person, enabling our relation­ship with the others around us.

The internal and the external are inextricably related. If we lack inner peace, our inner conflicts are bound to affect the way we relate to others, while the conflicts of others could likewise adversely affect our own inner stability. The inner oneness of each person in a group is essential for the oneness of the group as a whole. Conversely, unity and harmony within a group has a unifying and stabilizing effect on the inner life of its individual members.

Where there is sin there cannot be peace, neither in the indiv­idual nor in the community. Sin destroys peace. Sin seeks an opportunity to destroy our peace, internal or external, so it is wise for everyone who follows the Lord to identify which sins pose specific dangers to him or her in particular, for different people have different weaknesses. We will then be in a better position to implement the Lord’s exhortation, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mt.26.41; Mk.14.38).

Cell units likewise need to be aware of what kinds of sin could threaten, harm, or even destroy the oneness, and therefore the life, of the unit as a whole. It is helpful to discuss these things with one another from time to time, and to put the specific problems before God in prayer, for a cell within the Body of Christ will only be as strong or as weak as the oneness within it.

Sin can and must be dealt with. Our internal and external oneness, peace, and harmony can be made stable and secure, because God has provided the effective answer to the fatal effects of sin upon our lives. What God has done in regard to sin is summed up in the words: “through him (Christ) to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col.1.20, NIV). Even if we don’t understand the full magnitude of this statement, we can none­theless experience its truth and power by the fact that where internal or external oneness and peace are lack­ing, oneness is established through Jesus’ atoning and reconciling blood. Now every sin can be confessed and cleansed away. At the cross, God has provided peace and reconciliation for all who seek it with their whole heart.

 

An Appended Note

The Difference between Perfection and “Perfectionism”

Webster’s Dictionary[40] gives three useful definitions of “perfectionism”:

First, “the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constit­utes man’s highest good”. This has to do with the self-im­provement which, as we saw in the last chapter, is at odds with Biblical perfection. Moreover, the Scriptures show that man’s high­est good is to be found in the spiritual rather than the moral aspect of life.

Second, “the theological doctrine that freedom from sin is attain­able on earth”. This is true or false depending on what is meant by “freedom from sin”. If by this it is meant that we are no longer under bondage to sin because of Christ’s atoning death for us and because of our having died to sin with him (Romans 6), then this is correct. But if the definition is understood to mean that sin has been totally eliminated from our being such that we have become sinless and even incapable of sinning, then it is certainly false.

Third, “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”. This, again, is true or false depending on how it is under­stood and applied. At the beginning of this book we noted the practical importance of ensuring that things are perfect if they are to function properly. A tire which loses air because of a tiny imperfection in the valve could leave the car stranded on an intercity highway. This could create a potentially life threatening situation in the depth of a Canadian winter.

A few years ago, because of a tiny undetected defect in the braking system of a car I was driving, the brakes suddenly failed on a busy highway, almost resulting in a potentially fatal accident. One undetected imperfection can lead to a serious traffic disaster. By God’s protect­ion and mercy, no one was hurt, and there was no major damage except to the old car I was driving.

If, however, Webster’s definition is understood to mean a “perfection” that is judged and assessed by what is acceptable or unacceptable to me, that is, a purely subjective and self-centered “perfection” (expressed, for example, by being demanding on others), then this sort of perfection is certainly false where Scripture is con­cerned. In the last chapter we saw that true spirituality is never self-centered.

The fact that there are a number of definitions of “perfectionism” should alert us to the fact that there are right and wrong definitions. But we cannot simply throw out perfection all together just because there are incorrect perceptions of it.

That is all the more so because our concern is with Biblical perfection and not with some general concept of perfection. It is therefore erroneous, indeed irresponsible, before God to label any reference to, or concern for, perfection as “perfectionism,” a term that is usually meant pejoratively. Yet the Biblical teaching on perfection has vanished from most churches, notwith­standing the fact that the gospel—the whole counsel of God (Acts 20.27)—includes not only regeneration but also perfection, which finds its perfect embodiment in Christ.

 


[37] The work referred to is that of P. Tillich. R. Seeberg (Seeburg), who was a professor of church history and systematic theology in Germany, writes similarly: “The God of Calvin is the omnipotent Will, ruling throughout the world; the God of Luther is the omnipotent energy of Love manifest in Christ. In the one case (Calvin), we have acts of compulsion even in the heart, subjection, law, service; in the other (Luther), inward conquest by the power of love, free self-surrender, filial love without compulsion. The one does not necessarily exclude the other; but the tone and emphasis give rise to the differences (between Calvin and Luther) which undeniably exist.” P.416, The History of Doctrines, paperback edition, 1977, Baker Book House, italics mine.

[38] The problems that later plagued the Japanese economy have been much debated, and have been blamed on many factors, but never, to my knowledge, to the Japanese sense of community. (BC)

[39] This is not to say that we shouldn’t have longer or shorter periods of time to be quiet before God alone. Paul mentions his going for a time to Arabia after his Damascus road experience of Christ, but he doesn’t say how long he was there (Gal.1.17). How long such times should be depends, of course, on God’s leading.

[40] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Thomas Allen & Sons Ltd., 1987.

 

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