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Fellow ship > An Urgent Call to Christian Perfection (Part VII) Christ: The Example of Christian Perfection


An Urgent Call to Christian Perfection

An Exposition of the Doctrine of Christian Perfection

by Tom Stewart

VII. Christ: The Example of Christian Perfection

Christ not only commanded Christian perfection--
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)-- but He, better than anyone else, exemplified that a man in human flesh, on this earth, can walk perfectly without sin-- "but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Is it really necessary to prove that any man, living or dead, has attained Christian perfection, when we have Christ's example?

To understand properly the humanity of Christ is to appreciate that Christ's perfect life in the flesh was not due to His divinity, but
"learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8-9). Study the humanity of Christ, and you must see how appropriate Christ is as the example of Christian perfection! "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1Peter 2:21-22).

  A. That God became man is astounding!

nd without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1Timothy 3:16). The plot is so astounding that you can picture the angels in Heaven sitting at the edge of their seats, craning their necks to see what the Son of Man would do next... "which things the angels desire to look into" (1Peter 1:12).

    1. Prophecy

The LORD pronounced the prophecy of a coming Messiah by the prophet Isaiah.
"Therefore the LORD Himself shall give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [literally, God with us]" (Isaiah 7:14). The LORD planned to send His Son, Who when He is come, is "God with us". "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). This Child is "The Mighty God"!

    2. Fulfillment

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1,14). No longer does Scripture prophesy that God becomes flesh. He has already come. Christ has come with His name, "The Word of God" (Revelation 19:13), and still those who profess Christ in this late stage of Church history complain, "I just can't understand the Bible"! If Christ is the Word of God and you do not know the Word of God, then you do not know Christ!

    3. In the likeness of sinful flesh

"God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). God forbid that anyone should ever accuse Christ of sin, but how did Christ take on human flesh without sinning? This is a difficulty for the doctrine of sin nature. Some who hold this faulty doctrine claim that Christ extinguished the sin in His flesh the moment He came into it. If this were true, Christ's perfect life, while on this planet, could not be credited to grace or faith. If this faulty doctrine were true, why should anyone be impressed that He did not commit sin? Perhaps... Christ came into the world "in the likeness of sinful flesh" to demonstrate the power and victory that the weakest saint could enjoy through appropriating Christ by faith. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1John 5:4). But, what about this phrase, "sinful flesh"? If sin is an act of the will, a transgressing of the law (1John 3:4), then something is only holy or sinful in relation to how one chooses. For one's flesh to be sinful, one's choice must first have been sinful. "Sinful" is appropriate to describe man's flesh... "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). If this is not correct, then how could Brother Paul beseech us to "present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service" (Romans 12:1)? No longer "sinful flesh", but now holy flesh!

    4. Made under the law

"But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Galatians 4:4). God's time is always appropriate. Should any heresy arise to claim that Jesus Christ did not come in human flesh and that He was not as truly man as you or I, this phrase should stop that lie-- "made of a woman". But, if we "are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14), what does this mean, "made under the law"? A few points should be made about the law of God.

      a. The law is holy.

"The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12). "The law is good, if a man use it lawfully" (1Timothy 1:8).

      b. Justification is by faith.

"No man is justified by the law in the sight of God" (Galatians 3:11). No saint has ever been justified by the law. The just have always- and- only been justified by faith. "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17. Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38 are all the same quotation of Habakkuk 2:4).

      c. The law is still necessary.

The law is just as important now as it has ever been.
"Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Romans 3:31). Christ presently promotes the law. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17).

      d. The law is not ceremonial, but moral.

What is the law of which we speak? The law is not the ceremonial law of the old covenant.
"For the [ceremonial] law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect... For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins... For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:1,4,14). Christ is the once for all sacrifice for those who walk sanctified.

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). God's moral law is unchanging. The Decalogue (the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20), as well as "all the law and the prophets", have been boiled down to one simple requirement... PERFECT LOVE. This is moral law, necessitating moral choice. This is not simply advice. This is law. Refuse obedience and... "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). "for the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "And death and hell [will be] cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Revelation 20:14).

James describes the law as the royal law [
"If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well" (James 2:8)] and as the law of liberty ["So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12)]. Brother John would probably call the law the law of love because he wrote: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous" (1John 5:3).

      e. The purpose of the law is to define sin.

What is the purpose of the law? The law was given to define what is a transgression of the law. It tells us what is sin. How else can we know how to avoid sin unless the law shows us intelligently what we are avoiding? Remember,
"sin is the transgression of the law" (1John 3:4). The law "was added because of transgression" (Galatians 3:19) for "where no law is, there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15). Without law, there can be no sin, "For by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

Some may say that the best way to eliminate sin is to eliminate the law. God forbid! But, isn't that what we promote when we insist that those who require obedience to God's law are legalists ?
"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Romans 7:7).

Because the purpose of the law is not to justify anyone-- never has and never will-- for
"no man is justified by the law in the sight of God" (Galatians 3:11)-- it must merely state that the one who practices the law must live by the law. "And the law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them" (Galatians 3:12). In this regard, the law is very cause- and- effect, matter- of- fact mechanical. How like the preaching of dead churches! Enough knowledge to condemn the hearers, but not enough to secure their loving obedience in an entirely sanctified walk!

For the law to be law, it must be more than advice. The law must have a penalty to be law.
"For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) tells us that those who sin have earned, and do deserve, the payment of death. Sin's penalty is death. Knowing that a righteous man is "justified by faith" (Romans 5:1), we understand "that the law is not made for a righteous man [to reward or justify him], but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane [to penalize or punish them]..." (1Timothy 1:9, as well as v.10).

      f. Christ upholds the law perfectly.

What is the relation of Christ to the law? Because of Christ's unity with the Father--
"Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (John 14:11)-- it is plain to see that Christ gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. Christ supports the law. Again: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:17-20). Christ advocates the law. "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart" (Psalm 19:7-8).

The LORD Jesus Christ said,
"Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Psalm 40:7-8). He delighted in obeying the law! Christ testified on His own behalf: "I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love" (John 15:10). Christ obeyed the law perfectly. "And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). Obedience to God's law was so important to Christ, He willingly laid down His life on the cross!

      g. The law completely points to Christ.

What is the relation of the law to Christ? God is clear about the condition of all unregenerate man...
"the Scripture [i.e., the Law] hath concluded all under sin" (Galatians 3:22) because "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23; 5:12). Because all have sinned, all are under sin. Remember, sin, which "is the transgression of the law" (1John 3:4), is a voluntary act of the human will entrenching itself against God. Unrighteous actions beget a pathetic condition... "all under sin" (Galatians 3:22). What is the effect of the law that concludes "all under sin" (3:22)? The result is "that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed" (3:22-23). Because all men are under sin, all men need to put their faith in Christ. Man under sin has been graciously offered a wonderful alternative to his certain judgment of death. What is that alternative? Life! "That the promise by faith of [in] Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe" (3:22).

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (3:24). The law points us to Christ, and why shouldn't it? After all, Christ did give the law to Moses! "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4). The end result of the law for the unrighteous "is death" (Romans 6:23), while "Christ is the end [result] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (10:4). It makes sense, now that we read Christ's statement: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17). Christ is the fulfillment of the law. He has providentially place Himself where all men can trust Him, where all men can see that their only alternative to death by the law, is faith in Christ.

      h. Christ expects perfect obedience to His law.

Are we really expected to obey God's law? Can you honestly ask that question when you think about it? Obviously, Christ expects obedience, or else His commands become merely the advice of a meddlesome parent to a wayward child.
"Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27). This is more than advice. This is God's moral law. This is the law of love. Our beloved brother, Paul, agrees with the LORD Jesus: "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). This is what Paul further described as "faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6).

Love, for the Christian, is more than emotion or physical arousal.
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous" (1John 5:3). Love is obeying God. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love Him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21).

On the other hand, disobedience is classed with a lying profession of Christ, that has no other hope than the lake of fire.
"He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him" (1John 2:4). "And all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8)... "Except ye repent" (Luke 13:3).

Law is the concept of oughtness. Why ought men to do what they know they should do? Certainly because God has commanded them to obey. But why ought men to do what they know they should do?
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Because God is perfect, we should be perfect. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1Peter 1:16). Because God is holy, we should be holy. Why, then, should we be what we ought to be? Because God is. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for He that cometh to God must believe that He is" (Hebrews 11:6). "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world" (1John 4:17). Find out Who and what Christ is in all of His offices, relations, and capacities; then appropriate them by faith... This sounds familiar!

Now, let us conclude a prior question... what does this mean,
"made under the law" (Galatians 4:4)? How can it be said that Christ was "made under the law" (4:4)? Because Christ actually became a man. He can completely sympathize with man and understand what it is like to be required to obey the law of God. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered: and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8-9).

  B. That Christ became our servant is humbling!

et this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion [literally, habit] as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8). We are enjoined to have the mind of Christ. If Christ thought it not robbery to be equal with God, it was only because He is God. If you have created the universe and you do providentially superintend it, you must have a large reputation! What happened to Christ-- He did to Himself. He "made Himself of no reputation". He went from somebody, to nobody. He "took upon Him the form of a servant". God's choice is wisdom. He will pick a servant's form, if it will best accomplish His purpose. He humbled Himself as only a man needs to humble himself. He became obedient in the same way we must obey to please those who rule over us. He actually died a physical death. He was just like one of us!

"The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:16). This was true with the Father and the Son, and it is also true of ourselves and Christ. "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Why would Christ do this? Because He was the most preeminent man. He was the most humble servant. "And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be the servant of all" (Mark 10:44). Christ sets the pattern for the rest of us.

  C. That Christ suffered for us is sanctifying!

If Christ was not truly man, of what value are His sufferings? If His flesh was not our flesh, then His pain was not our pain. If His suffering was not our suffering, then how could we read Isaiah 53, about Our Suffering Saviour and feel pity, grief, admiration, and love for Christ? But, Our Suffering Saviour was truly man!
"Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For He [Christ] shall grow up before Him [the Father] as a tender plant [Christ's human growth], and as a root out of a dry ground [unregenerate, sinful humanity]: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him [might miss Him easily on a crowded street]. He is despised and rejected of men [unpopular]; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief [grieving about rebellious man}: and we hid as it were our faces from Him [humanly speaking, not the face sought after]; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows [Christ "healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17). This is a promise of physical healing, if we can receive it.]: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God [Christ's humanity allowed His own hand to be turned on Himself!], and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him [Christ offers atonement for sins to whosoever will.]: and with His stripes we are healed [literally, made whole-- because our sinning has damaged us in every which way, except in our ability to repent.]. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way [Yes, pathetic like a sheep, but selfish, stupid, and wicked as a brute beast!]; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:1-6).

"But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto Thee. And again, I will put My trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given Me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham" (Hebrews 2:9-16).

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