Going Deeper

Does Holiness Mean Perfection?

The emptiness you’re feeling is the perfect condition for receiving Jesus. by Reverend Diane Ury

One of my kids was asked, “What about the holiness movement?”

“What do you mean?” 

“Just the holiness idea of being perfect. So that’s what you follow?”  

It was an accusation.

The word “perfect” causes much consternation even within the Christian world. That saddens my heart. It’s a most beautiful theme that runs throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis 1 to the last pages. We in the 21st-century, western world read the word with Greek lenses, as if it entails mathematical-equation precision. 

But the voice of God gave us both the word and idea to convey the degree and quality of intimacy in relationship He desires to have with us. The entire cosmos was created through the Word. The Word became human and is our salvation. We should not be hesitant to use the Word inspired in human language to describe the dream He has for our lives. 

During creation, God described His work as “good,”  tov in the original language—“Exactly as I intended.” This means capable of completely fulfilling the divine purpose for which it is created (Genesis 1:31). The root of the word tov is tet-vav-bet, which means to prepare something to receive.

This intention for humans is made clear. “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7).

Human persons are “perfect” only when God’s life has been received within their bodies. This is how we are created in His image. This union with God is our created purpose. Without the presence of God filling our bodies we are not the humans God intends for us to be.

Sin is separation from our Creator and is a result of personal distrust in His good nature. Sin is willfully turning away from the face of God, His personal being. Sin is deciding we want to be our own authority over our lives, that we belong to ourselves. 

The result of that willful choice is spiritual death and is manifested in our behavior as unrighteousness. 

All humans are born with this proclivity. This is the predicament of our lives. The One who created and loves us is able to restore and fill us perfectly with Himself.  

The New Testament word that represents this biblical concept which lies at the heart of God’s story is teleios, translated to “perfect.” It means finished, lacking nothing, brought to completion or perfection. It indicates the presence of God in our midst—the completion, the perfection of God in intimate relation with all creation; especially human beings—those created in His image with the capacity to bear the living God in their entire beings, body and soul. It also means carrying out the purposes for which one is designed, to be complete and whole—in part “… that we will be perfect, measuring up to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NKJV).

The gospel begins with our perfect intended relationship with God. It is restored through Jesus. This is what is meant by “Christian perfection”—a life of complete dependence upon and union with God, issuing forth God’s love for all people. The biblical concept of perfection does not focus first of all upon our behavior (the idea of whether we are naughty or nice). Biblical perfection simply means finding our complete wholeness in Jesus alone. 

John Wesley said, “What is the most perfect creature in heaven or earth in Your Presence but a void, capable of being filled with You by You.”

The emptiness you’re feeling is the perfect condition for receiving Jesus. 

Reverend Diane Ury serves as the national ambassador of holiness for The Salvation Army in the US.

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