Tag Archives: Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 51

Are Christians Perfect? Yes…and No

Atheists and agnostics love to discredit God’s Word by trotting out Bible contradictions.  You can easily find lists of them online.  We shouldn’t be afraid of these “contradictions.”  The vast majority of them have simple explanations which easily defang them.  Let’s briefly look at one of these alleged contradictions.  It involves these two passages: 

Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” 

Hebrews 10:14, “For by a single offering he [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” 

Do you see the issue? 

In Philippians 3:12, Paul writes that he is not yet perfect.  But Hebrews 10:14 says that all Christians have already been made perfect.  So which is it?

At times referring to the original Greek will help.  Sometimes the same English word might be used to translate two different Greek words.  Those two different words might have some degree of nuance in meaning.  But that’s not the case here.  In this instance, the Greek words are exactly the same — even the tense is the same.  They’re both the perfect tense of the verb teleioo.

Context is always crucial in biblical interpretation.  It’s easy for atheists and agnostics to lift a Bible verse out of its context and then misconstrue it as being in contradiction with some other passage.  As the old saying goes, “A text without context is a pretext.”    

If we look at the context of Phil. 3:12, Paul is writing about his life as a Christian.  In verse 10 he mentions sharing in the sufferings of Christ and becoming like him.  In verse 13, he writes about forgetting what’s in the past and “straining forward to what lies ahead.”  This is about the life of a Christian.  It involves a process of change.                   

The context of Heb. 10:14 is quite different.  The author of Hebrews is writing about the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ and what it has accomplished.  In verse 11, he points back to the Jewish priests who offered continuous sacrifices “which can never take away sins.”  But Christ, with his single offering, has made a sacrifice which did take away sins.  The author of Hebrews is writing about what Christ has definitively done for our salvation.

In other words, we’re not faced with an “either…or” between Phil. 3:12 and Heb. 10:14.  There’s no contradiction.  Instead, it’s a case of “both…and.”  It depends on your point of view.  From the point of view of sanctification (the process of growing in holiness), we are far from perfect.  There is much remaining sin in our lives and Christians can therefore be properly described as “wretched sinners” – as the Heidelberg Catechism does in Lord’s Day 51.  But from the point of view of our standing before God because of what Christ has done – from the point of our justification – we have been perfected.  In God’s sight, because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, we stand completely righteous. 

So, to summarize, Phil. 3:12 is speaking from the viewpoint of sanctification while Heb. 10:14 is speaking from the viewpoint of justification.  There’s certainly no contradiction between these passages.  Since our Lord Jesus said that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) we can be confident that the Bible will never contradict itself.