Lou: As you were talking about perfection, I heard an emphasis on the generous gift of God, His eagerness to heal us and to make us well. It makes one wonder, who would want to be imperfect or continue to be ill when all this healing is available? Why do you think there has been so much debate on this subject?
Graham: Whole books have even been written about it. I suppose there are many reasons. One is that people who claim to be perfect can be quite insufferable. It has given perfection a bad name. Another reason people might avoid the subject is that perfection involves our behavior. And talking about behavior smacks of works, our having to do something. Many people are so concerned to make salvation by faith that they can’t fit this in.
Lou: How do you avoid the tendency to think in terms of your performance, to concentrate on how well or how poorly you’re doing?
Graham: I think your question goes back to things we’ve discussed before. What is it that went wrong in the universe, and what would it mean for God to set things right? If our problem is a legal one, our primary concern is to somehow set things right legally. In that case we might be trying to please the Father and persuade Him not to punish or destroy us. If my efforts toward perfection are in order to turn away His wrath and improve my legal standing, then that’s salvation by works.
In the case of the healing model, most of us have had a moment when we’ve not been well and have had to go to the physician. And we’ve heard the physician say, “Will you do the following?“ And the most logical thing in the world is to go home and do it. I don’t feel I’m being a legalist to do that. It seems to me that if I really trust my doctor, I will be willing to do what the doctor says. The only difference is my work is in harmony with the Divine Physician. I’m not trying to please the doctor, nor am I trying to improve my legal standing with the doctor. I’m trying to do what is for my own best good. The gracious Physician is saying, “Do the following. It will produce good results.” And I go home and work hard to follow the regimen that He recommends.
Lou: So it really is a question of motivation that makes all the difference.
Graham: Very much, your motivation and the model of salvation you are working with. The legal model has obscured the model of salvation as healing, and perfection as complete healing.
Lou: The concern with perfection sometimes leads people to evaluate one another on how well they are doing.
Graham: That’s another thing that has given perfection a bad name. It is the idea that “I have my own blueprint for perfection, and I’m getting closer and closer to it. But I can tell you’re pretty far behind in comparison!” Facing such an attitude can be quite discouraging. But who is it that does not want us to understand the good news that God would like to completely heal the damage done? The devil has many versions of perfection that are a corruption of the truth and are not good news. He uses one thing to confuse one person, and another thing to confuse another.
Lou: A lot of sincere discussion has centered around the question: Does perfection mean that one never makes a mistake? We might think, “If I could just be perfect, I wouldn’t make a mistake.“
Graham: This question recalls the time we discussed the meaning of sin. Sin is not just making a mistake. Sin is rebelliousness. Sin is a stubborn unwillingness to listen. Sin is a breach of trust. Imagine in the hereafter I plant a pomegranate tree a little too close to the house, and it gets bigger and bigger in the fertile soil there.
And the Lord comes by and says, “Say, you planted it too close to the house, didn’t you?”
And I’d say, “Yes, I did. Why didn’t You stop me?”
“It’s not a problem,” He’d say, “that’s how you learn. Pomegranate trees grow rather large up here. Plant it a little farther away.”
So I would proceed to move it.
Lou: You are making a distinction between a sin and a mistake.
Graham: Yes. There’s no sin in making a mistake like that. Not unless there is a spirit of rebelliousness within you, a stubborn unwillingness to accept advice, which would mean I’m not safe to have around in eternity.
Lou: But can a perfect person sin? Not just make mistakes, but actually sin?
Graham: What you are really asking is, can a perfect person ever rebel? Look at Lucifer, the most perfect of all God’s creation. He was still free and he exercised his freedom in rebellion. Think also of Adam and Eve. They were perfect, and they rebelled. So though God heals all the damage done by sin, He does not take away our freedom. We will still be free in the hereafter.