The Mechanics of Cultic Control
Cults use fear to control people. Since the real Gospel delivers people from fear, cults will twist the Scripture and pervert the Gospel in order to engender fear as a means of domination. This is typically done through legalism.
Instead of teaching the truth that salvation is a free gift made possible by Christ’s shed blood on the cross, a cult will teach that salvation must be achieved through legalistic works. Unless the right works are done, they say, one is lost. This brings in the fear that brings a person into submission. Adherents will often do whatever the cult leader says in order to be “good enough” to warrant salvation.
A number of cults use the false doctrine known as sinless perfection to achieve this control-through-fear. This teaching says that it is possible to reach a state of sinless perfection in this life. Furthermore, that one must reach this state in order to be saved. The Church of Jesus Christ Forever in Oregon, Illinois teaches this fallacy. The teaching is clearly outlined on their website, PerfectChurch.com.
Once a group embraces the doctrine of sinless perfection, other errors are likely to follow. The cult leader can self-proclaim as one who has reached this exalted state. Once he or she is considered to be a “perfect” leader or prophet, it is only one small step further to conclude that the prophet’s words are tantamount to being the infallible word of God. After all, it is reasoned, how could a sinless and perfect prophet ever say anything amiss?
The final step in the progression of error is to announce that disobedience to the leader’s command is considered rebellion against God. At that point people are conditioned to accept punishment for failing to obey the words of God Almighty who has spoken through His perfect and sinless prophet.
By this means people are made afraid – afraid to question or disobey the prophet or do anything which he does not approve. To do so would bring the punishment of God and chastisement from the perfect prophet.
Instead of a gospel that encourages people to have a living relationship with Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in love with joy and gratitude for sins forgiven, the cultic gospel is a legalistic religion wherein one is always striving by their own works to obtain the approval of the leader or of the church hierarchy.
Twisting the Scripture
Cults that teach the doctrine of sinless perfection promote their teaching from a misunderstanding of Matthew 5:48 where Jesus says: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” From this it is claimed that “must” here means you are not saved if you are not as perfect as God. However, that is not what the passage says at all. The passage is not talking about salvation. Rather, this passage is about love. Let us examine the context:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We see that Jesus is talking about how to love properly, the way God does. The passage is not, primarily, about how to be saved. The teaching is that to love as God does, we should also love those who don’t love us back, even love those who hate us. Jesus calls this kind of love perfect love.
The passage loses a bit of meaning in translation into English. In the original Greek of Scripture, the meaning is plainer. The word used for “perfect” in this passage is TELEIOS. The definition of teleios is: “Totality, whole, or without blemish. Fully developed. Mature in mental & moral character. Full development, growth into maturity of godliness. Signifies consummate soundness, and includes the idea of being whole.”
Jesus is saying that to have fully developed mature love, as God desires, we must love even our enemies. That is quite a bit different than saying to be saved you have to be as perfect as God in every way, as the cultists twist it to mean.
The same form of the Greek word teleios is used in Philippians 1:6 where we read, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God is perfecting (teleios) us, meaning he is maturing us. Until when? Until the day of Christ. God continues to develop us toward maturity until Christ returns, when we receive our glorified bodies. That is what that passage says. It is then that we are delivered from the very presence of sin in our lives.
The process of perfecting continues until the day of Christ. This shows clearly that we cannot reach perfection in this life but that the perfecting is a continuous process until the return of Christ. This is even more evident if you read the passage in something besides the King James Version. For example:
“And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.” (Philippians 1:6 TLB)
Double Reference & Imputed Righteousness
Many theologians also see in this passage a reference to the necessity for the imputed righteousness of Christ. Jesus very often brought forth teachings that countered the legalistic ideas of the Jewish leaders who thought, much like some cult leaders, that righteousness and salvation comes by keeping the law and obeying religious leaders.
For this reason, Jesus often pointed out how far people actually fall short. He teaches that loving your family alone does not meet God’s standard of love. That does not get you even half way there. If the goal is to love perfectly as God does, then we must love our enemies as well.
Jesus taught that it is not only those who commit adultery who have transgressed, but even those who look at a woman with lust. As our Lord taught these things it became apparent to His hearers how far everyone falls short of God’s ideal. Our Lord’s teaching makes it abundantly clear that we cannot save ourselves. Everyone falls short. We can never be good enough. We need to be saved.
By such teachings Jesus emphasized the futility of obtaining salvation by our own merit, for one must be absolutely perfect to obtain salvation, thus hinting at the necessity of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The Apostle James made the same point: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) Clearly we cannot save ourselves.
Because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross and our faith in Him, we are enabled to put on the righteousness of Christ. Not that we are actuality perfect, but that God sees us through the saving power of Christ’s shed blood. He sees (as far as salvation is concerned) not our sin, but the righteousness of Christ. Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Christ.
This teaching is taught repeatedly in Scripture:
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (Romans 4:5)
Second Corinthians 5:21 puts it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus paid for our sins through His death on the cross so we could become the righteousness of God. We don’t become perfect in this life by our own works. By faith in Christ, we are imputed the righteousness of Christ, which we need for salvation. By faith we are justified, and then God sees us “just as if” we had never sinned. Even though we are not perfect, God declares us “not guilty” because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
The need for salvation by grace as a free gift through the imputed righteousness from Christ is highlighted by our Lord’s teaching on how we so often fall short of the perfect or mature love that Jesus outlines in Matthew 5:48.
Another Scripture Twist
Those who believe in sinless perfection are fond of 1 John 3:8 from the King James Version which states: “He that committeth sin is of the devil…” From here it is argued that anyone who has not attained to sinless perfection is of the devil. Of course, the proposition is preposterous; to say that a person who commits just one little sin is of the devil is quite a stretch. Yet that is what they claim.
The plain truth is that the KJV does not accurately translate this passage. Let’s take a look at the Greek:
Here we see the original Greek actually refers to someone who makes a practice (poion) of sinning. The KJV completely leaves out a word. The idea of a lifestyle of continued sin is clearly conveyed in the Greek. And so modern versions translate it:
Weymouth New Testament:
“He who is habitually guilty of sin is a child of the Devil.”
“The one who practices sin is of the devil.”
“The one who practices sin is of the devil.”
“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.”
The fact that Scripture tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) proves that Christians can be saved via forgiveness of sin, not by being perfect. And who would imagine that the criminal on the cross, who would be with Christ that day in paradise, had suddenly reached sinless perfection?
Therefore, this passage is not a proof text for sinless perfection. It merely says what all of the Bible says: That those who are born again are a new creature in Christ. They have left their life of habitual sin behind and are endeavoring, with God’s help, to live better through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that those who live degenerate lives of willful continued sin have not been regenerated by God’s Spirit. They are still of the devil and in his clutches. They have not been born again.
To read more about Bible translations and problems with some passages in the King James Version, I recommend my book King James Onlyism. Click the image for more information and to order from Amazon. Available in both Kindle and paperback.
This book covers the importance of adherence to the original autographs of Scripture, the history of Bible translations, the manuscript evidence discovered after 1611, and the advances made in linguistic understanding and the differences between literal versus dynamic translations. This book is a scholarly refutation of King James Onlyism in an easy-to-read format.
What the Bible Really Says
“No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)
“There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1: 8-10)
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.” (The Apostle Paul – Philippians 3:12)
Jesus said, “This is how you should pray…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Luke 11:2,4)
The false teaching of sinless perfection, along with so-called exalted “sinless” leaders, is the primary ingredient often used for cultic control. By this means cults use legalism and a false gospel of works to enslave fearful followers to the whims of a false prophet.
The façade is maintained through twisting scriptures to make them appear to teach doctrines that were never intended. The false doctrine is built upon just a couple of scriptures taken out of context and is maintained by ignoring what the balance of Scripture says on the topic.
A lack of scholarship, a dearth of understanding of the original languages, and a reliance upon an antiquated and less-than-perfect translation is exemplified by those who cling to the false teachings of sinless perfection, a doctrine relegated by Christendom to the trash-heap of unbiblical and erroneous ideas.
Author: Mark Swarbrick
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