There is no denying everyone is morally imperfect. Yet, what is one to do with the fact that Jesus rescues from sin? If He does rescue from sin, and He does; then, why aren’t Christians instantly perfected? It would be something to behold if, in 100% real-time, Christians were perfected at the instant of trusting Christ as Savior. Admittedly, “everyone would be doing it.” Nevertheless, both you and I have either heard of or met someone who claims to be a Christian and yet lacks perfect similarity to Jesus. Many people are deterred from believing Christ for the salvation of their soul because of “all the hypocrites.” That statement is understandable to a point and not to be discounted.
On the other hand, I think everyone agrees that just because there are extremes to every argument (good versus bad followers of a certain belief system), the measure of truth and genuineness of a “religion” is in its tenets or essentials. For the sake of examination, we’ll assume here that the follower of Christianity is unified in belief with the essentials of the Christian gospel. That would include 3 things: a. he is indeed sure of his innate sinfulness (rebellious nature against God, witnessed by that one’s disregard/rejection of God’s principles of being), b. he is desirous of deliverance from this fallen nature, & c. he believes on Jesus to remedy his desperate state and reconcile him to God (Romans 3 & 10).
Uncircumcised Heart/Circumcised Heart (OT/NT):
We could spend endless lines of theological postulates on this matter, but a short-cut is available to us by means of biblical imagery.
The Old Testament serves the purpose of teaching mankind what he is apart from God as well as vividly illustrating the natural and eternal consequences of sin. The Law (Old Testament) is that school master (Galatians 3:24-25), and it does its job well to send us running to Grace (the New Testament). Whereas the OT shows one what he is not, the NT shows a man what he can be made to be. The miracle God works in order to make a man new inside is called “regeneration.” An imagery of regeneration runs through both the OT and the NT, and it is a big help to understanding the subject at hand.
By the end of the OT times, the prophets were preaching against a condition of the heart they referred to as un-circumcision (Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7, 9). The term is carried over into the NT by Stephen when he rebuked the Pharisees (Acts 7:51). By using this terminology, the audience of that day knew what the prophets meant. To be circumcised physiologically meant identity with God’s people for a Hebrew. It also meant one was within the saving covenant established by God for the Hebrews. More than that, an un-circumcised heart would communicate lack in spiritual relation. Elsewhere, it is called a “stony heart” and is contrasted with a fleshy (living) heart which accompanies the New Testament (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). The meaning is obvious. The un-circumcised or stony heart just doesn’t work as it should; it is sick with sin. If one is uncircumcised in heart, he doesn’t believe God as he should, he doesn’t trust God as he should, he can’t be properly identified as God’s. Such a one is unfeeling and uncaring toward God in the relational sense. That condition gives proof of his fallen nature and why he intentionally and unintentionally (even against his better judgment and moderation) breaks God’s laws.
The New Testament with all its grace was foretold in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26), because no one can try to keep the Law and so, be perfect all the time. In fact, we fall far short of that, doing what we know is wrong or else not doing what we know is good. That deviance is what the record of the OT proves. When we lack perfection, each straying (because of the nature within) creates a debt we owe God as the Judge of the universe. The New Testament is different from the Old thankfully, and the new heart is tantamount to having a new Spirit (The Holy Spirit) and nature within.*
Grow in Grace; Partake of the Divine Nature:
So, if the New Testament believer gains a new heart and is made a new creation, then why does he suffer imperfection in daily walk? Simply put, the heart is new not only in its orientation to God but also in its maturity. As any new creation (like a baby) must grow, so the Christian is commanded to grow in the same grace that gave birth to his new heart and being (2 Peter 3:18). You see, when God saves a person, he does not override the dynamic of their personality, free will, or ability to learn. If God simply were to zap someone who trusts Him for salvation, that person might not catch just how much God has done and can do for him, because his renewal is instantaneous. Growing in grace, however, allows the believer to not just see that he was a sinner in need of a Savior, but also, that he has been spiritually bankrupt and needs to learn how to properly manage the new riches he has been given in Jesus. He will learn what it means to grow spiritually just like a baby knows what it means to grow physically. And, sometimes it hurts – whether ourselves or others.
The essential thing is that this new heart works in a relational way toward God, whereas the old did not. Even though there may not be perfection, there is a change in loving sensitivity to God and His wishes. If there is not, then something is wrong. The individual is either discouraged from counting on his new identity as a child of God, or he is blinded by a stronghold (wall that eclipses his spiritual vision of God) that only prayer, grace, and time can overcome.
To be sure, every believer is fitted with the new ability to partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He could not have been such a partaker before trusting Christ. Whether he chooses to consistently partake is another matter. The same choice of trust in Christ he made to become a Christian is the same course of spiritual action to be repeated continually throughout his Christian pilgrimage (Colossians 2:6).
Why aren’t Christians “Perfect?” Well, in a way they are and in a way they are not. It is best to say that in God’s eyes of justice, they have become perfect through Jesus’ perfection being credited to them at the moment they trust Him for it (Romans 4). On the other hand, each Christian is being made like Christ, and that is a process of growth in grace, proportional to choices made… and responses to both biblical teaching and corrections made by God.
The Christian life is not like two candles. Jesus does not touch his light to your wick and then you go on burning continually. No, the Christian life is like an eternal generator and an appliance. God is the generator. The appliance (anyone) needs to be fitted for the power – that is regeneration. But, once fitted, the appliance must remain plugged in to the source – the Holy Spirit – in order to partake of the Divine nature. It is all of God and none of us.
*[The New Spirit Within: Gal 5:16; Col 2:6; Phil. 2:12,13; Titus 2:11-14; Heb. 13:21; 1 John 1:6,7; 2 John 1:6 // The Heart Transplant of the New Covenant: Luke 11:13; Rom. 8:9,14-16; 1 Cor. 3:16; Gal 5:5,22,23; Eph 1:13,14; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:3-6; 1 Pet. 1:2,22; 1 John 3:24]