Perfection, What is It?

Seventh-day Adventists are fond of claiming that we are the remnant church. The proof text normally used to prove our case is Revelation 12:17, which says, “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

Revelation 12:9 identifies the dragon: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” 

Many Protestants will tell you the “woman” represents the virgin Mary. Revelation 12:1–6 speaks of a woman with child, who cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. The dragon that stood before the woman ready to give birth was ready to devour her Child as soon as it was born. 

It says here that this woman bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. Revelation 19:11–15 describes in symbolic language the Second Coming of Christ. Verse 15 says, “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

The person who rules all nations with a rod of iron is Jesus Christ. It also says something very similar to that in Revelation 2:26, 27: “… he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—He shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the potter’s vessel shall be broken in pieces, so I also have received from My Father” (literal translation).

Jesus Christ is the ruler of the nations. He was a male child, and was caught up to heaven, to God, and to His throne (Revelation 12:5). Looking at the text that says a great sign appeared in heaven, we notice that John is not here talking about a literal man or woman, dragon or beast. This is a vision that has been given in symbolic language. The Greek word is semeion, which means a symbol or a sign. 

The woman standing on the moon and clothed with the sun that brings forth a male child cannot be the virgin Mary for Revelation 12:1 speaks in symbolic language. Paul wrote, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Notice, Christ is to be formed in the church. The church is to bring forth the spiritual image of Jesus Christ. 

In Colossians 1:27 we are told: “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It is when Christ is formed within a person that he has hope of eternal life. 

A symbolic woman in Scripture refers to the church. One example of many is found in Hosea 1:2. Hosea is told to take a wife of harlotry and this harlot wife has three children. This sad story of Hosea and his wife is a type or an example of God’s experience with the children of Israel, God being the husband and the children of Israel who were supposed to be married to Him, but continually fall in love with other lovers. You can see in chapters 3 and 4 that the book of Hosea uses the symbolism of a woman representing a church and her husband representing the Lord.

Jeremiah 3:14 says, “ ‘Return, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord; ‘for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.’ ”

“Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,” says the Lord” (verse 20).

The whole book of Song of Solomon is based on this imagery where Solomon, the husband, represents the Lord, and where the wife, a Shulamite woman, represents the church. In his letter written to the church in Corinth, Paul says, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).

To interpret the woman in Revelation 12 as the church is in harmony with the way this symbol is used throughout Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments. We also know from other language used in this chapter that this woman could not be the virgin Mary. It was the seed of the woman, the church, that was to bring forth the Messiah. Verse 6 says, “Then the woman fled into the wilderness (the desert), where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” There is no record of that being the experience of the virgin Mary.

Verses 13–16 say, “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.”

Clear back at the time of the flood, the Lord had made preparation for His people. In the mountains north of Milan, Italy, were the Alps and seven Piedmont Valleys. The passageway to get into some of these valleys was so narrow that to enter you had to go single file. A small force of men could defend the valley against a huge army. 

As a result of persecution, God’s people fled from all over the world to the kingdom of Theodoric, who controlled Italy and offered people religious freedom. Many from the eastern part of the Roman Empire, where they did not have religious freedom, fled to Italy. Freedom was short lived there; so the Christians travelled north to Milan and then north of Milan where they worshiped the Lord in freedom of conscience for hundreds of years in obscurity.

Finally, the papacy tried to wipe out the Waldenses and Revelation 12:14–16 describes the persecution against God’s saints that continued for one thousand, two hundred and sixty years, as was prophesied. Verse 17 says, “… the dragon was enraged with the woman (not the virgin Mary, for she had been dead for about 2,000 years by then). The dragon was enraged with the woman (the church), and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring (the last remnant of the church), who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

The testimony of Jesus Christ is defined in Revelation 19:10: “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ ” God’s last church on the earth will keep the commandments and will have the spirit of prophecy. 

The remnant of anything is what is left at the end. It will be the church described in Ephesians 5:26, 27, which says, “… that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

There are other places where the apostles describe the remnant. Paul says, “Who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). Various other apostles talked about the church being blameless when Jesus comes. 

Peter says in 2 Peter 3:14: “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” John said the same in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

This is an unpopular doctrine and many, recognizing their own imperfections feel it is an impossible goal and look for some other way to be saved without being perfect. But Paul says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The Holy Spirit can work a miracle in your life. 

Paul discusses the growth of the Christian life. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you must also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

“Therefore, as the elect of God (the remnant), holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:1–14, literal translation).

Notice verse 14. More important than anything else that you try to either leave aside or adopt as part of your character, Paul says to put on love because that is the bond of perfection. 

A perfect person is one who has perfect love in his heart. It is just that simple. Love will develop all other Christian graces, leaving off the sins that have been mentioned in the previous verses. In fact, love is so powerful that the apostle Paul says you will never fail to reach Christian perfection if you have love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Love never fails.” 

Love “bears (protects) all things and believes all things.” When things get unbelievable, it still “hopes all things,” and then when it seems altogether hopeless, it “endures all things” (verse 7). “Love never fails” (verse 8, first part).

If love is the way to perfection, how can I get it? It is not a natural attribute of the carnal man. Our nature is to be selfish, to love self more than anybody else. It is a perverted form of love, the way the devil loves—selfishness. 

Jesus loved selflessly so we could be saved. The experience of His lowly birth in Bethlehem, His life, His ministry, His trial, His death on the cross; He endured it all to open the gates of Paradise for others who did not deserve it. 

Love is the bond of perfection; it is something I do not naturally have in myself, or have the ability to generate. It is given as a precious gift that we receive from Jesus.

In The Desire of Ages, 22, Ellen White wrote that love cannot be awakened by force or by authority. And then is this interesting sentence, that I have pondered many times. She says, “Only by love is love awakened.” 

Solomon talked about this. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave, its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:6, 7).

Love cannot be bought with money, “Only by love is love awakened.”

Many years ago, an orphanage took in infants that had no mothers. These infants were not gaining weight as they should. It was found that the reason the infants were not thriving was that nobody took time to hold them or to cuddle them. They were fed but they were not being loved; so they did not thrive. Though babies are born selfish, they crave love. As the mother loves the baby and it feels secure and happy, it very quickly responds. A baby does not feel that same security and happiness with a stranger. 

There are many people, even Christians, who have never really been loved as a child and do not know how to love and often grow up emotionally crippled, which often affects that person for the rest of his life. 

The Bible talks about this. Paul says in Hebrews 12:12, 13, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”

This person is not one needing a cane to walk but a person who is spiritually crippled, spiritually lame and not able to walk the path the same way as somebody else. For this reason, we are not to judge people in the church, for we do not know their background. When the Lord comes again, He is going to heal these people, but for now we have a work to do. Make the paths straight and do not put an obstacle in it that they won’t be able to get over. Make special allowances for these people. 

When Jesus met people, He bent over them with a tenderness that exceeded the love of a mother for her child. Those who were healed or forgiven knew that this Person loved them, He wanted them to have everlasting life. If only one person had responded to Him, He still would have come to this world. Remember, the Shepherd had a hundred sheep and went out to find the one that was lost. 

Love comes from Jesus and to receive it from Him we must spend time with Him. Only then will we have love to give to other people and to give back to the Lord. 

Two questions about love: What is it, and What it is not?

1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The one that doesn’t love Me, doesn’t keep My commandments (see John 14:22, 23). 

So, if I receive the love of Jesus into my heart, I will be obedient.

Luke 6:27, 28: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

That command is impossible from a human point of view and only possible if the Holy Spirit gives you a new heart and a new spirit. 

John 13:34 and 35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for one another.”

Until Jesus went to the cross, His disciples did not know the depth of love their Master had for each one and what He was willing to give up to save mankind. Then He said, You love one another, the way I love you. 

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down One’s life for His friends.” And, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

Look at 1 John 4:7, 8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” “We love Him because He first loved us” (verse 19).

In the book Education, 114, Ellen White says, “Only the love that flows from the heart of Christ can heal. Only he in whom that love flows, even as the sap in the tree or the blood in the body, can restore the wounded soul.”

And by the way, friends, there are wounded people all around us. But if we do not have love in our heart, we cannot heal them. 

“Love’s agencies have wonderful power, for they are divine. The soft answer that ‘turneth away wrath,’ the love that ‘suffereth long, and is kind,’ the charity that ‘covereth a multitude of sins’ (Proverbs 15:1; 1 Corinthians 13:4 R.V.; 1 Peter 4:8)—would we learn the lesson, with what power for healing would our lives be gifted!  How life would be transformed, and the earth become a very likeness and foretaste of heaven!” Education, 114.

 “True love is not a strong, fiery, impetuous passion. On the contrary, it is calm and deep in its nature. It looks beyond mere externals and is attracted by qualities alone. It is wise and discriminating, and its devotion is real and abiding. God tests and proves us by the common occurrences of life. It is the little things which reveal the chapters of the heart. It is the little attentions, the numerous small incidents and simple courtesies of life, that make up the sum of life’s happiness; and it is the neglect of kindly, encouraging, affectionate words, and the little courtesies of life, which helps compose the sum of life’s wretchedness. It will be found at last that the denial of self for the good and happiness of those around us constitutes a large share of the life record in heaven. And the fact will also be revealed that the care of self, irrespective of the good and happiness of others, is not beneath the notice of our heavenly Father.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 133.

“Mildness, gentleness, forbearance, long-suffering, being not easily provoked, bearing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things—these are the fruit growing upon the precious tree of love, which is of heavenly growth. This tree, if nourished, will prove to be an evergreen. Its branches will not decay, its leaves will not wither. It is immortal, eternal, watered continually by the dews of heaven. 

“Love is power. Intellectual and moral strength are involved in this principle, and cannot be separated from it. The power of wealth has a tendency to corrupt and destroy; the power of force is strong to do hurt; but the excellence and value of pure love consist in its efficiency to do good, and to do nothing else than good. Whatsoever is done out of pure love, be it ever so little or contemptible in the sight of men, is wholly fruitful; for God regards more with how much love one worketh than the amount he doeth. Love is of God. The unconverted heart cannot originate nor produce this plant of heavenly growth, which lives and flourishes only where Christ reigns.    

“Love cannot live without action, and every act increases, strengthens, and extends it. Love will gain the victory when argument and authority are powerless. Love works not for profit nor reward; yet God has ordained that great gain shall be the certain result of every labor of love. It is diffusive in its nature and quiet in its operation, yet strong and mighty in its purpose to overcome great evils. It is melting and transforming in its influence, and will take hold of the lives of the sinful and affect their hearts when every other means has proved unsuccessful. Wherever the power of intellect, of authority, or of force is employed, and love is not manifestly present, the affections and will of those whom we seek to reach assume a defensive, repelling position, and their strength of resistance is increased. Jesus was the Prince of Peace. He came into the world to bring resistance and authority into subjection to Himself. Wisdom and strength He could command, but the means He employed with which to overcome evil were the wisdom and strength of love. Suffer nothing to divide your interest from your present work until God shall see fit to give you another piece of work in the same field.” Ibid., 134–136.

“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). Ibid., 136.

Perfection is not a bad word, as many people think. Perfection simply means to have perfect love in your heart. If you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you love your neighbor as yourself, you are perfect. 

Perfection is not complicated. We are talking about spiritual perfection. Physical perfection will not be acquired until Jesus comes when He will change you and give you a new body. You are not even required to have mental perfection, but rather spiritual perfection. Spiritual perfection is achieved simply when a person loves God with all his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself. And that can happen in your life when you get acquainted with Jesus. He will put that love in your heart through His Holy Spirit. Love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

When you receive Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes into your life and the first thing that happens is you receive the gift of love in your heart. And being perfect simply means to have perfect love.

It would be dangerous to take anybody to heaven who did not love God with all his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself, for it would not be heaven for very long. Pray for that gift of perfect love so you will be ready to meet Jesus when He returns.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.