Philippians 3:15—Are Christians perfect, or still on the way?

Problem: In this verse, Paul calls on those who “are perfect” (kjv) to act as he did, but only three verses earlier he claimed that he was not “already perfect” (v. 12), but that he was still pressing on to attain perfection. Which one should we believe?

Solution: Here is a good example of how the same word can be used in different senses. This is not uncommon in languages, as the English word “board” illustrates. Take this sentence for example: “The board members took a stroll on the boardwalk and then stopped at the desk to inquire about room and board.” It is obvious that the same word “board” is being used here in three different senses. Likewise, Paul uses the word “perfect” in different senses. Some believers are “perfect” in the sense of being mature or complete. But no believer this side of death is perfect in the sense of having fully arrived or having reached the ultimate goal. This only comes, as Paul indicated, at “the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:11).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.