To understand the Bible, we have to understand the Bible’s use of its terminology. This principle is centermost in the question of “blamelessness” and “righteousness.” Because of confusion about these terms, some have argued that we can be sinless in our present life. This theology also makes others feel guilty if they haven’t attained sinlessness.
Therefore, we have to ask, what does it mean to be “blameless” or “righteous?” It certainly doesn’t mean to be sinless:
· “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—“ (1 Kings 8:46; ESV)
· as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
Well, what do these terms mean? We need to understand them as the Bible uses them. Paul referred to himself as “blameless”:
· as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:6)
However, “blameless” evidently only pertained to certain specific performances under the law, not to sinlessness, since he also admitted that he had been a “persecutor of the church” and the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
We can understand Zechariah and Elizabeth in a similar way:
· And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. (Luke 1:6)
Were they sinless? Apparently not, since the archangel Gabriel charged Zechariah with disbelief:
· And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:20)
Elsewhere, “blameless” is used to denote the absence of great sins:
· Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:12-13 (ESV)
What then does it mean to be “righteous before God?” Under the Mosaic Law, it meant to be forgiven or reconciled. King David had committed adultery and then had killed the woman’s husband. However, he considered himself among the “righteous before God” and the “upright in heart”:
· Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)
How could he conceive of himself in this manner? Because he had confessed his sins to God and had received mercy:
· I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
We find the same principle at work in the life of the most righteous man, Job. Even he had sin, but he confessed it to God on two occasions (Job 40; 42). As a result, God regarded Job as if he had never made his wild accusations against God:
· Now therefore [you three friends] take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:8)
Evidently, Job was not sinless, but, more importantly, God regarded him as such.
We cannot ignore the many verses that teach that we all are dependent upon the mercy of God because all sin:
· If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in 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 1:8-9)
· For we all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2)
These verses do not in any way justify a cavalier attitude about sin. We are commanded to be holy as Christ is holy (1 Peter 1:15). Instead, they point to the glory of our merciful God and Savior, Jesus, who took our sins upon Himself that we might become the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21).