Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
When faced with a command by Jesus to be perfect, often the question arises as to whether it is truly possible to be perfect. In fact the Psalmist declares,
To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless. (Psalms 119:96)
Is there a contradiction here? How do we understand perfection from a Christian standpoint? From antiquity, Biblical philosophers have debated about the feasibility of perfection and views have differed as to whether perfection is possible.
Perfection is generally understood as the absence of error or faults; something or a state that cannot be improved upon any further. Perfection makes sense only when there is a standard; and that standard has to be the eternal and faultless God. So we conclude from the above verse in Matthew, that we are called to emulate the standard, i.e. the perfect God. It also follows that God’s attributes, words and character constitute the whole sum of what can be defined as ‘perfect’. So when a person tries to pass a judgment on God’s dealings, say the violence in the Old Testament times, it does not make sense. Just like the original Mona Lisa painting at Louvre becomes the basis for judgment of all other Mona Lisa’s in the world, nothing about God or the way he behaves can be imperfect because perfection is defined by him and flows out of him.
As Christians we are called to emulate him and as soon as man starts that journey he runs into trouble, because it is anything but easy. Our knowledge of God is clouded, our intentions are corrupted and our sinful natures weigh us down. If God is perfect and we are called to emulate him, the first step would be to understand him and know him. The world and our human race have wandered so far away from God that without God’s help it is impossible to know him. The solution is through the presence of the Spirit within a believer.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1Corinthians 1:10-12)
But knowing God is only a first step. The corrupted world and our own sinful natures within, prod us away from submission to God and the way of perfection. It is only through faith, daily denial and painful obedience that the seed of life within can bloom to the maturity of a perfected life. Paul sums it up well in Galatians 2:20;
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
So is perfection possible? While it certainly is hard, as with all things relating to God, it is to the normally unattainable that God calls a Christian, and that alone needs to be our motivation. So echoing Paul’s words,
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13,14)
- DAVID’S FAILURES
- PHARAOH’S FAITH