Christ commands us to be perfect (Mt_5:48); the Greek is teleios: complete, mature, flawless, morally perfect. This is an impossible standard, clearly, but it’s not surprising: God doesn’t tolerate imperfection, and He shouldn’t. (De 18:13) He requires perfection of us because it’s right for Him to do so (Re 3:2); our lack of ability is irrelevant. (Pr 20:9)
Firstly, don’t complain about God being unfair: fair is giving us all what we deserve – eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. We’re all desperately wicked (Je 17:9), unbelievably sinful, even on our best day. (Is 64:6) There’s no requirement for God to lower the righteous standard simply because we’ve chosen to sin and corrupt our will. Borrowing more than we can ever repay, and gambling it all away, doesn’t mean we owe any less. Admit we’re guilty as charged, helpless: we need mercy. (Lk 18:13)
Secondly, don’t lower the standard (Mt 18:26); aiming for anything less than perfection is willful sin (He 10:26); it’s choosing a life pattern which is insolent, arrogant, disrespectful to God: it’s inexcusable. (vs 27) We must try our best, our very best, to be as perfect as possible (2Pe 1:5-17), as poor as that might be. (Php 3:12)
Thirdly, ground yourself in the unconditional love of God (Ep 3:19): God loves each of us because He made each of us uniquely in His image, with His own hands. (Ps 119:73) Real love isn’t conditioned on behavior (Mt 5:44-45): God loves the righteous and the sinner equivalently.
But don’t think for a minute that God’s love gives us liberty to sin: God hates all who break His laws on purpose. (Ps 5:5) Hate is not the opposite of love, but its twin. Apathy is the opposite of both hate and love, and we won’t find a trace of it in God; He cares about everything intensely. (Lk 12:7)
We must be grounded in the goodness and love of God in order to remain sane before Him while we’re stained in our sin. (He 11:6) Our sin makes Him indignant (Mi 7:9), so while there’s any doubt about our standing before Him, we remain in peril. Yet even in His anger He is good – there isn’t a malicious bone in God’s body.
The only sane response to God’s demand for perfection is to find refuge in Christ through the gospel. The terror of God moves us to seek Him (2Co 5:11), to pursue salvation from our sin until we know we’re safe in Christ, absolutely sure. (1Jn 5:13) We can not afford to stand before God all on our own, and be judged according to our own works.
Strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), and labor to entered into His rest (He 4:11); diligently make your election sure. (2Pe 1:10) Work this out, your own salvation from both the penalty and power of sin in your life, with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) If Christ Himself isn’t our own personal advocate, dying in our place for us, giving us His perfect righteousness (1Jn 2:1) and working righteousness in us (Ep 2:10), we don’t stand a chance.
In the safety of eternal rest, pursue perfection, not to be saved, but because this is right, aligned with your new nature to love and obey God. And as you pursue God, don’t let anyone deceive you by defining good and evil for you, telling you what holiness looks like – go back to God’s law for yourself and check every requirement against it. One of Satan’s devices is to impose such unhealthy, burdensome regulations on us that we either rebel or become hateful, proud and judgmental. (Mt 23:4) Religion invariably gets this wrong, both adding to the Word and taking away from it. (De 4:2) Don’t take anyone else’s word for it (Ac 17:11); search out the truth for yourself. (Ps 119:99)
Finally, and this is key, don’t focus overly much on yourself, on your own behavior and how you’re failing; stop trying in your own strength to be perfect. We grow in holiness through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as we behold Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:18) Behold Him and rejoice in Him. (Php 4:4) Faith gives us access to grace, the power to live for God. (Ro 5:2)
Behold Christ through His Law, Torah, (Ps 119:18), which shows us where we need cleansing. (Ps 119:9) Grow in holiness by asking for help to obey (vs 10), hiding His Word in your heart so you won’t sin against Him. (vs 11)
As we receive with meekness the engrafted Word, beholding Him in it, the lies we believe, which keep us in bondage, are exposed and corrected through God’s gift of repentance. (2Ti 2:25-26) This is how Christ transforms us and delivers us from sin. (Ja 1:21) He Himself is the Word, giving us His life (Ps 119:50) through the scriptures (Jn 6:63), enabling us to live uprightly.
Don’t dwell on your own sin, focusing on it constantly; there’s a specific season for this, in which we’re to afflict ourselves. (Ja 4:9) As a rule, meditate on Christ through His word (Php 4:8); He will point out things that are amiss, where we’re off the mark, imperfect (He 4:12), as He is pleased to work in us.
As He does reveal sin to you, immediately confess and agree with Him, asking Him to quicken and enable you to obey Him (Ps 119:35), and to reveal specific scriptures which shed light on the darkness and lies. (Ps 119:130) Meditate on these texts until they become part of you, prayerfully quoting them whenever you feel tempted in that sin. (Mt 4:4) This is how we fight the good fight of faith (1Ti 6:12), abiding in Him, so we won’t be ashamed before Him when He comes. (1Jn 2:28)