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)
So, how should we respond to this demand for moral perfection? There are dangers here we do well to avoid.
Firstly, we shouldn’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. We’re guilty as charged: we need mercy. (Lk 18:13)
Secondly, we shouldn’t try to lower the standard for ourselves (Mt 18:26); aiming for anything less than perfection is willful sin (He 10:26); choosing this as a life pattern is insolent, arrogant, disrespectful to God – inexcusable. (vs 27) Every willful sin is a personal affront to God; He hates all who break His laws on purpose. (Ps 5:5) We must try our best, our very best, to be as perfect as possible (2Pe 1:5-7), as poor as that might be. (Php 3:12)
Thirdly, we must ground ourselves 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, because that’s His holy nature.
We must be grounded in the love of God to retain our sanity before Him while we’re stained in our sin. (He 11:6) Our sin is repulsive to Him; it makes Him indignant (Mi 7:9), and every single one of our sins must be dealt with firmly and justly. Yet even in His anger God Is Good – there isn’t a malicious bone in God’s body, and we must count on this in order to function as we consider the second death. While there’s any doubt about our standing before Him, we remain in dreadful peril.
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.
We should examine ourselves very carefully to ensure that we’re in the faith; we should be able to prove this. (2Co 13:5) There are things that accompany salvation (He 6:9); without these manifest in our lives we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22) Until we’re perfectly sure of our eternal destiny, we strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), and labor to enter into His rest (He 4:11); diligently making our election sure. (2Pe 1:10)
We work this out, our own salvation from both the penalty and power of sin in our lives, with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) We don’t rest until we know that Christ Himself is our own personal advocate, dying in our place for us, giving us His perfect righteousness (1Jn 2:1) and working His righteousness in us (Ep 2:10), making us as eternally safe from the wrath of God as He is.
It is only from the safety of eternal rest that we pursue perfection with joy, not to be saved, but because this is right, aligned with our new nature to love and obey God. (Ps 119:4) We don’t presume the liberty to sin because He has redeemed us.
And as we pursue God, we don’t let others define good and evil for us, telling us what perfection looks like – we go back to Torah (Is 8:20) and check every requirement against it (Ac 17:11), searching out truth for ourselves. (Ps 119:99) One of Satan’s tactics is to both add to the Word and take away from it (De 4:2), imposing such unhealthy, burdensome regulations that we either rebel, or we or become hateful, proud and judgmental in keeping them. (Mt 23:4)
Finally, and this is key, we don’t focus overly much on ourselves, on our own behavior and how we’re failing; we stop trying in our 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); He’s the one who gives us faith (He 12:2), our access to grace, the power to live for God. (Ro 5:2) Christ Himself is our life (Col 3:4), and our sanctification. (1Co 1:30)
We behold Christ primarily through Torah, (Ps 119:18), which shows us where we need cleansing (Ps 119:9), then we ask for help to obey (vs 10), hiding His Word in your heart and meditating on it (Ps 119:97) so we won’t sin against Him. (vs 11)
As we receive with meekness the engrafted Word, beholding the living Christ within 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.
We don’t dwell on our 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 general pattern we meditate on Christ through His word (Php 4:8); He points 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 our sin to us, our imperfections, flaws and weaknesses, we immediately confess and agree with Him, asking Him to quicken and enable us to obey Him (Ps 119:35), and to reveal specific scriptures to us which shed light on our darkness and lies. (Ps 119:130) We meditate on these texts until they become part of us, prayerfully quoting them whenever we feel tempted. (Mt 4:4) This is how we take the sword, the sword of the Spirit, and 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)
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