WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT US BEING PERFECT?
The definition of perfection in the Bible refers to a state of completeness. Biblical perfection requires protection from fault, defect, or flaw. In the New Testament, the Greek word “perfection” may also mean “maturity.” The Bible describes perfection in at least three separate contexts: the perfection of God, the perfection of Christ, and the perfection of man.
Absolute perfection is an attribute that belongs to God alone. But it is only in Matthew 5:48 that the Bible clearly states that God is perfect by nature: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16). His way is perfect, and His word is flawless: “As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.” (Psalm 18:30). The laws of God are also perfect (Psalm 19:7; James 1:25). The Apostle Paul defines the will of God as perfect: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2).
In Hebrews 2:10, the Scripture states that Christ was made perfect through suffering: “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
As God incarnate, Christ was always spiritually sound. Christ’s suffering and death made Him “perfect” to serve as a divine high priest for the people of God (Hebrews 7:28). Only through suffering on the cross was Christ able to accomplish the work of salvation and become the full, total, and successful Savior of His people (Hebrews 5:9). Jesus was the best representation of what it means to live in obedience to the Father’s will.
As we read in Matthew 5:48, the children of God are called to be perfect. This does not mean that men will achieve the same spiritual perfection as Christ, for He alone is set apart in holiness. The call to perfection is what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). Because children appear to mimic their parents, the children of God must imitate their Lord and represent His goodness in the way they live.
The concept of spiritual maturity is closely related to the word perfection in the Bible. Humans are not flawless, but adherents of Christ are motivated to achieve perfection: “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:4). Paul said that he hadn’t yet attained perfection, but had made it his goal: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12). Paul knew that salvation for believers would be known only in the life to come (verses 13–21).
Perfection is a gift that man receives through the death of Jesus Christ: “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10–14).
Another verse that is important to understanding perfection as it applies to the Christian life is 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” By the grace that God gives in Jesus Christ, Christians are perfected in weakness; through partaking in Jesus Christ’s sufferings, they are submitted to His image.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT PERFECTIONISM?
Putting it bluntly, perfectionism is a hoax. We can’t be ideal! But many well-meaning people strive for this unattainable goal. They want to meet standards at work, at school, in church, in sports, in hobbies, in physical appearance — and the list goes on. They have convinced themselves in a way that, to be acceptable, they need to measure themselves to a personal or social level of perfection. Perfectionistic mindset causes tension, which can only lead to frustration and discontent. Perfectionism also means raising the bar to impossible heights and striving in our efforts for something that only God can do.
The purpose of the gospel is to save us because we can’t save ourselves. We all “fall short,” and we all “miss the mark.” The sinners need the Lord, and that’s why Jesus came here. If we trust Him, He forgives our sins, our imperfections, and iniquities. We can avoid striving for arbitrary, worldly “perfection” and rest in the Perfect One (Matthew 11:28).
Martha, who was “worried and angry at many things,” was probably struggling with perfectionism in the service of the Lord (Luke 10:40-41). She wanted it to be just perfect as she cooked the dinner and set the table. The problem was that she set a higher standard for herself than Christ had set for her. “Only one thing is needed,” said Jesus. Then He pointed to Mary’s example of rest and peace (Luke 10:42).
It is right that the Bible calls us, ” Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). The Greek word for “perfect” is telios. It means “brought to its completion, or perfect.” So, to be “perfect” in this context is not how perfectionists often envision it. Rather, it must be done in Jesus. Philippians 1:6 states that perfection is God’s work. He has created us, saved us, and is faithful to perfect us.
This doesn’t suggest that it is not our responsibility to grow in our faith (2 Peter 3:18). We will comply with the work of God in us (His perfection of us). We are called to live a godly life and submit to God. The purpose of the Bible’s commands is not in others’ opinions of us, as is frequently the perfectionist idol. Rather, the focus is on our heart’s posture toward God.
WHAT DID JESUS MEAN WHEN HE SAIDS “BE PERFECT”?
Do you ever scratch your head over Jesus’ call to be perfect in Matthew 5:48?
Many passages in the Bible hit a nerve more than others. One of these passages is Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” It’s one of those verses that make any average person throw their hands in fear and walk away.
‘Be perfect’? Be without flaws on all occasions?
There will be a few people who rise higher in their chairs and say, “I am perfect already,” but many of us regard the command with dismay. What’s more, we don’t just have to be “normally” perfect, and we have to be perfect “because your heavenly Father is perfect.” Oh yeah, why don’t we give up right now?
Jesus is summarizing his teaching on the law.
So, what does the verse mean? The first thing to note is that this verse outlines the teaching of Jesus on fulfilling the law. Matthew 5:17 points out the new relationship of the disciples of Jesus to the law. It’s not an easy task. Jesus’ expectations of his followers are of a whole life fulfilling of the law– not only squeaking through by not doing some things; we are not to think about them either.
The new relationship of Jesus with the law is taxing and far-reaching. Thus Matthew 5:48 summarizes all the teachings on this subject and explicitly resonates with the Leviticus command to be holy as “the Lord your God is holy” (Leviticus 19:2). This is no mental exercise; it requires a whole-life transformation. We are called to copy God’s character, not just to do or say the right things.
Okay, I know I am not helping! That also doesn’t make things any better – now we don’t just have to be perfect; we also have to copy God’s character. But before we go on, let us be clear, this is a challenge, and it’s supposed to be challenging, so there’s no way around that. Jesus’ calling to us needs our all and more.
JESUS WAS NOT ASKING FOR PERFECTION
However (the term you’ve all been waiting for!), I don’t think what Jesus was asking from us is perfection. He was asking a lot, but it wasn’t that. This is probably a Vulgate legacy that translates the Greek word into Latin as “perfectus” (though even that word doesn’t have the meaning of being without the flaws that our English word has).
Be rounded up, be whole, and be full as God is.
The Greek word here is teleios and can mean “perfect”, but is generally used to refer to wholeness or maturity. If we look at where this term is used elsewhere in the New Testament, you’ll see what I mean.
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:” (1 Corinthians 2:6)
“Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Philippians 3:15)
“But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4).
So a possible alternative translation will be “Be mature because your heavenly Father is mature.” It doesn’t sound right, even though it’s probably closer to what Jesus said. Be rounded, be whole, and be complete as God is. God doesn’t say one thing and think another; God doesn’t claim to be love, while not loving at all. God is sincere, pure, and whole-hearted, and we should be too. It is how we show that we are deeply and richly grounded in the commands of God.
THERE IS POWER IN IMPERFECTION
But perfection is not what we’re striving for, far from it. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
The extraordinary power that Paul has been speaking of is the glory of God that shines in the world. The Corinthians were known for their pottery – not only for their highly glazed pottery but also for their pots made of inferior clay, which, when fired, cracked and made excellent light diffusers.
What Paul means in 2 Corinthians is that our cracked, imperfect exteriors are nothing to be ashamed of — they are important. A well-glazed pot allows the light in; only a pot riven with cracks will shine the light of God in the world. The cracks are going to let the light out.
Kintsugi pottery is a Japanese tradition that fixes broken pots with silver or gold so that the resulting pot is more attractive than the one that broke.
We are called to be Christians with all of our flaws and imperfections.
We aren’t called as Christians to be perfect. We are called to be with all our flaws and imperfections, trusting that God’s glory will shine through those cracks to the world around us and that the gold of God’s love will turn our brokenness into something far more beautiful than it was before.
The Christian call is not a call to perfection. It is a call to remain uncomfortable with our imperfections so that God’s glory will shine even more powerfully.