Not long ago I had an exchange on Facebook with a man who posted this little tidbit.
“WWJD. We can’t be perfect like Jesus so in addition to ‘What Would Jesus Do,’ we need to be like ‘what would Jesus have me do given my current situation and given what He did for on the cross'”.
It’s a fairly typical comment coming from a fairly typical church educated person. Not unusual at all, really. But I have a little different view of the subject so I asked him, “So what then do you do with the words of Jesus?”
“Your therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).
His response was “We strive to be perfect like Him but never can because of sin. At least not here and now.”
It went on from there with him getting typically more and more upset as I presented more and more biblical evidence to support Jesus’ statement, and equally typically ended with him removing me as a friend. This happens a lot when church Christians are confronted with the Bible they claim to follow. Give ’em some truth and they fold up their tents and run away. Instead of practicing the love they claim, they practice anger and pride and cut themselves off from the truth.
The standard church teaching is that we cannot be perfect. The Bible teaching is that we can. How do we resolve this conflict? Either Jesus was telling us to do something well within our grasp, or He is a harsh taskmaster asking us to do something beyond our ability. He clearly tells us to be perfect like God. There is no ambiguity. Seemingly it’s a tall order. But perhaps not so hard when we realize exactly what biblical perfection really means.
The word perfect literally means lacking in nothing. It also means “complete.” (Compare 2 Timothy 3:17 in both the AV and the ESV for instance.) Sometimes it can mean mature (compare Ephesians 4:13 in the AV and ESV). So when Jesus says be perfect as God is perfect, He means exactly what He says. We have the Word, the Spirit, and a new heart of flesh. What else do we lack? We are complete, lacking in nothing.
“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4, ESV)
So here’s the difference. The church says we cannot be perfect, which is a hopeless state of affairs. According to this teaching, we are locked into permanently displeasing God. They are saying that we cannot do better. We will never be able to please God. It is a subtle difference, and depressing, but it is also counter to what the Bible teaches. Jesus says that we certainly can do better. He is optimistic and encouraging. We have power in the Spirit. We have a love of God, and His Word to guide us. We can confess and repent and be forgiven. We can indeed be perfect.
We may not be “mature” all the time, but it is not because we CANNOT be mature. It is because we WILL NOT. We have it within our ability to perfectly follow everything God says, but we do not always choose to follow. This is the big difference. If we do not do something perfect, it is because we choose not to. We don’t like this, because our pride gets in the way.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from 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. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7–10, ESV)
But it really isn’t a big deal, because we can rectify it as soon as we realize what we did. We can humble ourselves, confess and repent. We also keep working on taking in God’s Words and moving toward greater maturity. The standard church teaching of “cannot” robs us of motivation. It is a hopeless teaching. Jesus on the other hand is hopeful. His teaching encourages us; His Word provides all that we need. Thank Him that we have what we need to be “perfect,” and can get out of the rat race of imperfection easily. We just have to want it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)
This is a sobering thought. It doesn’t make the average human very happy, because instead of sitting in our comfortable mud pen of complacency we have to move out of the pen and wash ourselves clean with His Word. We “cannot” use the excuse of “cannot” to stay comfortable and complacent. Well we CAN, it’s just not really an excuse that God will buy. We have a goal. We can do better. We can bear more fruit, and practice the fruit of the Spirit better than we do. It is not comfortable, but it is doable. Of course it is doable. Jesus said we could do it.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23, ESV)