A Question I Was Asked:

Why Are Christians Not Prepared to be 'Perfect' as Matthew 5:48 States?

The Question:

I believe that every word spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ leads us to Matthew 5:43-48. v. 45: That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. Vs 48: Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

I have listened to and spoken with many... everyone says that it is impossible for anyone to perfect in this life. And the Apostle Paul wrote: 2 Timothy 3:16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for reproof, for correction,and for instruction in righteousness. v. 17: That the man of God may be perfect; thoroughly furnished unto all good works. There are 54 entries in the KJV which have to do with the word perfect: Perfect with the Lord - Perfect heart - Perfect in knowledge - Perfect man. I am perplexed that so that many deny that it is possible for a man of God to be perfect in this life. Not once have I read that Jesus spoke of any man as being a child of God, but rather, He gave us commandments to keep, and spoke of things we must do, and gave us warnings to heed; that we may be the children of God.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, so here we have a seeming dilemma. We are admonished to be 'perfect,' but even the most sincere Christians find perfection of behaviour in this life to be just about impossible. What is the solution to this?

In Matthew 5:48, the Greek word teleios is used twice and this word has been mostly translated (that is, in the various English translations) as either 'good,' or 'perfect.' 2 Timothy 3:17 uses the Greek word 'agnos,' and, again, it is often translated as 'perfect.' Both of these words are summed up by the overall meanings of complete, fully mature, good or perfect. So the Scripture clearly admonishes us to be complete, fully good, or perfect within our Christian walk.

This is our goal, it is what - as Christians - we must continually strive to attain. But when we consider the lives of the various leaders within the New Testament - who were obviously fully aware of these words of Jesus - we see that they too did not always live up to this goal and ideal; we see differences of opinion between Paul and Barnabas and, on another occasion, between Paul and Peter. We start to learn from all of this that the principle of full Christian maturity and perfection is not always realised by Christian believers but it must always remain the goal.

Both John and Paul show that we must keep striving, overcoming, moving forward - but we should also accept that we are going to fall short. Paul's continual struggles are carefully laid out for us in Romans 7. It is worth carefully going through this chapter to read of Paul's obvious frustration of continually falling short. He states, for example:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:14-19, NIV throughout).

Paul is utterly frank here; he confesses to sinning - yes, possibly even on a regular basis - even though he is fully aware that he should not. He makes it plain that a true believer still has a sinful nature to battle against! Not all of those battles are won.

John the Apostle also makes some strong comments about the sin which continues to lurk within a Christian's nature:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10).

John is saying, look, you will still sin as believers and if you claim that you do not, then you make Him out to be a liar and His word is not within you. Very strong words! We must also remember what Paul was told while struggling with some problem, possibly a physical problem:

...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 7b-10).

There is something about the work of the Spirit within the believer that makes Him (the Holy Spirit, that is), more effective within a weaker vessel than within a stronger one. Is this why only a few of the famous and wealthy are called?

Finally, we might also just remember that it was the tax collector who freely confessed his sins at the temple who went away justified rather than the Pharisee who claimed perfection. See Luke 18:12-14.

Putting all of this together it is obvious that one needs to correctly understand the principle of 'be you therefore perfect.' That is our goal but it is a goal which we must struggle and strive for, it is not something which Christians immediately attain upon conversion. Neither - one might add - is it something which any one of us has the right to wag a finger before another believer about who - we may feel - is falling short!

Frankly, I believe that total perfection of Christian character is not realised in this life and this comment is based upon the life examples of countless truly converted men and women of faith that one has read about.

My advice would be: Don't place Matthew 5:48 into a supreme and grandiose position over against all other New Testament teaching; that can be dangerous, for there is a false teaching out there called 'sinless perfectionism' which is much loved by certain cults and sects. This leads to continual and damaging judgmentalism of others and is almost always accompanied by the false teaching of justification by works. It also forgets that - once covered by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ - a believer's stumbling into sin is no longer held against them just as long as his/her life's direction continues toward the kingdom.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. (1 John 5:18).

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:1-3).

Robin A. Brace. November 3rd, 2011.