After my last post, The Matter of Failure and Perfection, someone asked a very good follow-up question: why did Jesus say “be perfect”? What does God see as perfect and how do we live up to that?
We’re not talking about just navigating through life in the best way possible. This time, “perfection” has to do with righteousness and eternity. The juicy stuff. The stuff that matters forever.
This statement, “be perfect”, was made during the famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Since then it has haunted some people in their dreams: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48, ESV).
Why would Jesus say this? In context, he seems to mention it only in passing and then moves on to another subject.
Wait, so how are we supposed to be perfect? What is God’s definition of perfect? Don’t go for the scissors just yet. After we’re through, you’ll be glad it’s in your Bible.
First, let’s go get some coffee.
There, that’s better! So what were we talking about? Oh yeah, being perfect.
I’ll be honest, I don’t feel very qualified to write this. I feel just the opposite.
Everything that Jesus highlighted in this Sermon–about worry, seeking the kingdom, asking, praying–I haven’t done lately.
My daily routine has been waking up stressed over my to-do list, downing extra strong coffee, working until midnight, then using my extra time talking with my husband or watching movies. Drowning out the reality of my crazy life.
I do pray a lot. One prayer, really: “God, why am I doing this? I know I need to spend time with you, but I can’t seem to succeed. I know I need to act better, but I can’t. Help me. Do something to pull me out of this dark pit.”
I used to enjoy lots of time with God and much to smile about, even in dark times. Where did all that passion go? Once upon a time, I would have a long essay to answer this “perfection” question in a heartbeat. Now? I struggle to put one word after another.
I can’t do this.
Why am I telling you this? Why don’t I just fake it like I have it all together? As with many pastor’s kids, faking perfection is an art form.
At first, that’s exactly what I had in mind.
I’m telling you this because this question has been burning in me for so long and I need the answer. I’ve asked God over and over, “What does it look like to please you? How do I know I’m walking the right path that you have for me?”
Sometimes the guilt seems to press its cold fingers to my throat. Surely, I’ve failed God this time. There must be something I’m getting wrong, or my life would not be this way. What am I getting wrong? How am I supposed to fix this?
So I wait.
I’ve been here before. I know how this goes. I’ll wait.
God will answer me. He always does. Always will.
This is how I feel, but it does not have to be what I believe.
The fact is, God will always rescue me from every pit. No matter how much condemnation screams in my ears and paralyzes my life, God is still greater.
I know I have his listening ear. I know I have his favor. I will ask again. And I will wait.
God, whatever it is that you want to birth in me, you have my permission. Whatever door to my heart that you want to enter, you have my permission. Whatever you have to do, you have my permission. I am yours. I need you, only you.
Because perfection is not a checklist. I have nothing to do here, no deeds to contribute. I have only to cry out in faith to the One who is Perfect Love. Besides, why would I strive for something that I can just get for free?
So I’ll keep my ears and heart open for him and wait.
You’ve been here before too. Don’t you remember?
I remember the very first time I felt this way. It was in the bathroom. I was about 4 years old. I remember feeling down and suddenly thought about Jesus. Dad had talked about him a few times before. I hadn’t been interested before. Now I felt a burning, an ache. It hurt so much that I said out loud right then “I want to know Jesus!” I knew. It wasn’t just out of need, but out of curiosity too. I knew I had to know who he was. I knew, somehow, it would be the best adventure ever.
Theology, scripture verses, sermons, devotions… they all come and go. Now and then, when I feel down, I go back to that moment. Because if God thought I was worth saving then, I am still worth saving now.
“So answer me this: Did the Holy Spirit come to you as a reward for keeping all the Jewish laws? No, you received him as a gift because you believed in the Messiah. Your new life in the Anointed One began with the Holy Spirit giving you a new birth. Why then would you so foolishly turn from living in the Spirit by trying to finish by your own works?” (Gal 3:2-3 TPT).
Nothing has changed. It started with faith in Jesus and it will stay that way. Period.
In the Sermon on the Mount, that word “perfect” in the Aramaic and Greek also means “whole, complete, fully mature, lacking nothing, all-inclusive, well-rounded” (See TPT footnote for Matt. 5:48).
In other words, you mimic your Father in heaven as any child does. The ability to be like him is not something you work for, it is who you are. A child does not earn his Father’s good looks, talents, or inheritance. It is already in his DNA. You are not just adopted in, you are made in God’s very image.
How does a child learn? By watching and trusting his father. Everything else comes naturally. It is about unlocking your hidden potential, not finding something you’re missing.
So what does “Perfect” look like to God?
It looks like you. God has never wanted anything more than for you to be who you are: a ruler by his side, a son or daughter at his right hand, his blood heir, his precious child. He gave everything for that!
Next time you read your Bible, do it to watch your Daddy go, to discover who you really are.
“The mature children of God are those who are moved by the impulses of the Holy Spirit. And you did not receive the ‘spirit of religious duty,’ leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the ’Spirit of full acceptance,’ enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!’ For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, ‘You are God’s beloved child!’” (Rom 8: 14-16 TPT).
PS: Thank you for the question! I needed this.