Who are you talking to? Jesus finished the beloved Sermon on the Mount with these words: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Was He exaggerating? Was He speaking to an elite few? He was addressing a crowd of Galilean Jews, hicks to the mainliners in Jerusalem, people who felt like outsiders, second-stringers. Jesus didn’t coddle them; He called them to perfection.
When we say, “No one’s perfect,” we are excusing the sin that Jesus died for. The cross did not eliminate the presence of sin, but it eliminated its inevitability. When you say, “Nobody’s perfect,” you are lowering the bar that Christ raised. How dare you? Would you rather be excused or empowered?
When Paul wrote, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” he could hear the libertarians behind the wall saying, ”Absolutely,” as if grace makes sin acceptable. Rubbish! Grace makes sin unnecessary. Otherwise, the closing words of Jesus’ sermon are meant only for the Trinity.
Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” What do you expect to end his sentence? “And, of course, I never will be.” No: “…but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:13). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has claimed us as His own and initiated a cleanup campaign aimed at making us like His Son.
What are the benefits of aiming at perfection?
- We don’t excuse sins that we are tempted to consider insignificant. Taking a second look is an offense to the cross. So is raising your voice with a child to add authority to your message. Congratulations! You just subtracted it.
- We rely more heavily on the grace of God, knowing that perfection is way outside our sphere of possibility.
- Rather than being less conscious of sin and pretending we are without it (I John 1), we are more conscious both of the sins and the grace to overcome them.
Should we be worried about the doctrine of sinless perfection? Don’t think so. I don’t know of anyone abusing it. I am far more concerned about sinful imperfection, which reduces grace to permission and sets the bar at mediocrity. I wouldn’t play for a coach who said, “We will likely win a few and lose a few. Get out there and play average.” I would play for a coach who says, “We’re going for a perfect season. Play as if your life depends upon it.”
“Thank you, Jesus, for setting the bar at perfection. Thank you for calling us to a holy and blameless life. And thank you for dying for us, releasing us from the power of darkness and making us children of light. When we see you, we will be like you.”
“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” ( 2 Peter 3:14).
“Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).