Summary: Matthew 5:48 says to be perfect! What does this mean? Discover with me several things that this does not mean and several things it does mean.
Background: Matthew 5
Text: Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
What is Christ demanding in this verse? Does He really expect us to be perfect? If so, how perfect does He want us to be? If not, why did He say it? What is Christian perfection?
The command to be perfect is found in both the Old Testament and in the New.
>Genesis 17:1 God commanded Abram to “Walk before me and be thou perfect.”
>I Kings 8:61 give the command to the people of Israel to “Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep His commandments.
>2 Chron. 19:9 The people of Israel are told to serve God “in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart.”
>Matt. 5:48 the words of Jesus tell us “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”
2 Cor. 13:11 Paul says to the Corinthians, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
The concept of Christian perfection is very controversial in our day as it has been for centuries. It is a very clear command in the Bible. Therefore it is worthy of our study to know what is meant by perfection.
I. What Christian Perfection is not
A. It is not perfect knowledge. God does not give to us a grace that perfects our knowledge. As long as we are human there will always be a lack of perfect knowledge. We cannot have complete knowledge of the ways of God, the things of Heaven, the time of Christ’s return, the events of tomorrow, or even a complete understanding of all Scripture. Lacking knowledge in these things do not cause us to break God’s command to be perfect. God is not expecting perfection of knowledge.
B. It is not freedom from mistakes.
As long as we are human with lacking perfect knowledge we are inclined to be mistaken in regards to facts, better judgment, or sometimes even common sense. The most mature Christians sometimes do things they later regret, misunderstand facts or details, or even misunderstand areas of Scripture that do not relate to salvation.
C. It is not freedom from infirmities, such as weakness, slowness in understanding, etc.
Christian perfection does not keep us from falling asleep while praying or reading the Bible. These things are not sin, they are human weakness.
D. It is not freedom from temptation.
If perfection would free us from temptation, what about the fact that Jesus was tempted? He was perfect in every way, yet He was tempted. Temptation is not sin, and does not become sin until it is welcomed and entertained and given consent by the mind.
E. It is not absolute perfection
Only God is capable of absolute perfection. He has perfect knowledge, no weaknesses or infirmities, and cannot make mistakes. He never commanded this kind of perfection of his people.
II. What Christian perfection is
A. Freedom from sin
What is sin?
>legalistic definition “any lack of God’s absolute perfection”
Sin is with knowledge James 4:17, “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not to him it is sin”
Sin is willful
Sin is breaking the law. I John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the law”
We could summarize the Biblical definition as “Sin is a willful transgression against the known law of God.”
The legalistic definition gives no place for human weakness or lack of knowledge. This definition would tell us that any mistake even in complete ignorance is sin.
We are not living under the law, but under grace. Living under grace does not give us permission to sin. Living under grace takes our motives and understanding of the law into consideration.
Let us look at an example of this. You are on vacation driving through a state where you have never been. For the first twenty miles into the state you are not wearing a seat belt. An officer pulls you over and asks you why you are not wearing it. You honestly did not know that this state required that you wear it. The officer looks at your out-of-state tag and senses your sincerity, then lets you go free with your promise not to let it happen anymore. Technically you broke the letter of the law, but in your heart you were doing the right thing. The officer did not consider you to be a lawbreaker. He took your knowledge and motives into consideration and gave you grace.
The same is true with God. What was not sin for you yesterday because of lack of knowledge is sin for you today because God has given you knowledge of it.