Today I read the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). Wow. After reading just the first one-third of Jesus’ most familiar teaching, I feel pretty inadequate as a Christ-follower. The chapter ends with the words, Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (5:48).
Perfect? Isn’t that impossible?
Here are just a few of Jesus’ expectations of those who call themselves His disciple. (I’m paraphrasing; please read Jesus’ words for yourselves!)
- Be “salt and light” to a world that persecutes and hates you; what they see in you reflects on God.
- Don’t let your anger cause you to slander or belittle others; it’s akin to murder.
- If someone has something against you, it’s up to you to try to reconcile and make it right.
- Don’t lust; it’s the same as adultery.
- Get rid of anything that causes you to sin; it’s better to lose an eye or a limb than to spend eternity in hell.
- Don’t divorce; the only exception is if your spouse committed adultery.
- Don’t make promises (oaths); just say yes or no and keep your word.
- Don’t resist evil people.
- Don’t fight people who sue you; give them even more.
- Go the “extra mile” when people make demands of you.
- Give to those who ask; allow others to borrow what belongs to you.
- Love your enemies; pray for your persecutors.
The word “perfect” is from the Greek teleios, meaning “the state of being complete, in labor, growth, mental and moral character; full-grown, brought to its end, finished; mature.” The same word is used by James as he encourages the early church to embrace suffering.
James 1:2-4 – Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
He goes on to give an example of when we’ve reached that level of practical perfection (maturity) that Jesus is pushing us toward in Matthew 5. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well (James 3:2). How true! We are often able to achieve some control over our outward behavior and habits, but the “last frontier” for God’s Spirit to have His way with us is with our words, because what comes out of our mouth reveals what is in our hearts. Our words are often our undoing!
Scripture teaches that, in Christ, we are already perfect in position before God. We have been made holy, forgiven of all our sins by the blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit could never indwell sinful man; our spirit has been made alive in Christ and we are regenerated, made new in Jesus. The rest of our lives is a journey in sanctification – the “working out” of our salvation so that what we are inside becomes apparent on the outside. I believe this is the perfection that Jesus is talking about – we are to allow God’s Spirit to “bring us to our finished, mature, state of completion” in our mental, emotional, and moral character.
I don’t have time in this post to discuss it, but it’s amazing how the first 12 verses of Matthew 5 (the Beatitudes) parallel the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Positional perfection is already complete in Christ. Practical perfection is attainable – but only through the power of the Holy Spirit. And because I love alliteration…the pattern for perfection is God the Father. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
How will God sanctify you and me today? In what areas do we need to let His Spirit have His way? What sin needs confessing? What changes need to be made? May we sit at the feet of Jesus, just as those first listeners did on that mountain in Galilee so many years ago, and hear with our hearts what He is teaching. Truly, that is the way to the blessed life of the kingdom of God.