When most of us think of what it means to be “perfect”, we normally associate perfect as being flawless or without blemish. A dictionary definition of the word “perfect” would be rendered as that which is correct to the last detail. Oftentimes we refer to things as being picture-perfect, letter-perfect, or word-perfect. For example, “That was a letter-perfect rendition of the soliloquy” or “He was word-perfect in his part.” And so, in our minds, to be perfect is to be right or correct one hundred percent of the time, and especially when conforming to fact or truth.
In all fairness, when we apply this definition of perfect or being perfect to our own lives, none of us can say that we are perfect. In a very literal sense we are all a continual work in progress, striving to reach perfection, but not yet having obtained it. Perhaps it is because of this interpretation of the word “perfect” in a spiritual sense, such as “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), that we may give up even before we try, realizing how far short of the perfection of the Father we fall. However, a better understanding of the word “perfect” will allow us to see that it is indeed possible to become perfect.
But, how is it possible to be “perfect” when Scriptures clearly teach us that, ”There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10), “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)? This is a truth that we cannot deny and John is very clear on this subject when he says in 1 John 1:8-10,
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Job, a true servant of the Lord, was a man who was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (see Job 1:1). When Abram was ninety-nine years of age, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). The Psalmist David was able to declare in Psalm 18:20-23,
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me. I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
Therefore, is being perfect, upright, and of integrity only for the Bible greats such as Job, Abraham, and Noah? Is this perfection something that we have no hope of obtaining? What does it mean to be perfect? The Greek word “perfect” as found in Matthew 5:48 is telios. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it means “brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect, full-grown, adult, mature.” The following uses of this word in the New Testament illustrate what it means to be perfect:
|1. Beyond keeping the Ten Commandments, perfection is having love and concern for the poor by giving to them. – Matthew 19:16-22.
2. Perfection is being a daily living sacrifice of service, and not being conformed to this world, but transformed by the Holy Spirit to act upon the perfect will of the Almighty. – Romans 12:1-2; I Corinthians 2:1-16.
3. The purpose of the ministry is for the perfecting of the saints, that we will be united in the one true faith, complete in the knowledge of the Messiah, a perfect man like He is perfect, no more children tossed about. – Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:27-29.
4. Those who are becoming perfect have the Creator’s mind – a mind of humility and service to one another. – Philippians 2:2-5, 19, 20; Philippians 3:15. Epaphroditus, or Epaphras, is an example of perfect service to the brethren. – Philippians 2:25-30; Colossians 4:12-13.
5. Unless we have advanced beyond the basic doctrines and beyond the milk of the word, and are able to teach others, we are not mature believers. – Hebrews 5:9 to 6:6. Notice the words translated “of full age” in Hebrews 5:14. The Greek word is telios. We who have been schooled for so many years in the truth ought now to be teachers, skilled in living and practicing the Word and able to teach others.
6. Patiently overcoming trials and temptations results in perfection. – James 1:2-8,12; I Peter 5:10.
7. Perfection comes from the Father who is perfect. – James 1:17- 18.
8. The spiritual law is a perfect law of liberty. Those who obey it are perfect. – James 1:23-25, 2:22.
9. The perfect man holds his tongue. – James 1:25-27, 3:1-18.
10. We must have perfect love – the bond that makes us perfect. – I John 4:18; Colossians 3:12-17. The Almighty’s love is to be perfected in us. – I John 2:3-6. How is this done? By loving the brethren. – I John 4:11-21.
“Nobody is perfect” is a common expression that is used even among Christians. However, perfection is not an illusory goal; it is our daily way of life. Our every effort is directed toward becoming perfect even as He is perfect. The Savior is the captain of our salvation, made perfect through suffering and obedience. Once we take our eyes off our Savior, perfection at once seems to be out of the realm of reality. Indeed without Him, perfection is impossible, but because of Him and all that He done for us through the atonement, we can be perfected in Him.