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Did Jesus really command us to be perfect?

“Be perfect as I am perfect.”

Our Sunday school teacher said we need to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. But is that true? What does it mean to be perfect? Surely Jesus does not expect us to be as perfect as God? If so, then we have all been set up for failure. What did Jesus mean?

First of all, the teacher quoted scripture blending two passages:

Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Leviticus 19:2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

Secondly, the context of the passage in Matthew is a comparison of the righteous versus the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), but it is not limited to behavior. He is correcting traditional pharisaical teachings throughout chapter 5. Verse 48 is the summarizing statement of Jesus’ discourse. To gain an accurate interpretation, we need to consider not only the context of Matthew, but also the context of the Leviticus passage. When a New Testament writer quotes from another source, he is not just invoking the semantic text, he is invoking the context of the passage as well. When we consider the context of Lev. 19 we see that the Lord is expressing His wholehearted covenantal devotion to His people. He loves us completely, never wavering, always steadfast. It is to this covenantal devotion that Jesus is calling his disciples to as they gathered around him listening to his teaching.

Finally, to love the Lord completely means that we must love our enemies, just as Christ loved those who spat on him, those who cursed him, and those who drove the nails into his hands. We must remember that we were once enemies of God, worthy of His wrath. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what of those who want to destroy us, those who hate us, and those who wish that we would just shut up and die? I don’t know about you, but the closer I draw to the Lord the more the world hates me. Members of my own family detest when I speak about God, what He is doing in my life, His Word, or pray for them accusing me of “advertising” my faith. What a compliment from someone who wishes I would just shut up!

Dorothy Day once wrote, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Who do you love the least? Commit today to love completely as Christ with wholehearted devotion, perfectly. I am so in awe that God loves such an imperfect mess such as me. I am so grateful He is not willing to leave me this way. For as long as God allows me to breathe, I pray I have the courage to advertise my faith in this broken vessel.

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Tags: Bible, study

Comment by John williams on July 15, 2010 at 1:32am
This subject is so important that, if the ones that are striving to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, become discouraged to the point of HOPELESSNESS, (As the promoter, and the responder, have brought about so far, to the point of bringing DISCOURAGEMENT to the onlooker, or the one that WOULD enter into the Kingdom.) that they would rather not even try, since, as they may assume, they would be fighting a losing battle from the start.

Who would then be responsible for having turned them away from the expectation of God, into that of the state of HOPELESSNESS?
To whom then would they give an account to, on that Great Day?

Mat 18:6 But whoso shall offend (cause to stumble) one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Mat 18:7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

It is Written: WITH God ALL things are possible.
To paraphrase it would read. WITHOUT God, you are on your own.

Therefore in order to accomplish the IMPOSSIBLE with man, God is needed in order to make it POSSIBLE.
Such, would turn hopelessness into an expected end.

Of course, in order for one to have God WITH him, he has got to have God IN him. (Which can only be accomplished, via the performance of a NEW birth.)
Else, the one striving is fighting a losing battle to begin with while striving to enter into the Kingdom.
Since good works are but filthy rags to God, one is not expected to make it by them.
Else Jesus Christ died in vain, if our good works would be recognized by God as the means to save us.

But take courage, striver, there is hope,
Just follow the Scriptural Instructions give by the one who once was asked. “What SHALL we DO?” (Acts 2: 37)
Who’s answer was (since, he had been given the keys to the kingdom – Mt 16:19) “REPENT”, (Acts 2:38)

The REST of the verse has gone UNRECOGNIZED by the STUMBLERS. They prefer TITLES to the NAME, since they stumble at THE ROCK OF OFFENCE. (Jesus Christ), whereas it is Written: “Neither is there SALVATION in any other: for there is NONE OTHER NAME under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Then the PROMISE of the HOLY GHOST (the Guide to all Truth – Jn 16:13) is announce to the one willing to carry out the DIVINE Instruction, since God could NOT Lie, by scripture.
After all God vindicated Peter message with signs following.

Paul was so bold as to pronounce a CURSE on ANYONE, whether it be them or an angel from heaven, (much less a theologian from this earth). If they should add to, or else take away from the Original presentation of the Gospel. (Gal 1:8, 9; Rev 22:18, 19)

Believers, never can attain, because they are not recognized by God, because they do not live by every word that proceeds out of the Mouth of God. (Which would include Peter, and Paul, the Original Gospel Presenters)

If the above statements are not Scriptural, then I’m a storyteller.
Comment by Charles Williams on July 15, 2010 at 4:06pm
Nancy I'm with you and I share your frustration.
Is there a single topic in this mess that we can latch on to and talk about in a calm, reasoned manner? If the question is can we be perfect, perhaps we can set some boundaries by dealing in some specifics. I suggest perhaps we look at the implications of Paul, an apostle, writing in obvious agony that he still struggled with sin in Romans 7. Why would this be necessary if sin had been eliminated in his life. I think it is clear from this scripture that Christians remain imperfect in themselves and continue to struggle with sin. This should not be a source of despair however because we are we grow from our struggles and even our sinful failures. We are children and the Father disciplines us a loved sons after all. Positionally, however, and Romans 7 does not speak to this, when we accept Christ we are reborn and are given the righteousness of Jesus. No question their either. But our positional righteousness is not the same as what Paul was talking about in Romans. 7. Is that the way you see it Dr. Ley? Nancy? Please whoever else comments on this, can we drop all of the churchy language and slander against women (who were a great source of strength and power in the early church, I might add) and just talk like human beings who love God and want to give him honor as we struggle to learn the truth. This is an important topic.
It's hot enough here in Texas...ugh, I'm suffering in this heat...so let's have some cool refreshment in our conversations.
Comment by Jason on July 24, 2010 at 11:10am
Nancy,
I think it is important to look at the context:
1. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of Heaven is preached. That means that this is not law, but gospel. In other words, good news is to be found in this passage. That means the hopelessness that JW speaks of is real, but there is relief for the hopeless and help for the helpless to be found there. Otherwise it would not be gospel.
2. Yes, absolute, sinless perfection is required. Some would say that "perfect" refers to maturity. When you look at it, the command to be mature as the Father is no relief of any kind. Yes, it is a call to absolute sinless perfection.
3. Looking back to the beginning of the beatitudes we find that Jesus called happy the ones who were impoverished in spirit. It is not the proud, neither is it those who think that they have arrived (whether Pharisees, or someone today) at sinless perfection. It is those who recognize that they can't arrive-that they need Divine grace- who are the blessed. Notice especially the first five verses of Matthew chapter five. They speak of blessedness coming to those who are emptied of themselves and seeking fulfillment in God. That is Gospel.
The Gospel found in the Sermon on The Mount is the Gospel that reminds us of our emptiness and shows us that our fullness is in the Son.
Am I to be perfect? Yes. I am perfected in Christ. That is why Paul stated that He is fully God and fully man, and that in Him we are perfected (Colossians 2:9-10). Should we strive for perfection? Yes. Will we attain it in this life? Not likely. After all, I think most of us realize that we are no Paul, and Paul understood that he had not attained (Philippians 3:10-12).
Just some thoughts. Perhaps they will help the discussion.
Comment by 4forchrist on August 9, 2010 at 9:29am
Hey Nancy and everyone else on this post sorry I am late this is a great subject.

Branhan failed many tests he is not a good source of teaching or prophecy. But another issue I think is key is as Dr. Ley points out nicely is where the whole truth lies and its lays across all the scriptures and their whole context. Christ never called for perfection in the here and now because he was constantly pointing us to our failures and to God to the cross itself as our only means of (Goodness) No (Perfection) no Salvation from the wrath of God's judgment.

One of my favorite passages from John is were a person asks Christ "What does God want us to do."

Jesus answers believe in the one he has sent. Christs purpose was the cross the direction he pointed was that purpose. Of course I am speaking quickly here but God always wants us to focus on him not ourselves not our own works and abilities but his.

The bible is clear we are not here to make or become heaven on earth God brings that about through an appointed date for creation and ourselves at a later time.

4christ
Comment by Rik on August 9, 2010 at 10:09am
Thank you, Nancy.
Yes, God demands absolute perfection. Since we too have been poisoned by the sin of Adam and Eve, and continue in that sin and rebellion, we all cannot measure to that perfection. For this reason, God, in His abundant mercy, sent Messiah Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb without blemish, to pay the price of sin for all people. Christ Jesus took on our sins when He suffered and died on the cross in our behalf. We became His righteousness: God has provided us, through Jesus, a "robe of righteousness", that when God looks upon us He no longer sees our sins and imperfections (as far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions...) He instead sees the righteousness of Christ credited to us. Our sins are washed away in the blood of the Lamb. This has been called "The Great Exchange" (which can be found on computer search engines).

20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. St. Matthew 5:20.

ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." Romans 3:12 NASB

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Justification by Faith
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:,... Romans 3:19-24

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Romans 3:27, 28

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