Does God desire us to be perfect?
- Perfection is not simply being free from all sin but is also always choosing the best option for the occasion.
- The existence of good and best actions for the moment was argued in my previous post of the Many Wills of God, but for a short example as proof, 1 Cor 7:28,32-34,38 (NIV) in verse 38 we read, "So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better."
- God's will is perfect, whatever His will may be.
Perfection is a state of being not being in a state. In other words, perfection is binary, one either is perfect or is not perfect, 1 or 0, and if one is perfect then he always has been, is currently, and always will be nothing other than perfect. This is similar to God's existence and character as being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Given the assumptions above, God does not desire us as living believers to be perfect as we are sons of Adam.
Let us begin with a commandment, in Mt 5:48 Jesus commands us to "[b]e perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." At first glance it would seem to be a pretty cut and dry case that God desires us to be perfect. However, notice that Jesus commanded us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, but He could have commanded us to be perfect as He is perfect. I would propose the reasoning for the chosen metaphor can be understood when considering the triune nature of God as well as man. In one manner man is created in God's image by his being a triune being, he is made of mind, body, and spirit. God can also be viewed through this lense, God the Father is the mind, God the Son is the body, and God the Holy Spirit is the spirit. Considering the characteristic of God the Father being the mind of God then we can restate this command of Jesus, be perfect in mind as your heavenly Father is perfect in mind. Couple this with the tenses of our faith of which I will explore further in a subsequent post, the past being our spirit having been replaced by the Holy Spirit, the present being the renewing of our minds, the future being receiving our glorified bodies. Focusing on the present tense of our faith, as the present is when in time Jesus is speaking, we read in Rom 12:2a, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" stating that we must constantly renew our minds by meditating on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Phil 4:8). Therefore, I propose that what Jesus is commanding is more similar to, constantly renew your minds by thinking about godly things so that you will be perfect in mind as your heavenly Father is perfect in mind. This is not a commandment to be wholly perfect in mind, body, and spirit as clearly we are not always meditating on pure things and clearly we have not yet received our glorified bodies as living believers in Christ. God does not test us without giving us a way out (1 Cor 10:13c), so He clearly would not command us to be perfect in body when we still have corruptible, perishable bodies as sons of Adam, and have yet to receive our glorified bodies being re-born as full-fledged sons of God.
The Standard of Perfection
The Law defines what is sin, as we read in Rom 3:20b, "through the law we become conscious of our sin" and in Rom 7:7b, "I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.'" If perfection is defined as being free from all sin then it also can be defined as always following the Law completely. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (Jas 2:10).
Can The Law Make Us Perfect?
If perfection is always following the Law completely, then one must ask if the Law can make us or even justify us to be perfect. As we read in Heb 7:19a, "for the law made nothing perfect", therefore the Law cannot make us perfect. Then how can we obtain perfection, only through faith in Christ, "Through [H]im everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).
Living By the Law
If we were to live by the Law then we are to be condemned and die by the Law. As we read in Rom 8:1-6 but focusing on verse 6, "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." Often times in Scripture the Law is conceived (aka born out of) by flesh and therefore death but freedom is conceived by the Spirit and therefore life as in verse 2, "because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." This is further confirmed as we continue reading, "Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:12-13). Clearly, if we live by the Law (flesh) then we will certainly be condemned and die, not be perfect.
How Do We Obtain Perfection?
As I argued above, no one can be justified by the Law, therefore we must search for other means to obtain perfection through justification. Then how can we be justified, by being set free from sin, then how can we be set free from sin, by crucifying ourselves along with Christ, as we read in Rom 6:4-7, in particular verses 6-7, "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin." This freedom from sin is "because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2). We are even free from our past sins "now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant" (Heb 9:15b). We can only obtain this freedom through faith in Christ "and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:21-24).
What Then Should We Do?
If we cannot obtain perfection except through the gift of grace offered through the redemption that came by Christ and this does not prevent us from sinning in the present time, then how should we respond? "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Rom 6:1-2). As we read in verse 6 of 1 Jn 3:2-6, "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him."
But We Continue To Sin
However, we continue to sin due to the war between our minds/bodies and our spirits (Rom 7:14-17). "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me." (Rom 7:21-23).
Thanks Be To God
"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Rom 7:24-25).
God has justified us to be perfect in the past tense of our salvation being the death of our spirit and the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit, is constantly renewing our mind in the present tense of our salvation through obedience to the Spirit, and will give to us glorified, perfect bodies in the future tense of our salvation through our re-birth as full-fledged sons of God. So if God does not require us to be perfect in the present in order to inherit salvation then clearly God does not desire us to be perfect in the present, otherwise He would instantly make us all perfect. However, He does desire us to be obedient as we read in Jas 2:24,26, "You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." As Jesus stated, to be obedient is to "‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these." (Mk 12:30-31).
If you would like to use the Google slides presentation I developed for your Bible study group use the link below:
Does God Desire Us To Be Perfect?