Those familiar with the New Testament know this verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48).
That’s a loaded verse. Is Jesus commanding us to be flawless in character and behavior, today? Is He asking us to be perfect like God the Father right now? If so, I think the human race is sunk. Who among mortals could live up to such a charge? Not I.
What does perfect mean in this context? From the Greek translation of this verse, the word τέλειοι (telios) has seven definitions:
- brought to its end, finished
- wanting nothing necessary to completeness
- that which is perfect, 4a) consummate human integrity and virtue, 4b) of men, 4b1) full grown, adult, of full age, mature
Hmm. Noah was described as “a just man and perfect in his generations” (see Genesis 6:9). The NIV translates this “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time,” while The Message translates it “a good man, a man of integrity in his community.”
So perfect can mean a number of things, but I like the definitions mature, complete, finished. These are qualities that seem far more reachable than flawlessness, which is a common and burdensome misconception of the word.
Hebrews 12:23 speaks of “just men made perfect.” That makes sense to me, that we are made perfect rather than getting there all by our determined selves.
Then there are these words near the very end of the Book of Mormon, written by Mormon’s son Moroni:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32–33; emphasis added .)
According to these beautiful words from Moroni, our perfection will come through the grace of God, if we love God with all our might, mind, and strength, denying ourselves all ungodliness, by the grace of God we will be made perfect. A perfect plan made by a perfect creator.
That doesn’t mean we are not accountable for our actions and for constant improvement. On the contrary. We are accountable, whether we believe it or not.