Being Perfect is Easy

One of the most theologically divisive passages in scripture is from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Interpretations of this passage run to every extreme, from claiming that moral perfection is something that Christians can live for an indefinite period (see John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection) to claiming that Christians can’t be expected to do any good at all, and that this impossible standard is set up simply to drive us into desperation and, finally, into grace (see Martin Lloyd-Jones,Studies in the Sermon on the Mount).   

It’s very interesting seeing the casuistic gymnastics theologians will go through in order to fit this statement into their framework, but it’s particularly amusing when the meaning of the passage is so clear.  The most important word is not actually ‘perfect,’ it is ‘therefore.’  In interpreting the Bible (any literature, really) words like ‘therefore’ are incredibly significant, because they show the authors train of thought.  

So what do we see right before this passage?  

You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (src)

It’s so clear.

The perfect that Jesus demands of us is the perfection of God’s love.  To be perfect, total, undiscriminating in our love, as God is.  This isn’t moral perfectionism, and this isn’t something we have to build toward over years of gradual sanctification.  There is no reason to think we couldn’t begin doing it today.  We only have to realize that it is the way of Jesus, to make no difference between friend and enemy, neighbor or foreigner, reliable or untrustworthy, victim or persecutor.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  It’s easy.  You just do it.

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3 responses to “Being Perfect is Easy

  1. I disagree, at least in part (I think) 🙂 I believe love is part of it, but the achievement of perfection on any level is only possible if we literally live from the life of Christ. He’s perfect; therefore we can be to the extent that we allow Him to live through us. His love is part of that, but I don’t at all see it as something we “just do,” because we can’t in ourselves. As Christians, we always have His life to draw from, and that’s how we do things, not because we try our hardest in our own strength to achieve them. Perfection comes from Him, and He generously offers His life to us so that we can do what He does and love the way He loves. I believe the most important thing is looking–constantly and literally–to Christ within us, and then our love and our life fall into place. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    Amy

  2. That seems like a pretty good interpretation. Another passage came to mind when I was reading this, Matt 19:25-26 “25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’
    26 Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”

    God can do all things, even making us holy and perfect. St. Thomas said that perfection in this life was the removal of obstacles to God, including the removal of mortal sins from our lives and the removal of anything else that hinders us from loving God and neighbor. I think there is still growth in this type of holiness, but we can certainly (and should) begin today.

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