“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~Matthew 5:48
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes six specific commands from God’s Law, corrects the faulty interpretation and selfish external applications, and then points his disciples toward the true nature and true intent of the Law: living selflessly with others in community. God reveals himself to man through the Law. The Law is the perfect reflection of our God. And as we pursue this true intent and motive of the Law, as we strive to emulate our God in the ways we live with each other, we are pursuing that perfection of God. It’s a goal that shapes the disciple’s entire life. It’s the ultimate object of our behavior and our thoughts and our will. We accept nothing less than the perfection of God. We’re always striving toward it.
OK. We understand all that. We also are assured by Holy Scripture that our perfection is found only in Jesus. We are righteous only through the blood of the Son. All have sinned. None are perfect. It’s only by participating in the salvation work of God through the Christ that I can be viewed as righteous in God’s sight.
OK. We get that, too. But here’s where it gets weird.
1) I’m saved by grace. I know I’m going to sin. I’m human. I can’t not sin. And so I wake up every morning resigned to my fate as a sinner. I’m going to sin before I make it out to my car today. When I go to bed at night, I know I’ve sinned. And I’ll sin again tomorrow. I’m human. But I’m saved. As a natural result, I’m not quite as bothered by my sin as I used to be.
or 2) The Holy Spirit dwells in me. I’ve been changed by God. I’m a new creature. Every sin I commit I do so by my own choice. Nobody’s making me sin. So it’s up to me to be perfect. And I will be. From this point forward I will not sin again. God calls me to be perfect. Paul tells me to stop sinning. And I will. As a natural result, I’m continually disappointed. I’m setting myself up for failure.
I struggle with finding the balance between the two extremes. I believe I’m not alone in that. I try to live it one day at a time, like most of us do. I pray every morning that God will give me the power to remain free from sin all day until my head hits the pillow that night. I am confident in my salvation. But I should be grieved by my sin.
Michael J. Wilkins calls the balance “restful dissatisfaction.” He elaborates in his NIV Application Commentary on Matthew:
“I rest content with what Christ has done in my life and with the growth that has occurred, yet at the same time I balance that contentment with the desire to move on. At any one point in my life I want to be satisfied with what God has been doing in my life, yet I want to be dissatisfied to the degree that I press on to complete maturity. I accept my imperfection, yet I have the courage to press on to perfection. I rest in the indicative of what God has accomplished in Christ’s work of redemption and regeneration, I rest in the assurance that transformation is, at this very moment, being accomplished, and I rest in the promise that ultimately we will be like him. But I am dissatisfied when I see immaturity or impurity in my heart, mind, and life; I am dissatisfied with the state of this world apart from Christ; I am dissatisfied with loving less than the way Jesus loves.”