We can be perfect—now!
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). This sentence may be the most vexing in all of scripture.
Yet many Christians – especially those in the Wesleyan tradition – consider Jesus’ words crucial for spiritual formation. John Wesley formed his theology of Christian perfection around them. Ever since, folks even as famous as Reinhold Niebuhr have chided Wesleyans for being fanatical about perfection.
The possibility of fulfilling Jesus’ command seems unrealistic to many people. When I talk to audiences about perfection, I often ask, “Would every perfect person raise a hand?” After an awkward moment or two, a jokester typically shoots his arm upward, hoping to get a laugh from the crowd.
The command Jesus gives to be perfect parallels the Old and New Testament command to be holy. Wesley highlighted this parallel in his preaching ministry. In his New Testament writings, Peter draws from Leviticus when he talks about imitating God’s holiness. The passage reads, “I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pt. 1:16). For many people, perfection and holiness are synonymous.
Wesleyans aren’t the only Christians concerned with perfection, of course. A rich Roman Catholic tradition offers resources for thinking about the issue. And Christians in the Orthodox tradition are quite interested in what it means to be perfect. Other Christian traditions are less helpful when it comes to understanding perfection.
John Calvin’s Deceptive View of Perfection
Some in the Christian tradition believe we can call ourselves perfect when in fact we are not. God sees us as perfect, they say, because God looks at us through the lens of Jesus. In actuality, however, we remain imperfect.
Classically trained theologians like to use the technical word “impute” to talk about this view. John Calvin’s Institutes illustrate what theologians mean when they speak of imputation and perfection:
“A man is righteous not in himself, but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation…”
“We are accounted righteous only because [Christ’s] obedience is accepted for us as if it were our own…”
“[If] we may appear before the face of God to salvation, it is necessary for us to be perfumed with [Christ’s] fragrance, and to have all our deformities concealed and absorbed in his perfection.”
Calvin’s claim that we must be “perfumed with Christ’s fragrance” helps us understand the problem with imputation. He rightfully thinks that as sinners, we stink! In fact, the stench of our sin can be nauseating.
His view of imputation doesn’t free us of our stench. Instead, Christ’s strong and sweet aroma covers over – masks – our persistent odor. Christ’s fragrance overpowers God’s nostrils so that God fails to realize that we reek.
Instead of believing that God must be deceived, others have interpreted Jesus’ command to be perfect as merely him setting a goal. We should strive for perfection, but we also know we cannot attain it. God sets an unreachable bar to motivate us.
One advocate of this paradox put it this way: “Our goal is to think and act the same way Jesus lived (perfectly), but we will be sinners until our last breath. The standard is perfection, but we will always be profoundly flawed.”
This explanation of Jesus’ call to be perfect is also unsatisfying. When I hear it, I picture greyhounds chasing the unattainable plastic rabbit around a racetrack.
This way of thinking about perfection presents Jesus as inherently unloving. What kind of person would demand something that he knows we cannot ever do – especially knowing that failing to do the impossible results in sickness, destruction and death? The God who calls us to be perfect, all the while knowing we never can, is a tyrant. This explanation of the call to be perfect portrays Jesus as cruel and conniving.
Aristotle and Perfection
A more helpful explanation of the call to be perfect comes from the great mind of Aristotle. He believed something could be perfect if it acted in accord with its purpose. A perfect object is not without some flaws. But it can be perfect if used in the manner for which it was created.
My undergraduate professor of philosophy and later colleague, Ed Crawford, prefers Aristotle when pondering perfection. Aristotle argues that perfection involves being in the process of moving from potential to actual. The perfect acorn naturally moves toward being an oak tree, because acorns were designed to become oak trees.
Humans also move naturally from potential to actual. When they are moving in the correct direction, they become more like what they were designed to be: Christ-like. Perfection, then, entails becoming conformed to the image of Jesus (Rm. 8:29).
This way of understanding perfection is helpful. But it leaves a huge question unanswered: What does it mean to be Christ-like?
Does Christ-likeness mean speaking Aramaic? Are we becoming perfect like Jesus when we wear robes, tunics, and sandals? Is the essence of perfection having twelve disciples, eating a diet mainly of fish and bread, and lecturing religious authorities?
In our attempt to figure out what it means to be perfect, we may forget that Jesus presents God as the example of what our perfection ought to be. Jesus tells his listeners to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect.
Amazingly, a central aspect of spiritual formation is becoming like God!
Before we begin worrying about the omnipotence problems of Bruce Almighty or the omniscience problems inherent in knowing every past sin of our kids, spouses, or parents, we should look at the context of Jesus’ command to be perfect.
Jesus and Perfection
The call comes at the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read Jesus’ words preceding it:
You have heard it said, ‘You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children to your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and good, and sends rains on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:43-48).
The context of Jesus’ command suggests that love – not perfect power or knowledge – is what it means to be perfect as God is perfect. God loves everyone. God loves even those who do not return love. We ought to imitate God in this. We ought to love our enemies, for even God loves those who declare themselves enemies of God.
Luke’s memory of the sermon Jesus preached is different from Matthew’s memory. While Matthew remembers Jesus concluding by saying “be perfect,” Luke remember Jesus concluding with “be compassionate” (Lk. 6:36). This serves as an important clue for deciphering what it means to be perfect.
I think human perfection is possible here and now. That’s a big claim, I know. I’ll need to explain what I mean in a later blog. At present, I must rest content to say that love is the most important clue for understanding how we might be perfect as God is perfect.
 See Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: Human Destiny, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943).
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion , John Allen, trans. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1949), all quotes from book III, ch. 11, # 23.
 For an argument that love is the core notion of holiness, see Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl, Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 2005).
Great thoughts Tom! I struggle with the Calvinistic concept of imputation that you address. It really seems awkward when the story of the blessing that Jacob stole from Esau is presented in the Old Testament. We all feel moved with compassion for Isaac who is fooled by Jacob and receives the blessing, yet we are asked to think that we would do the same thing to God! That just seems so awkward to me.
A sermon I heard last year exhorted us to be “perfect in the moment”. An illustration given was breaking the little clip off of an ink pen. The pen was still capable of writing perfectly, yet it was not “the perfect pen”. Likewise, we can at this moment be all that God has called us to be, while that may well not be adequate (perfect) in the next moment.
As an aside—Is there a tension between Aristotelian and Platonic perfection at work here?
Some great thoughts you have that cause me to reflect and strive more for the perfection that God calls us to!
Basically, I agree with your views on the “perfection” problem that has plagued generations of Christians. I have had fellow pastors of other denominations chide me on their understanding of the Holiness doctrine of Christian Perfection. It’s as if everything is stacked against us due to our use of the words “Holiness” “Christian Perfection” “Entire Santification” etc. Of course, in the heat of the moment with these friendly critics one never has enough time to explain what we really believe. But, it seems to me, that honest Believers really don’t believe deep in their heart that the “blood of Christ” covers us so as to fool God. It’s as if He isn’t smart enough to see us for who we really are. To me the “Blood of Christ” cleanses from all sin – that is sin as God calls it sin, not sin as my mommy, grandma, or even the church calls sin. I think there have been real errors by many in the past as to what sin really is [including Charles Wesley’s mother]. I’m sure glad God has it all figured out and we can trust him to be more than fair with us when the time comes. Well, just my thoughts. RJM
Good article. The absurd question of whether God can make a rock so big that he cannot lift it is only challenged by the valid question of whether the perfect man can so perfectly sin in such a way that God cannot reconcile. The Calvinist view, as I see it, holds higher the power of sin over the power of God to which your question of perfection addresses.
When we hear; “Can God make me perfect?” we laugh like Sarah cooking while overhearing that she is expected to give birth at her advanced age. The response to her chuckle and ours is that nothing is impossible with God. So the belief that perfection of any sort must see in God greater stuff than we see in sin. Seems simple but few are more aware of their sinning than in God’s redeeming, herein is the challenge. We have become the Israelite army immobilized by the insults of a large man when we need more small boy’s who sees the matchup with a different perspective.
It seems pretty audacious to me to stand before the God who created us and tell him that sin is beyond his ability.
Thank you so much for this post, keep on stretching us and expanding our understanding and practice of love.
I have struggled with using “perfection” language when speaking about holiness for the very issues you raise. I understand what you say in reflection on this through the thinking of Aristotle, but I would ask you, “Has the language of perfection been so misunderstood, so misrepresented that we should lay it down and move on?
Secondly, I love your reflection on how Luke remembers this call to perfection differently, remembering instead a call to a life of compassion. I wonder how this might speak to those who suggest they “love” but they just don’t like you.
Thank-you for this insightful piece. It has been a perplexing subject for us Nazarenes over the years. We want to strive for perfection and claim sanctification yet we see our human frailties and shortcomings and wonder how is it possible. I especially appreciate the analogy of doing what we are created for and thus, being perfect as long as that is what we are doing. I heard someone once use a pencil as the illustration. It has helped me to get a better grasp on perfection and have been able to share that with others. Thank-you for sending this my way. I have been a Nazarene for 38 years. My husband was a pastor in Troy, ID, who recently passed away. We had these discussions many times and how to convey it better to our people.
This is one of my favorite conversations to have with folks. We talk about a “perfect” pitch in baseball, or when hanging a picture frame level, but it’s as if we can never say that a Christian can be fully Christian. John Wesley said that he HAD to use the word “perfect,” despite criticism, because the Bible does…what a man of God.
Yes! Excellent point!
This year I preached through my 1 Corinthians to my congregation. It was eye opening to see chapters 12 to 14 in context of the letter and not as part of a Charismatic spirituality debate. My findings of study for preaching is that the evidence of the Holy Spirit is Love and not speaking in tongues. 1 Cor 12:29-30 demonstrates through rhetorical questions that not all people will speak in tongues. The more excellent way is the way of Love. Ch 13 is not about marriage or romantic intimacy between a couple, but about how we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ!
To love as Christ (or God) loves is attained through growth; what we might call sanctification. It is a placing the needs and concerns of other above our own. We don’t attain this without maturation.
Going to your example of a group where only the jokester raises his hands to provoke laughter about perfection, to the average Christian we can’t fathom being “perfect” because we would rather enjoy the comfort of conforming to the influence of the world. It’s easier to sleep that extra hour than to prayer for our needs or intercede for others. It’s easier to have a beer with boys after work than to stand for a life that is spiritually shackle-free.
Isn’t this exactly what Paul was trying to get at in 2 Cor 10:3-5 when he talks about the demolishing of arguments and pretension that are contrary to the knowledge of God. Could it be that the hindrance of perfection in some way lays in a self-accepted mental stronghold? The stronghold may not be our own creation, but we have embraced it to rationalize our spiritual failures.
I won’t belabor this posting much longer, but I believe that Christ gave us a clue that there was more to learn and it depended upon our spiritual maturity. See John 16:12 and enjoy the fact that this falls in context in Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit being sent. This put 1 Cor 2:9-16 central to spiritual maturation and the perfection of love.
Thanks for giving me this wonderful mental and spiritual exercise.
Blessings to you!
My time with Wesleyans has taught me that so many of us don’t take these words of Jesus seriously enough.
I believe that given the criteria given by Wesley (ruling out ignorance for example) this type of perfection is possible.
What I am uncomfortable with (but not outright disagreeing with)is that idea that one can in reality remain in this perfection continually for the remainder of one’s entire live.
Or maybe my heart is in need of much more cleansing than others…
Love of wisdom and the wisdom of Love, indeed.
Here are a couple of thoughts from a former Wesleyan, now Reformed reader.
First, your treatment of Calvin’s teaching on imputation is incomplete and misleading. He didn’t teach that imputation is an exercise in divine self-deception. Instead he taught it is a gracious act—crediting someone for work performed by another. Further, Calvin didn’t say that imputation should be understood alone – apart from sanctification and glorification. Good works follow. In this life Christians strive to live like Christ out of a sense of gratitude and love. But our obedience always falls short of the ideal. Moral perfection awaits the day of Christ (Phil. 3:12)—when we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2).
Second, I know a little about Aristotle, having considered myself an Aristotelian for years prior to adopting Plato’s views. God’s perfection for Aristotle was of another order than the perfection of a human being, or an oak tree or a rabbit for that matter. Aristotle’s God is so perfect he can’t even think about us. We would pollute his mental processes. Aristotle’s God doesn’t love us. He doesn’t even know our names. He is completely self-absorbed, thinking of his own perfection. And because he does we are made into perfect humans. (We attain the telos of a human being.) Wesleyan appropriation of the Aristotelian notion of perfection has always smacked of cheating to me – remember sui generis. You’re using the categories of a man who considered divine perfection and human perfection to be incommensurate.
Thanks for your thoughts. I grew up in an age where I heard it preached that perfection was viewed as something I had to do, a goal I was compelled to strive for, all about measuring up and keeping the rules…none of which seemed consistent with grace.
At this point in my journey, I find myself at a different place, a place where I understand that perfection is not something I can ever accomplish. In the context of the conclusion to the sermon on the mount, I think we find perfection as we stand, heart wide open, allowing God’s love and grace to pour through our souls overflowing to one another.
Your thought about something acting in accordance with its purpose spoke to me. I have many utensils in my kitchen. The more scarred from service to me they become, the more perfect they are for me for what I wish to use them for. Some are a far cry from what they were when they were new (and perfect). May I become more perfect everyday in service to my Owner…
Good discussion Tom. And a relevant topic.
I know you like to ‘hang’ everything on Love (Agape), but I continue to insist there are other concomitants.
There is a sense in which the Greek word “teleos” could be translated “complete.” It is my view that the dominant loss Adam suferred in the Fall was the loss of the Spirit of God [Hb Ruach]. Completeness is mede possible by the cleansing from sins by the atoning work of Jesus and by the infilling of His Spirit.
While the Spirit filled individual will always have the option to sin, he or she will have the enablement to live uprightly, blamelessly and to love both God and neighbor as one ought.
In this state of perfection Ones love for God replaces the former rebellion which characterizes the unrepentant/unregenerate. Love becomes the motivation for and the dynamic of obedience – the the Law is fulfilled by love (Rom 13:9). But the enablement to love and obey is proferred by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. As light dispels darkness, so His presence dispels the propensity to rebel against God (the hamartia for which we are blameworthy).
There will still be the ongoing coaching, correcting guidance of the Spirit and a resultant maturation in a believers life. But this “completeness” restores the human to what he was created to be.
It is not difficult to understand what holiness means when the Spirit of God descends on a man and changes his very nature to that of holiness.
That is, it is not difficult to understand when the church is not in a time of darkness. Then, men in numbers, will raise their hands with enthusiasm when asked if any perfect person would do so and eagerly go to the front to share what happened, that God descended on them one day subsequent to conversion, and they are now able to live lives in accordance to the sermon on the mount and without any sin even in their thoughts, and people would listen, and knowing the lives of the men would know that they spoke the truth.
The people that heard would not go on to have conferences and write blogs on what holiness could possibly mean. Instead, they would just get on their knees knowing what wretched examples of Christianity they were compared to these others, and not get up till God had descended on them too.
If we are in Christ then we do not sin, 1John makes it clear, and any man who pleads for sin is in danger of hell, its that simple and the message preached in enlightened times was this. It is the arrogance of man to think that they were deluded when the evidence of what they claimed was right there in front of people. Those who claimed holiness were not classed as insane by those close to them who followed Christ. Only by their detractors, who are men like the detractors of Christ who do not recognize holiness when it is in front of them.
We are in dark days indeed.
A word I have not heard in this discussion is impartation.Colossians 1:27-29 informs and shapes my life. The “glorious mystery” is Christ in me, my only hope of glory.As we proclaim Him the goal is that everyone( not just devout Catholics, holiness folks, Orthodox,etc.) will be “perfect in Christ”.To accomplish this goal we must struggle/work/labor/endeavor using Christ’s energy/empowerment/impartation of life that is “powerfully at work in me”.I agree completely with Tom that love is the perfection Jesus speaks of, and that love can only be perfected in us as Christ rules within and lives His life through us as we cooperate with His working. It is a divine-human partnership.
What holiness really does is to make us perfectly able to know that we are not holy. With the self un-crucified (Gal 2:20) that is not possible. Christ likeness makes us ever so able to know how un-Christ like we are. There is a kind of perfection here in both examples.
Tom, one of your best blogs. Very good stuff. I think James 1 gives us a good picture of perfection, it is being complete, lacking in nothing.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF PERFECTION
The word “perfect” τέλέιος is no stranger to the New Testament as can be seen from the following references:
Matt. 5:48 (Mature [Godlike] love)
I Cor. 2:6 (Maturity – Contrasting children and adults)
I Cor. 14:20 (Maturity – Contrasting children and adults)
I Cor. 13:9-13 (Maturity – Contrasting childhood and manhood)
Eph. 4:13-14 (Maturity – Contrasting spiritual infants with the spiritually mature – “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This is the mark at which Paul says we are all to aim.)
Phil. 3:12-15 (Maturity)
Col. 4:12 (Maturity)
James 1:4 (Maturity)
Heb. 5:11-6:3 (Maturity)
Trench has some helpful insights regarding τέλέιος. He says,
“The faithful man (woman) shall be ‘perfect’, that is, aiming by the grace of God to be fully furnished and firmly established in the knowledge and practice of the things of God (Jam. iii. 2; Col. Iv : 12 . . . not a babe in Christ to the end, ‘not always employed in the elements, and infant propositions and practices of religion, but doing noble actions, well skilled in the deepest mysteries of faith and holiness.’” . . . “the τέλέιος is one who has attained his moral end , that for which he was intended, namely, to be a man (woman) in Christ; however it may be true that, having reached this, other and higher ends will open out before him (her), to have Christ formed in him (her) more and more. . . . in the τέλέιος no grace is merely in its weak imperfect beginnings, but all have reached a certain ripeness and maturity.” (Trench, Synonyms, p.p. 75-77)
But how is this τέλέιος (maturity) obtained?
By always fully co-operating with the Holy Spirit, through the grace of God. In other words, by “working out what God works in (us)” (See Phil. 2:12-13)
What is this maturity in essence?
“The context (of Matthew 5:48) seems to show that perfection in love is specially meant . . . to return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine. To love as God loves is moral perfection, and this perfection Christ tells us to aim at. . . . He knows that He can help us to obey it.” (An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Alfred Plummer, P. 89)
How do we get onto the path of τέλέιος? We learn to obey the Word of God implicitly; we learn to trust our heavenly Father through prayer for all of our needs and concerns; we commit our lives to Him as an un-retractable “living sacrifice.”
No disciple of Christ can live like this and not know it is for real. It’s all about perfect trust in a perfect God.
Rev Roy D Oosthuizen (South Africa)
Thank you for your comments which really resonate with me. I especially liked what you gave in the last paragraph about perfection as recorded by Luke. Over the years I have come to express perfection like that, being the way I love like God loves.
We are not perfect in our thinking, decisions, physical lives, or any other part of our being. As we let Christ become the center of our lives and have control of them we then express the life of Christ to others in love. This fulfills the summari-zation of the Mosaic Law in that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole being and others as ourselves. I have come to believe that as we love like that that we are as close to perfection as God makes it possible for us.
When I first came into the Church of the Nazarene in the early 1940s, having been in a conservative Mennonite Church up until that time I heard people say that once they were saved and sanctified that they were complete. But in my years of pastoral work and other work I found out that only as I learned and practiced daily God’s love did I attain a more perfect life. It is a continual growth until we get to Heaven where we will see perfect love exhibited with all God’s children.
I think another key clue to the idea of perfection is when Jesus says “BE” perfect, rather than “do perfect things.” It makes it seem like the action of love is not enough, but the nature of love must permeate our very being as well. The action, as Jesus implies in Matt. 15:17-18, is merely an immediate reflection of an inherent nature. I don’t know for certain, obviously, but that would be my best guess.
Thomas, I appreciated your insights in this blog. Will look forward to the next one.
Dr. Oord very well wrote. One believes that it is very important to Love others. It is even more important to Love those who are different than us. However, this sometimes is a great task that is only accomplished with God’s Love for us. It is only in the Love that God has for us that we can find the power to love those who are against us. The more one processes in his faith he holds onto that hand of God to love those who have out- casted him because of my beliefs. One also learns more and more the greatness of Love when he overcomes hating those who have done him wrong. With this being said one truly wonders how our world would be today if we turned to this Love more often? Would we be dropping bomb’s on our enemies? Would we be retaliating violence with violence in the name of God? Would we alienate and seek out to harm our cousins in faith who came from Abraham as well? Would we leave the homeless out on the streets to die on frigid winter nights? Would we neglect those who are unable to pay the high cost of an education at a “Christian” University? Moreover, it is one’s hope that we all come to accept this Love of God more and more, as we Love others as you have shown here. Also, speaking out against social ills like these is a way to be perfect now! Thank you Dr. Oord for such a great topic.
Thanks to all of you for your helpful and encouraging comments. I’ll post the second part of this “perfection” essay in the coming weeks.
Tom, I appreciate your attention to the intent of what Jesus is saying to us in scripture. So many times, I believe, we unfairly try to interpret His words only. Your explaination of perfect is spot on and I think it’s fascinating that this current generation seems to “get it” in a way that others have not. Holiness perfection is love in action. It’s more difficult to measure and that may be what frightens those who grew up with a check list.
In your next post I’d like to hear you address a problem I have with Wesley’s use of “perfection” in Matthew 5:48.
What do you say to those (like me for instance) who say that Wesley was working within an Enlightenment intellectual milieu in which the perfectablity of man was a popular notion. Is Wesley guilty of eisegesis? (I think so.)
Also—if telos is to be interpreted in this context as “mature” does the same hold true when speaking of God in the same passage? In other words, is God mature—is that what Jesus meant to say? Be mature, even as my heavenly Father is mature?
Thanks Tom for pointing me to your Blog. I had not seen this before. I have done a lot of writing these last severa days, and it is too much. You know how I feel anyway, and it is pretty much like yours.
I say, YES, WE CAN BE PERFECT, but in all aspects of our Christian walk, like Jesus, but not just in “love”, agape, (I translate as COMMITMENT, based on Pauls definition in 1 Cor. 13:4-8). Why do we narrow it down to our finite understanding. We are suppose to have his mind. However, it not likely. It requires being willing to die completely to our selves, and the world, Gal 2:20, 6:14. I think Paul probably came the closest to being perfect in his Christian walk (besides the Master, of course), but he never thought he arrived, Phil. 3:8-16.
Further more, I think that our Christian doctrines are so weak, and basically unscriptural that the hope of even dmonstrating the likeness of Jesus to the world is hopeless right now. No one understands the real core truth of the New Covenant, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Jeremiah 31:31-34, also in Hebrews twice. They have the false understandings of when regeneration, (the new birth) takes place and how, Acts 2:38-39, also the pattern; the real meaning behind the cross of Jesus, Rom 5:20-6:1-11; and water baptism; and finally why the Lord’s supper is so important, 1 Cor 11:23-34. When these are understood then we will begin to see perfection progress in the lives of the believers. This is my testimony, but I am still a work in progress.
The Wesleyans put too much stock in Wesley. He was a great suffering pioneer in truth, but did not understand it fully. He was a student of others, like everyone today, but who is like the Bereans.
Here are some of Wesley’s final thoughts of perfection; and I quote:
BRIEF THOUGHTS ON CHRISTIAN PERFECTION
Some thoughts occurred to my mind this morning concerning Christian perfection, and the manner and time of receiving it, which I believe may be useful to set down.
1. By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, paient love of God, and our neighbor, ruling our tempers, words, and actions.
I do not included an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole. Therefore, I retract several expressions in our Hymns, which partly express, partly imply, such and impossibility.
And I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it.
2. As to the manner. I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith; consequently, in an instant.
But I believe a gradual work, both preceding and following that instant.
3. As to the time I believe this instant generally is the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body. But I believe it may be ten, twenty or forty years before.
I believe it is usually many years after justification; but that it may be within five years or five months after it, I know no conclusive argumant to the contrary.
If it must be many years after justification, I would be glad to know how many. Pretium quotus arroget annus?
And how many days or months, or even years, can any one allow to be between perfection and death? How far from justification must it be; and how near to death?
London, Jan. 27, 1767 [He was 65 years old at the time: My comment]
I took two years of Philosophy at the University of Santa Clara, 1946 and I was not impressed with their human wisdom. God is the source of wisdom. The only philosopher that said something that helped was St Thomas Aquinas. He believed their has to be a first cause. I quote, “There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of it self; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible”. Had Darwin known this maybe it would have made a difference to his thesis initially. The rest of the world out to see this. It was one of his 5 points reasoning to the existence of God. I actually wrote an argument saying “you cannot prove the existence of a spiritual being. I has to be by faith.
Maybe I am all wet, but somebody help me then. I really want honest dialog. If you think the Church is what pleases Jesus right now, then correct me.
Perfection is not something to come easy to us in this world! We try to do everything in our power to achieve it but in my words it all comes down to what we believe in perfection. Being able to do have a good golf round, and playing to my best is some sort of perfection, but no one in this world is perfect like you said. I loved your talk during chapel, but I would have to agree there is no such there is no such thing, and that even on my best of days, where everything has gone right, that does not mean it deserves to be perfect. Always can do better in what we do in our daily lives!
I like the idea of perfection as a movement toward an ideal. Instead of simply decrying the evils of the world and stating that perfection is impossible, we should try to use Jesus’ charge as an encouragement that we can achieve more than we ever could be on our own. It is important to specifically define what we are being perfect in, as well. Perhaps equally as important as what we are being perfect in, is whom that perfection is for.
“The context of Jesus’ command suggests that love – not perfect power or knowledge – is what it means to be perfect as God is perfect. God loves everyone. God loves even those who do not return love. We ought to imitate God in this. We ought to love our enemies, for even God loves those who declare themselves enemies of God” – I really enjoyed this part of your post. It didnt really say anything I did not already know, but how you worded it really put it into perspective. I often find it hard to love my “enemies”. It is so much easier to treat them like they treat me. I should work on showing love more by being kind.
Thomas, I have appreciated the dialogue and conversation together. I agree with both comments by Bob Luhn and Ron Hunter—our righteousness is imputed and imparted, purchased for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. His love is shed abroad in our hearts through the purging fire and presence of the Holy Spirit filling the heart with God’s love and empowering us to love—our friends and our enemies. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin—it cleanses and keeps on cleansing.
I liked the Aristotelean analogy.
Blessings and I look forward to part two. Doug
I remember when I was in college, reading Matthew where Jesus said: Be perfect as your father in heaven is. . . (quoting Lev 19.1). It occurred to me that for Jesus to say that, it had to be possible. The context shows this means being kind and generous to all, for God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike.
I have a difficult time believing that God is deceived by Christ’s fragrance….deceit is not the word I would choose.
I appreciated the ideas Aristotle held to regarding this topic…maybe not exactly but certainly close. I wonder if God defines perfection as different than we do. Maybe what he sees as perfection is someone being able to admit that they sinned, being able to apologize or “make it right”, and then learning and adjusting what they strive for so that it doesn’t look the same as it previously did. ???