Pondering Perfection

Perfectionby Anniel  11/18/14
Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48; KJV)  •  What does it mean to be perfect? Is it as Brad somewhat provocatively ponders:

“For me, it is impossible to have a ‘relationship with God’ without at least some swearing. For me (and just for me, perhaps) the idea of God as every perfect trait one can think of (all-knowing, all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent, a 300 bowler, scratch golfer, lottery winner…every single time, and homecoming king) doesn’t do much for me.

“The hardships of reality itself seem to go against such a belief. And if God really could be put in this neat, tidy box of perfection, there doesn’t seem to be enough for there to be an actual person (personality), let alone three persons in a purported trinity. He turns out to be a mere algorithm, always predictable, and little more than a blind force of nature.

“God dicking around with Job to prove a point with the Devil makes more sense than the uber-perfect being who never even has a hair out of place.”

That kind of God would be impossible even for an ardent believer to follow for very long. Perfection can’t be based on looks or a lot of us are already sunk, nor on superficial human characteristics. Besides, Isaiah said Jesus would have no beauty that man should desire him. I’m totally with Brad on those musings. I long ago gave up on the white-bearded kindly Santa image.

Besides, even Thomas Jefferson said,

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.

I admit I have been puzzled by the idea of perfection, but Brad’s questions have been provocative enough to make me consider what I really believe. We do have to ask before we can receive, and, as near as I can tell, we have a right to expect an answer. No lukewarm half-measures will please God.

From the scripture in Matthew, it seems as though perfection is more than symbolic, but that it is a real possibility for believers to cling to and strive for. So what is the perfection God calls us to?

Pulling up the dictionary on perfect and perfection should be somewhat helpful:

HAVING ALL DESIRABLE QUALITIES. From man’s point of view, this begs the question of what one desires in a God. Not much help since God, if you agree He is actual, is His own person, and His desires are “perfect.”

FREE FROM FLAW OR DEFECT. Same problem, we can’t presume to know such a thing about a God.

PRECISELY ACCURATE, EXACT. Hmmm, we assume He is indeed accurate and exact in His creations and in His desires for those creations.

COULD NOT BE BETTER. This makes it seem like a round-robin, and we’re right back where we started from.

There is an “archaic” meaning that gives me some hope of understanding:
SOMETHING OR SOMEONE WHO IS COMPLETE OR FINISHED. In pondering this I can believe that my Father/Creator is complete, and wants me to become the complete and finished person I was meant to be. Who that person is is for me to discover, and we need to allow all men and women the same privilege. We can only grow in freedom.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage [sin]. Galatians 5:1; KJV.

We talk a lot on this site about those who shout about “diversity” though they try to homogenize us all. About those who would stifle all individual growth and then demand conformity as a sign of growth. The battle for freedom began before this world was even created. It began for you and me on the first day of Creation, the day God said, Let there be
light.
Jesus was the only sinless and perfect person to be born, and He shed His precious blood so we can be free from sin and walk in the light of Truth.

That was the true Light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. John 1:9; KJV.

I stopped writing on this (again) for several days and read and thought about Jesus being sinless and perfect. Are those two different things? Did Jesus live a sinless life or a perfect life? Or did His sinless life lead Him to a perfect life?

We know so little of what Jesus’ early life was really like. We know of His birth in Bethlehem and escape to Egypt to be saved from the slaughter of the innocents. We sing carols about His nativity that extol Him as the perfect child. One line from Away in a Manger says: “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” No wonder we grow up believing only bad babies cry. The baby Jesus was sinless because he never cried when He was hungry or needed a diaper changed? As He grew he never fell or cried over a scraped knee? He never went through the terrible twos or spilled a cup of milk? That’s a pretty tall order for any young child.

As told in the 2nd Chapter of Luke, the infant Jesus was recognized as the promised Messiah by a holy man named Simeon and the prophetess Anna who bore testimony of who He was. When did Jesus begin to understand sin and turn from it? He was reared by God-fearing parents in the Jewish faith. He knew the law, and He kept it, even though He had come to fulfill it.

The first real childhood story we have of Him is during the Passover celebration in Jerusalem when He was 12. He seemed lost and His frantic earthly parents hunted for Him. They found Him teaching in the temple and let Him know they had been frightened and were unhappy with Him. In Luke 2:49 Jesus asks them “. . . whist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” then, in verse 51, Luke says Jesus returned to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and “. . . was subject to them.” He was still a child and learned by obedience to His parents.

Luke further tells us of the baptism and first public acts by Jesus when He reached the age of manhood. After His baptism, Luke says Jesus spent 40 days and nights sojourning and fasting in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil in all earthly things. There He firmly turned His holy life over to the Father and never sinned against Him. Always He did only the Father’s will.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, in His agony Jesus prayed to the Father: Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done. Luke 22:42

He was sinless because He always did only what the Father willed Him to do, to the very end of his earthly mission. He became perfect and finished when He completed the work of redemption and resurrection He was sent to do. His suffering and death on the cross echo for all eternity for all men if they will but turn to Him.

That is a perfection I can understand and revere. The shedding of His blood is the eternal price of our freedom. • (3338 views)

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25 Responses to Pondering Perfection

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    This makes sense. As a human, Jesus faced all the temptations everyone else did, but in the end he rejected them as incompatible with his God-given mission. (But we have no way of knowing what compatible temptations he might have accepted.) There are apocryphal accounts of the young Jesus, but of course we have no way of knowing if they have any validity at all. There’s some sort of reason why they weren’t included in the New Testament.

  2. James Smith says:

    In the King James translation Jesus last words before He died are given as “it is finished” but a better rendering of the original text is “it is perfected” and I believe He was referring to all the work the Father had given Him to do.
    Near the end of his gospel it is said of Jesus that if all the things that He did were written down John supposed that the world could not contain all the books.
    The fact is that everything that He did, and in particular His willingness not to hold on to His equality with God, all the way to an ignominious and despised death on a cross, pleased the heavenly Father to the point that “this same Jesus hath God made both Lord and Christ”.
    I really think that in regard to us He “perfected” human living by being the perfect Son of His heavenly Father and in everyway set the example for His many brothers to take up their own cross, follow Him and love not their soul life even unto death.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Not merely a despised death. Crucifixion (especially after a severe flogging) was an extremely horrible way to die. (Killing Jesus goes into quite a bit of detail exactly what his execution involved.) That was why he wished in the Garden of Gethsemane that he could escape that fate — and nevertheless finally went through with it.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    If one takes it as a given the God is perfect and that Jesus was perfect and sinless, then there isn’t much more to say. It’s an article of faith.

    Personally, I can’t imagine what a perfect life would be. An absolutely perfect life would seem to obviate choices and preferences. One might imagine a perfect circle, but what of a perfect choice, a perfect personality, or a perfect job? To me this just seems like a category error.

    And a sinless life, at least to me, seems problematic. To exist and to live (especially with other people) is inherently filled with conflict. And I don’t believe this is necessarily because of sin. It just is. It’s the nature of reality. We live in a world with limited resources, lifespans, options, intelligence, wisdom, and abilities. We can’t help but eff-up.

    Granted, doing bad things certainly makes the world worse. We can, and should, avoid as much of that as possible. But to me it’s inconceivable that there could be anything resembling life and existence that was perfect and sinless. It just seems like a situation that as soon as you enter the pool, you cause ripples on the once-calm surface and muddy the waters just a little bit. It’s nice thing to imagine perfect and sinless, but can it ever really apply in any practical situation?

    It might be a standard that a God could live up to (although I’m not sure how). But as for human beings, I think it’s a bit of an oppressive standard to try to uphold.

    • Anniel says:

      That Jesus caused ripples is absolutely true. He still does today. That’s why He came, to establish truth for His followers. He is the example as James Smith says above. Do any of us live sinless lives? Are we even capable of doing so? Obviously not, so we rely on His grace, His will to save us, one soul at a time. That very salvation will always cause ripples. Persecution will always follow believers.

    • ronlsb says:

      You might wonder, Brad, if even God could live up to the standard of perfection. I would contend the very meaning of the word God would include perfection in all things. If this is not true, then this is no true God at all. As for Jesus, in his humanity, there is one fundamental difference between He and all other human beings. When Adam sinned in the garden, he polluted the nature of man and every person born of the seed of man is infected with that polluted nature and unable to be “perfect”. Indeed, we are guilty in the eyes of God from the moment of our conception. Adam’s sin is imputed to us all as he was our representative head. Christ, on the other hand, was not born of the seed of man, but rather the Holy Spirit. This had to be so or else He would have been polluted by sin from the moment of His conception. Can this be proven scientifically? Of course not. But it is explained in the Bible and makes perfect sense in light of what the Scripture has to say about the fall of man and its consequences. To the unbeliever, this surely seems unfair. Nevertheless, if one accepts that God is in fact perfect and the author and creator of all things, surely He has the right to establish the boundaries for His creatures. It is man who has violated those boundaries from the get-go. What the rational man ought to marvel at, is not why this God would so punish His creatures for this, but rather why in the world would He ever be so gracious as to send us a second Adam, Jesus, to undo what the first Adam had messed up. Jesus satisfied God’s wrath by His death on that cross for all who by faith believe Him to be who He says He is and simultaneously imputes His perfection to those same people, thus meeting God’s demand that “we be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect” for them. Indeed, just as the first Adam’s guilt is imputed to all the human race, so the second Adam’s perfection is imputed to everyone who will put their trust in Him. It is indeed amazing grace on the part of God!

    • Anniel says:

      Yesterday Mark Steyn quoted William Blake as follows: “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to human existence.” So, here you and I are, free to make the choice between contraries because Jesus died for us.

      And one of my favorite scriptures is John 10:10, ” . . . I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” An abundance of life, only truth can lead us to that. Nothing narrow or constricted in God’s grace.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to human existence.”

        Sounds Taoist to me. Yin and Yang.

  4. GHG says:

    Brad said “If one takes it as a given the God is perfect and that Jesus was perfect and sinless, then there isn’t much more to say. It’s an article of faith.”

    Yes, quite so. There’s no getting around that.

    The more perplexing and pertinent question is, to me, why do some have this faith and others do not? How does one get this faith – to go from not having faith to having faith?

    I think it’s fair to say that it isn’t a matter of intellect – there are people with varying degrees of intelligence on both sides. I think it’s also fair to say that is isn’t necessarily a matter of knowledge versus ignorance as there are believers and unbelievers who know the narrative. Likewise with a person’s unique personality. While I think certain personalities may be more amenable to accepting on faith, I don’t think that’s the answer either because some of the most well known Christians started out as skeptics or unbelievers.

    No, it’s something else, some mystery that enables some people to accept (or not reject) God’s gracious gift of faith and others to not. As a Christian who has faith, I think it is more what God does than what I do, but I can’t understand it, much less verbalize it.

    But I can appreciate it and I do. Thank You God.

    • James Smith says:

      When Jesus came to the disciples in the upper room following His ascension and enthronement the scripture says that He breathed “into” them and said, “(receive) ye the holy breath”. The Greek word for breathing or breath is derived from “pneuma” which can be translated as air, wind, breath or “spirit”.
      God made man, “Adam”, from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul and as stated in I Corinthians 15:45 “the first Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam became a LIFE GIVING SPIRIT”.
      The tabernacle of Moses and the following earthly temple were both built according to the pattern of God’s dwelling place in the heavens. All of these have an outer court, a holy place and the holy of holies. All men have a body – the outer court, a soul – the inner man and a human spirit – which according to St. Paul is called the innermost man.
      The dwelling place of God during the Israelites sojourn in the wilderness was within the holy of holies, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar or fire by night and just as the priests “mingled” fine flour with oil to make the showbread, God mingles his life giving Spirit “oil” with our human spirit “fine flour”so that we are born from above and become a dwelling place of God or “an habitation of God in Spirit”. At that point we are finally able to exercise real faith because the believing one is dwelling within us.
      As those disciples received the Holy Breath within their human spirit they believed. John 1:12 equates believing with receiving “To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to those who believe on His name”.
      I have to agree with Anniel, “it is His will to save us” and He does it by breathing His life into us.

      • GHG says:

        The question remains – why this person and not that person? Yes, we all have free will to reject God, so maybe the question is better framed as why does this person accept the gift of faith and that person reject it?

        As the parable of the sower teaches, only the seeds that fall on fertile soil will produce a crop, but why are some people fertile soil and other people a footpath, or shallow soil, or thorny ground? How does the ground get prepared to be fertile soil?

        In my Christian tradition (Lutheran), I was taught that faith comes through baptism, the Word (expectant reading of the Bible) and communion. But, again, it seems that some people do those things and have faith while others do not.

        It’s difficult to discuss this on a personal level without sounding like I think there is something special about me, which I don’t over and above that everyone is special and unique. I think my “soil” was prepared by my upbringing. My mother was Christian (my father agnostic) and from my earliest memories I always had a reverence for God. I never struggled against the yoke. That’s not to say I didn’t question things and do a lot of rebellious things because, believe me, my youth was largely misspent, and I did a lot of spiritual searching in my young adulthood. But I never once stopped believing that God is god and I’m not. So what was it that enabled me to have faith and to continue to believe through the highs and lows of life?

        • James Smith says:

          In 1913 a young man by the name of Clive Staples Lewis while at a bookstall in London picked up a copy of “Phantastes, A Fairy Romance for Men and Women” by George McDonald. Having read the book Mr. Lewis later made the statement that “it baptized my imagination”. He felt that reading that book was what inoculated him from a descent into romanticism and although he never met him, C. S. Lewis considered Mr. McDonald his mentor.
          George McDonald had a profound grasp of the relationship between God the Son and God the Father and lived an exemplary Christian life but his answer to your question was to insist upon universal salvation. That eventually every human being who ever existed would end up in heaven.
          I cannot find evidence in any of the writings of C.S. Lewis that he agreed with Mr. McDonald on this matter and I do not believe that the scripture supports such a position. It is, to be blunt, the easy way out.
          All of those people who refuse to receive the Lord are in a desperate situation and hell, from which there will be no escape, is just as real as heaven. How can any believer not weep over the lost and yet, we must acknowledge that God is “Righteous”.
          C. S. Lewis, after reading “Everlasting Man” by G. K. Chesterton and many other experiences had an amazing conversion to Christianity. Most of this can be found in his book “Surprised by Joy”.
          I believe in the free will of man, otherwise we are just automatons but to quote Oswald Chambers, “the most immutable thing in the universe is the will of God”.
          Your question is deep and profound and I would also like to know the answer. Perhaps someday He will bless us with an understanding.

          • ronlsb says:

            To help with your question of free will, James, theologians have concluded from Scripture that there are in essence two different types of will that God exercises. One is His perceptive will. A clear example is the Ten Commandments. God clearly spells out what we can and cannot do by these and yet He leaves us the ability to behave counter to His precepts. The second type is His decretive will. In these, He decrees what will occur and there is nothing in the universe that will ever prevent that from occurring, including man’s “free will”. Some of His decrees He revealed in Scripture, i.e., the multitude of prophecies that were made and have actually occurred in time and space. God has not, however, made all His decrees known. Where that is true we simply have to accept that in the end, there are some things in life where the sovereign is God, not man. As one would expect concerning that truth, the Bible says, “does not the potter have over the clay the right to make whatever kind of vessel he desires?” The answer to that question is pretty obvious, don’t you think?

      • Anniel says:

        There’s always so much more to think about. As we try to move forward, God has to deal with us where we are. John the Baptist came saying, “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Our faltering steps, as small as they are, must be pleasing to our Creator if they are toward Him. Some men and women are like Paul, a moment of blazing light, an experience that changes their whole life, and others (undoubtedly almost all of us) listen in silence to the “still, small voice.” Some of the fruits of the Spirit are joy and peace. As we experience those things we desire more?

  5. Rosalys says:

    The question remains – why this person and not that person? Yes, we all have free will to reject God, so maybe the question is better framed as why does this person accept the gift of faith and that person reject it?

    This very question has been the cause of much of my own pondering and wonderment for many, many years. I have found no answer for it and I suspect that, this side of eternity, I never will. However, like you, “…I can appreciate it and I do. Thank You God.”

  6. Rosalys says:

    Amen! Thank you Annie for a very thoughtful article, and to the commenters for a very thoughtful discussion.

    We who belong to Him will spend an eternity – forever and without end, which is mind boggling to me! – learning the hows and whys of our loving Creator and Savior.

    Have you ever wondered, if the Lord were to appear before you, in person, in such a way that you would be fully aware that it was indeed Him, what you would do or say?

    • Anniel says:

      I have indeed wondered about that very thing. Sometimes I think of Daniel falling afraid on his face before a messenger and having to be revived, and then of ABRAHAM bargaining with God for just ten righteous people. I’d probably need reviving. Angels always come saying “Fear not.” But I’d still fear. I’d like to believe that people like you and me would wash Jesus’ feet with our tears (after revival).

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, after all, there’s a reason angels start out with “Fear not” — fear is the natural reaction to their appearance.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I believe there are about as many interpretations of Christianity as there are people. Here’s mine.

    Christianity is about taking an excrement sandwich and making something good out of it. It’s as trite as saying “making lemonade out of lemons,” but no less true.

    There have been various supposed heresies about the world involving the idea that the world is inherently corrupt and bad. That may be a heresy, but there is that aspect. It’s just that it’s not the only aspect. There are good things too. But life is inherently, and at least partially, an excrement sandwich that you have to eat.

    Christianity is the alchemy of the soul. It’s turning those excrement sandwiches into something meaningful and beautiful. And, of course, it might be about a whole lot more than that. But as soon as we try to fill in all the pieces, God and Ultimate Reality tend to be turned into mere kitsch.

    Annie’s recent article about her grandmother showed that Christian alchemy. That alchemy does not require that we ignore the bad stuff. But it does prod us to transform it via a higher perspective and vision. Naughty grandmas perhaps are not excused, but they can be understood. “Compassion” means “to suffer with.” This, of course, is not something the dime-store Christian can ever get out of “social justice” wherein the state steps in as the benefactor. That is just a modern Indulgence.

    Is faith a part of it all? Sure. You have to have faith that there is more to life than the petty politics and personality struggles that tend to cement man’s feet-of-clay to the mundane and vulgar. But God is not magic. God is not even Jesus Magic. The whole point is to “follow me,” as it says in Matthew 19:21.

    And it’s useful to note that Matthew 19:21 doesn’t say to join a modernesque church with big-screen TV and a multi-thousand-dollar audio system. It doesn’t say to wear the right colored ribbon and march in the victim-of-the-week parade. It doesn’t say to be bound to rituals with an ADHD-like mania. And it certainly doesn’t say the point is to stoke pleasing, warm-fuzzy emotions for the sake of doing so.

    The message of “follow” is far richer than that. There’s some alchemy involved. And as soon as you’ve tried to explicitly state it, you’ve lost much of it. And I don’t believe it’s any kind of “gift” that is bestowed at random, for that would be a capricious God indeed. It is instead a burden to be picked up or to not be picked up.

    • Anniel says:

      Exactly. What an exciting and “rich” thought your final paragraph is, Brad. To pick it up or not. Our free will choice. Thank you.

    • GHG says:

      Brad said “And I don’t believe it’s any kind of “gift” that is bestowed at random, for that would be a capricious God indeed. It is instead a burden to be picked up or to not be picked up.”

      I agree the gift is not bestowed at random. I believe the gift is available to all. I like what a Pastor demonstrated for me once. He took a dollar out of his pocket and said “this gift is for you” as he tucked the dollar into my shirt pocket. He said that’s God’s grace – you have it without any action on your part. I was free to ignore the gift or to consciously reject it if I chose to do so.

      I disagree with the latter part of your paragraph though. I understand that picking up your cross and following Him can be seen as a burden from an earthly perspective and it often times can be, but I think from the perspective of faith it is a joy, not a burden.

      • James Smith says:

        Dear Mr. Nelson, Anniel and GHG, this set of comments has given me a lot to think about along with ronlsb’s enlightenment regarding aspects of God’s will. To keep this short I just want to comment regarding the last paragraph by GHG.
        When I found C. S. Lewis book, “Surprised by Joy” I purchased it on line because I thought it was about his wife Joy Gresham-Lewis whom he tragically lost to cancer not long after they were married. To my “surprise” the joy he references was something he experienced as a very young man while studying Norse mythology and it is primarily an autobiography of his early life, searching, until he found it again on his way to the zoo.
        As Mr. Lewis relates his experiences at boarding school, learning Greek under Professor Kirk and attending university, etc. until and beyond his appointment as the Chair of Medieval Literature at Magdeline College in Oxford, he did not experience that joy again until after he became a Christian. In many ways, his life, especially at boarding school seems to have been one of those sandwiches mentioned before.
        But, did not our Lord for the joy that was set before Him, endure the cross, despising the shame?
        It is my belief that God gave Mr. Lewis a wonderful gift as a young man to encourage him to seek another life beyond himself, filled with joy for eternity.
        As the scripture says “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those that love Him”.
        How can anyone bear his cross without a great sense of the joy to come? A magic Jesus from the five and dime just won’t do the trick.

        • Anniel says:

          Joy to come, yes, but also joy in the here and now. I love the thought of living the “abundant life” that He came to give us. Some of the joy may seem like a burden at first, and that may be OK as we struggle through the rough places until we can accept the growth and wisdom of adversity.

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