Perfected by God
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Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.—Matthew 5:481
[Jesus] warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let Me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until My Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with Me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’
The practical upshot is this. On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realise from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. …
Here is another way of putting the two sides of the truth. On the one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next twenty-four hours as ‘decent’ people. If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life; but He means to get us as far as possible before death.
If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.—C. S. Lewis2
Be ye perfect: what does that mean?
Reconciling God’s standard of perfection and the reality of our imperfection is difficult. … “You must, therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”3 These words of our Lord come, as we might expect, from the Sermon on the Mount; at the conclusion of the portion in which Jesus gives us a whole new set of laws which tell us that to look on another with lust is the equivalent of adultery, that anger can be the equivalent of murder, and that we even have to love our enemies.
Jesus’ call for us to be perfect is the only standard He could possibly set for us, and yet at the same time, it is an impossible standard to meet. It is the only standard our Lord could offer when we consider the possible alternatives. Could He have said, “Be, therefore, 75% unselfish, 90% chaste, 98% honest...”? Or how about, “Be loving and charitable to the extent that it feels right to you”? No, a righteous and loving God can neither accept sin, nor can He allow us—given our sinfulness—to set our own standards. If there is to be a judgment, and if there is pardon for sins, surely a loving God would show us beforehand by what measure we will be judged, and for what we need forgiveness. And yet this is truly an impossible standard; one that none of us will achieve in this life. Our sinful nature, our tendency to act selfishly, runs too deep. Try as we will to eliminate all fleshly sins, we will soon find ourselves immersed in pride or judging others. Try to be charitable and give away all that we have, and we find ourselves preoccupied with ourselves and how we spend each dollar and each hour.
How do we reconcile this? How do we live, called to perfection, but knowing we cannot be perfect? There can be only one possible answer—grace. Between what we are and what we are called to be spans the glorious arch of God’s grace. It is both a covering over us and a bridge to the Father—His priceless, yet freely offered gift. The mercy of God, through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, has paid in full for our falling so short of the mark. Jesus took on for us the penalty that a just God requires, and through identification with Him we are freed from having to pay that penalty ourselves. …
The tension between seeking perfection and accepting that we cannot be perfect may always require us to be doing mid-course corrections, but that’s okay; God’s mercy is so great that His grace extends to this also.
God’s standard is perfection. Our life as Christians is meant to be one of perfect freedom. The only way we can reconcile the two is to keep our eyes, not on our perfection or our failings, but on Jesus Christ.—Alan P. Medinger
Christ in you, the hope of glory
I do not believe in the holiness doctrine of eradication, nor in the Baptist doctrine of suppression, but rather in the good old Bible doctrine of habitation, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”4 “Without Me ye can do nothing.”5
Every one of us is a hell of a mess, and if we don’t keep our eyes on the Lord and our mind on His Word, we’re doomed to defeat, doubt, disillusionment, and final failure. When Peter started looking at himself, he started to sink. It was no use! You have to keep your eyes on Jesus. He’s the only one who can keep you from falling. Hold on to His hand, and don’t look at the waves—keep your eyes on Jesus!
God knows you’re anything but perfect, and can’t be perfect and never will be perfect, and usually you’re pretty much of a mess, like the rest of us. So the only question, the only standard is: Do you depend on the Lord totally, trust Him and His grace and His love and mercy? If there’s anything good you ever do, do you give Him the glory?
“All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain. Who hath borne all our sins, and hath cleansed every stain.”6—Jesus, Hallelujah!
So help us to keep our eyes on You, Jesus. Help us to keep our minds and our hearts and our faith stayed on You, we ask for Your glory.—David Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor February 2018. Read by Jon Marc. Music by Michael Dooley.
2 Mere Christianity (1952).
3 Matthew 5:48.
4 Colossians 1:27 KJV.
5 John 15:5 KJV.
6 From the hymn “Revive Us Again” by William Mackay, 1863.