Coming to grips with Christian perfectionism



By Carol Round —

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”—Matthew 5:48 (NIV).

Confession time. I’m a Christian, but not perfect. I make mistakes and I mess up—sometimes big time. But God’s grace is bigger than my sins. And, for that, I am grateful.

As a recovering perfection seeker, I know what it’s like to strive to do and to be perfect. The only thing I accomplished, in the end, was my own unhappiness. The more I tried, the more I was burdened to maintain what I thought being perfect meant—”a state of flawlessness, without defect.” For humans, that is impossible.

Matthew 5:48, however, can be puzzling to some. It was for me until I read the commentary and read different translations of this verse. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking to His disciples. When I read the translation of this verse in “The Message,” it made more sense to me: “In a word, what I’m saying is, ‘Grow up.’ You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Living Out Our God-created Identity

In a commentary written by Phil Gons, and titled, “Does Matthew 5:48 Require Sinless Perfection?” he writes, “It’s then often used as a hermeneutical (analytical) key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. In this view, Jesus is not laying out the way of life for His followers. Instead, He is setting the bar so far out of their reach that they must turn to Him for mercy and find acceptance in his righteousness.”

While we can strive for holy perfection, it’s impossible without God. He is the One who provides mercy. We can’t love others as ourselves, be generous and gracious toward others, especially our enemies, without God’s Holy Spirit.

The Contemporary English Version of Matthew 5:48 reads, “But you must always act like your Father in heaven.” I find that intimidating. Always act like God. Impossible. Yes. But when we “grow up,” as the version of “The Message” translation says, we crave the Word and come a step closer to the goal Jesus set out for His followers.

Until We Become His Followers

Until I became a follower of Jesus Christ, my striving for perfection had nothing to do with my Heavenly Father. It was all about pleasing man or myself. When we strive for perfection in man’s eyes, we ultimately fail, miserably.

Bombarded daily with the world’s messages telling us we can look better, act better and feel better, we can become consumed with our physical being, not Kingdom growth. However, advertisers want us to believe, no matter our age, that with the right product or procedure, we can be transformed into the ideal person.

As Jay Ide wrote in a recent devotional, “Culturally, we are fixated on that idea. Billions of dollars are spent each year to get the perfect look. Plastic surgery, cars, houses, even pets get the big bucks to project the right image, but this isn’t the perfection to which Jesus calls us.”

Jesus Calls Us to Spiritual Perfection

Growing spiritually is an ongoing process, leading to the perfection to which our Heavenly Father calls us. We don’t have to be flawless to approach His throne. God is our Abba Father who understands His children better than we understand ourselves. He is sinless. We are not.

The lyrics to a contemporary Christian song by Chris Tomlin have been running through my mind lately. Following are part of the lyrics to “Good Good Father,” reminding us God is perfect, but we are not.

“You’re a good, good Father
It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

Because You are perfect in all of Your ways.”

We serve a Heavenly Father who loves us so much He sacrificed His One and Only Son so we might have everlasting life. Jesus died for our sins. Doesn’t that make you want to seek the perfection to which He calls us?

I always love hearing from my readers. Please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] with your thoughts, or visit my blog for more inspiration at If you need a speaker or workshop leader, you can contact me at the above e-mail or through my website. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
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