A PERFECT GOD DEMANDS PERFECTION

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NASB).

Matthew 5-7 is what is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus lays down some pretty heavy things to describe what God’s kingdom is like. For the most part it is filled with things that sound completely opposite to the world in which we live. For instance He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst and my favorite: Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you.” I don’t know about you but at first glance these things don’t sound like blessings.

Jesus was a bit misunderstood in His day because He spoke of a heavenly kingdom and his audience didn’t have ears to hear. You see Jesus lived and spoke from the Spirit while His hearers were attempting to interpret Him with only earthly ears. So what He saw as blessing appeared to be a curse to most. Jesus understood how much the world needed Him and that the poor, mourning, hungry, thirsty and persecuted ones would be the ones to come to Him because they would recognize their need. Jesus knew how to see through things to the source and goal; whereas we tend to be blinded by the immediate.

So when we come to Matthew 5:48 and its command to be perfect we think to ourselves “How can I be perfect?” If we look at the immediate context for this verse we will see Jesus had just said we are to love even our enemies. He made the point that anyone can love those who love them back but we are to love even those that don’t. This is God’s kind of love. Essentially Jesus is telling us to love with God’s perfect love. Well, the question still remains can we be perfect and love others with God’s kind of love?

If we look at another section of the Sermon on the Mount we discover Jesus mentions the Ten commandments but not to set them aside, He actually seems to tighten down on them a bit. He says things like, “You have heard it was said, Do not commit murder; but I say don’t even be angry with a brother.” Again He said, “You have heard it was said, You shall not commit adultery; but I say you will be guilty even for looking at a woman with lust.”

When we look at what Jesus had said prior to His command for perfection it seems to make a little more sense. You see I believe what Jesus is doing in this sermon is backing us all into a corner. He is saying to us in so many words that God is perfect, and He demands perfection from us. For those people standing in front of Him that day it must have been tough to hear and even now I think most people attempt to rationalize what Jesus said by saying things like “Well, what He really meant was…” Essentially we end up saying something equivalent to God just wants us to do our best and that’s all He asks of us. I say Phooey!

I think Jesus meant exactly what He said and has a right to demand perfection, but the good news is He already knows apart from Him we cannot attain it. So really what He’s doing here is pushing us in the hopes that we will give perfection a good try, because He knows if we do we will eventually come to the same conclusion He has and we might cry out to Him for salvation.

In Hebrews 10:14 we read, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Wow, there you have it! God does in fact demand perfection but He then goes on to fulfill it in us. You see God is perfect and His Law is perfect therefore He rightfully demands perfection from His creation. God gave us His law on tablets of stone through Moses then Jesus came along teaching us the Spirit behind the commandments. Not only that, but He fulfilled it too. “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

Louie

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IS PERFECTION POSSIBLE?

In Genesis 17 God said to Abraham “Walk before me, and be blameless.” If that’s not enough, Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Are you serious? Blameless and perfect? What does this mean to me? Is God dangling the proverbial carrot in front of us, all the while knowing we can never measure up, or is there some way for us to fulfill these over-the-top demands?

I think most would agree the God of the Bible is a perfect God, right? And the Bible tells us Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). So, a blameless, perfect God telling us to be blameless and perfect seems to be valid, right? The problem then isn’t on God’s side, it’s on ours. What are we going to do then?

If you think about it, this perfect God gave us the Ten commandments and they essentially are telling us the same thing. When the commandment says, “Do not lie, or bear false witness, it means not even one! When it says, “Do not commit adultery, and Jesus said, “don’t even lust in your heart”, it means what it says. It’s the same with the rest: don’t murder, covet and so on. So for those of us who are honest with ourselves we eventually come to the conclusion that left to ourselves, we’re doomed. It may seem odd to some but that’s the conclusion God intends. Left to ourselves we have absolutely no hope of being blameless and perfect, yet the command still stands.

This is why God Himself came here in the flesh. John told us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). You see the perfect God became the perfect man, in order to live the perfect life, die the perfect death, to perfect all who receive Him. According to Hebrews 10:14 “By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Did you catch that? He (God in the flesh) gave Himself as an offering for sin once and for all in order to fulfill His own demands on humanity.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he declares “those of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death.” He then goes a bit further saying, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). After establishing that we have died to sin he goes on to declare we have also died to the Law (Romans 7:4).

After discovering we have been crucified with Christ, died to sin and died to the Law, Paul then drops another big revelation on us. In Romans 8 he tells us the Law couldn’t do the job anyway because we simply couldn’t obey. He said, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-5). Did you catch that? What we couldn’t do, “God did.” So what God has done is moved into us, by way of His Spirit, and He now lives out the blameless, perfect life He requires of us. Once we see that we have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, we will begin to walk in the very blameless perfection He demands.

Jesus Himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The key here is nothing. As long as we are attempting to live the Christian life, as if independent of Christ, we are doomed to feelings of condemnation and failure, which is as it should be. The Gospel means “good news” and the good news is Christ in you, is the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27). Paul said, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete (perfect) in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). So you see perfection is possible, but only to those who are in the perfect one who is Christ. This is why the Bible admonishes us to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

Louie

SELF IMPROVEMENT?

With all of the motivational gurus and self-help books you would think someone would have improved by now. According to the Bible we have a bigger problem than just needing a little improvement, we need life.

The Bible teaches us “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” So, there you have it. From God’s perspective there’s no improvement plan only the reality of death for all sinners. While that may sound harsh, we are talking about a holy and perfect God. Jesus himself said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, “Be holy as your Father is holy.” If we even have a shred of honesty left in us we would have to admit we haven’t reached that standard and never will.

In the letter of James we discover “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” So if we are dealing with a perfect God, who demands perfection, what do you think we can do to achieve such a standard?

When folks talk of self-improvement I think they are talking about improving things other than their actual self. For instance someone could improve their education, income, living conditions, diet, exercise habits and so on but is that really improving self? Even if you do have improvement in these areas it doesn’t improve who you really are it only adds more money or education to the self you’re wanting to fix. In the end you would find that you were just a healthy, smarter sinner.

The good news is those of us who have been baptized into Christ have been crucified with him and our old man is dead. We no longer have to serve sin which means, in one sense, we no longer have to die. We are to “reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Ephesians we are instructed to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” And Colossians says, we “have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

What I think sums it up the best is when Paul told us “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Rather than spend my time on an endless, fruitless quest for self-improvement, I think I’ll receive by faith what God says about this whole situation. He tells me I was born a sinner and had absolutely no hope for helping myself get better, but he had a plan. His plan was to join me to his perfect, sinless son on the cross in order to do away with my old sinful self and to raise me with him to walk in newness of life, no longer in need of improvement; because “He has perfected for all time by one sacrifice those that are sanctified.”

Louie

THE LAW AND JESUS DEMAND PERFECTION

There have been many, many sermons, teachings and discussions about the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus presents us with some pretty amazing statements. He turns everything upside down by saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst etc. The average person hearing this from the world’s viewpoint would think this guy has lost his mind. What could be a blessing about being poor, sad or hungry?

For many years there was, and sometimes still is, the false idea that if you are well off you are blessed. The disciples were shocked to hear Jesus say, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” The disciples looked at him and said “Then who can be saved?” You see, they thought, like many others, that riches were a sure sign that God was blessing them. Jesus says no. The point is that those that are needy are the only ones likely to see their need for Christ.

Jesus was born under law according to Galatians where it says, “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law…” This means that Jesus’ whole life he lived under the shadow of the Temple, animal sacrifices, the Levitical Priesthood and everything else that was expected of the Jews found in the Old Covenant Law. It wasn’t until he died on the cross that the New Covenant was enacted.

Hebrews 9:16-17, “For where a covenant is there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.” So this shines a little light on Jesus’ sermons doesn’t it?

The Old Covenant Law requires perfection from its adherents and Jesus agreed with that wholeheartedly. He not only preached the Law he preached the Spirit behind the Law. He made statements like “You have heard it said you shall not commit murder but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty! You have heard it said you shall not commit adultery but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So Jesus is explaining how the Law demands perfection and so does he. He says, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Ultimately I would say a large portion of Jesus’ teaching was essentially one of cranking down extra tight on the Law. He said he came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. This fulfillment took place by way of his death, burial and resurrection. Until that happened he continued to push people towards perfection. All the while knowing no one could perform up to the perfect standards of the Law, but He understood the reason God gave the Law to begin with.

It isn’t difficult to see once you learn the purpose in the giving of the Law. God gave it to us in order to expose the sin in our lives so we would run to Christ for deliverance. It isn’t until we see that God requires perfection, and we try really hard to obtain it, in our own strength, that we will be willing to cry out to Jesus Christ. Of course this is what God intended for us all along. I am so thankful he is patient with us and waits until we finally get completely worn down and give in. Once we cry out to him it’s as if he says, “Finally you see you can’t do it, come to me!”

Louie

LAW OR CHRIST?

During what we call “the Sermon on the Mount” Jesus made some very radical statements. He said things like “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He also said “you are to be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Both of these are amazing things to say wouldn’t you agree?

There is one other statement Jesus made that I would like to look at. He told the listening crowd “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Jesus didn’t come to do away with the law, yet we don’t sacrifice animals and we aren’t required to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. What could this possibly mean? If he didn’t do away with the Law and Prophets then why are these things not still required of us?

I think most people have a misunderstanding when it comes to reconciling the Old and New Testaments. In Jesus Christ the Old Law is fulfilled not abolished. Interesting choice of words isn’t it? I have two illustrations I would like to share with you and I hope it helps clear this up.

The first one is using a picture or portrait. You have to think of the Old Testament as a sketch. If you were going to paint something, such as a barn for instance, you would probably want to sketch it first. The sketch itself would be okay but it wouldn’t be what you would call finished. It wouldn’t be until you filled in all of the colors and shades. The Old Testament would be the sketch or outline, all along it was a sketch of Jesus Christ we just couldn’t see it clearly. Once Jesus came he filled or fulfilled the portrait.

The other example is that of the Old Testament being like a sonogram. Just as a sonogram shows us an image of a child not yet born, the Old Testament shows us a picture or image of Jesus Christ before he was brought into this world. Jesus was and is the full grown version of that sonogram. One time Jesus told the Jews “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me; and you are unwilling to come to me so that you may have life.” It is like being content to look at a picture when the real live person, shown in the picture, is standing right in front of you.

Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law he came to fill full the Law. Now that he has come we can see the intent of the law in all of its glory. No one can keep the law. It is only upon receiving Christ, by way of the Holy Spirit, that we can have the requirements of the law met in us. Jesus is the Law giver and the Law keeper. If he doesn’t dwell in us and live out

the Law through us we haven’t got a chance. It is only the perfect one, Jesus himself that can live the perfect life. I thank God he is living it within me.

Written by Louie