How to be perfect without trying so hard


May 11, 2014

Matthew 5:43-48 (in context)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


The closing lines of the first part of THE SERMON, pose perhaps the most impossible challenge in all of the bible. It bears repeating again:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

As we are want to do in reading scripture, we quickly import our own ideas about what being perfect means. The most common understanding of perfect, of course, is total flawlessness, without blemish, admitting of no error, and unable to be improved on. And it is a short step to come to the conclusion that this is what our heavenly Father is like– total flawlessness, without blemish, admitting of no error, and unable to be improved on. Yes, this is true, but this is not at all what Jesus is getting at. Keep the big picture in mind here. Our heavenly Father has sent his son to reveal to us what God is like. And in the preceding 47 verses, Jesus has interpreted for us what “being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” actually means.

Consider this example. I remember when my youngest child, Sam, gleefully presented me with a story he composed and wrote out for an assignment at school. There before me were two or three broken sentences at best, riddled with misspellings, and letters sprawling all over the place. My response to Sam, “That’s Perfect!”

To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect means to be a person filled with Holy Love. The perfection Jesus looks for and crafts in a person is not flawlessness but fullness; not blemish free but beauty-full. This kind of perfect is characterized by a fullness with room for more. This kind of perfect cannot be achieved by effort; only received by grace.

If we had to define the core of the core of John Wesley’s contribution to the church, it would be this idea of what he called Christian perfection. He gets the last word as we close part one of THE SERMON.

Entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, is neither more nor less than pure love; love expelling sin, and governing both the heart and life of a child of God. The Refiner’s fire purges out all that is contrary to love, and that many times by a pleasing smart. Leave all this to Him that does all things well, and that loves you better than you do yourself.  -Letters to Mr. Walter Churchey, of Brecon. 

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J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at


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