Is it possible to be perfect?
The Bible speaks about being perfect, and about being perfected. What does this mean, and is it possible to attain?
Is it possible to be perfect? Just what does it mean to be perfect? We read that the sacrifices in the old covenant could not make the conscience of the worshiper perfect. It only dealt with foods, drinks, and various washings and ordinances, imposed until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:9-10)
Is it possible to be perfect?
Here we see the imperfection of the old sacrifices: they were not able to make people perfect according to the conscience; they served only as a reminder of sin. (Hebrews 10:3) However, with Christ came the time of reformation, of putting everything in order. Now we can become perfect according to the conscience. Our conscience is our understanding of good and evil. Therefore, to be perfect means that a person has put everything in his life in order according to the understanding he has. Then he no longer has these continual reminders of sins.
The difference between being perfect and being perfected
Jesus calls us disciples (or apprentices). He says that if anyone would be His, he must forsake everything, deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) A perfect apprentice is someone who gives up all his own opinions and plans and is obedient to his master. He must say, as Jesus did when He came into the world, “Behold, I have come … to do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7) Not for any other reason! Then he is a perfect disciple, although he is not yet perfected like the Master.
When Paul says, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on …” (Philippians 3:12), he means that he has not yet been perfected like his Master, but that he is pursuing it.
Then in Philippians 3:15 he goes on to say, “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.” Here he means that they are perfect as apprentices. They had forsaken everything. There was nothing left to hinder them from entering into all that the Master had to teach them. They were here for the sole purpose of doing the will of Jesus, their Master. They had put everything in order according to the light they had and could say, “To the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule.” Philippians 3:16. Paul could not have said this to someone who was not perfect, to someone who had not forsaken everything, to someone who was still under the power of lying or backbiting, for example. It would be appalling if such a person were to “continue in the same course.” However, to someone who had put everything in order according to the light of his conscience, he could say, “Continue in the same course as the Master gives you increasing light and revelation in your life.”
Be perfect—and press on to perfection!
When we speak about being perfect, we mean perfect according to our conscience as disciples—and this is possible! From that point we are to press on and be perfected. Jesus says, “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher …” Matthew 10:25. Nevertheless, until we are, we must be poor in spirit, and hunger and thirst. (Matthew 5:3,6)
Jesus’ last words were that we should make disciples of all nations. It is comparatively easy to get people to pray to Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, but to make disciples of them is hard work. To get them to forsake everything and teach them to observe all that He has commanded them is an enormous job.
When it concerns such a salvation, most people do not really believe in the grace that is in Christ, despite the full assurance of Jesus’ words: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Matthew 28:18.
Yet, praise God, there are some who have seen His glory—the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And of His fullness we have all received: grace for grace.
This article has been translated from Norwegian and has been adapted from the chapter titled “Perfect,” in the booklet “The Grace that is in Christ Jesus,” first published in March 1941.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.