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Are Christians supposed to be perfect? What does the Bible say about perfectionism?

What Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 used to really worry me: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." What? Doesn't that contradict what we know to be true about ourselves—that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)? Matthew 5:48 is one of those verses that is easy to get a little depressed about. But let's dive a little deeper and find out what "perfect" really means.

Perfectionism, as you know it, is a lie.

There is absolutely no way we can ever truly be perfect on this earth. Many of us try to feed our perfectionist desire for perfectionism like it's a needy little creature in living in our fridges, but there is zero probability of attaining perfection in this world. ZERO. Disappointing? Maybe. I personally find it a little freeing. Now the pressure for acceptance through perfection is off. Now the stress, frustration, and discontent of NOT being perfect is no longer a worry.

Perfectionism demands that we raise the bar way over our heads, making us struggle to attain something that only God can.

The whole point of Jesus coming to save us is because God knew we could never save ourselves. You and I both know that we'll never measure up to the perfect life Jesus lived on this earth. No human being can, because we're born sinners. But that's okay! Sinners need a Savior, and we've got one!

When we choose to believe in salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, God forgives us immediately for all our imperfections, all our sins—past, present, and future. This frees us so we can stop reaching for the impossible bar that we placed above our heads, resting in the knowledge that Jesus was and is the Perfect One (Matthew 11:28), and He's standing in our place, vouching for us to the Father.

Perfectionism is not needed.

Many have tried and failed in their toil to reach perfection. Maybe you're one of those. I know I am. In the Bible, we can read a story about a pair of sisters named Martha and Mary. Martha was "worried and upset about many things," spending her time rushing about the house to make it perfect and worthy for Jesus' visit. She wanted things to be just right—to be perfect, but her sister wasn't lifting a finger to help. (See Luke 10:38-42.)

Imagine her frustrations when Martha was working so hard to serve everyone while Mary just sat there on the floor next to Jesus, listening to Him speak. Martha must have been furious! When she'd reached the end of her rope, she tried to get Mary in trouble by telling Jesus, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me" (v. 40). But Jesus didn't give her the answer she wanted. Instead, He lovingly corrected her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" (v. 41-42).

Martha had set her "perfect hostess" bar way too high, then she was frustrated because she couldn't meet it. Sound familiar? In the midst of her frustrations and anxieties, Jesus reminds her that He has a different standard for her to meet—one where she finds peace and rest with Him. Later on, Jesus would invite others into the same freedom, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Meaning of Matthew 5:48

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." —Matthew 5:48

Yes, the Bible calls us to be "perfect," as it says in this verse, but what exactly does it mean by "perfect"? The Greek word for "perfect" here is telios, which means "brought to its end, completed, or perfect." Ah! So this is not "perfect" in the way we normally interpret "perfection". Instead, it means that we are to be COMPLETE in Christ.

Philippians 1:6 says, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Completion is something that only God can do. He made us, saved us, and promises to perfect us. You are in the process of that perfection right now, but we will not be "done" until we reach Heaven. That's all right though. This life is an adventure in all its imperfections.

Don't worry about appearing perfect to the people around you. That's putting the opinions and approval of man over that of God's. God is the one working with you and through you. He's your Father, your boss, your co-laborer, and your biggest advocate. Aim your heart toward pleasing Him, and you'll be on the right track.

Don't get lazy though...

Now, just because we don't need to be perfect, that doesn't give us clearance to be lazy. We still have a responsibility to grow in our faith, glorify God with our lives, and continue to fight against sinful tendencies (2 Peter 3:18). We can't merely be bystanders, letting God do all the work. We have to be willing participants in this perfection project, working hard toward the goal of changing into better humans (Philippians 2:12).

Is it hard work? Sure, it can be. But we have an outstanding Helper on call (John 14:26), a Comforter and Encourager (John 8:12; John 10:10), and a God who will orchestrate time and space to help you turn away from your sin and back toward Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). With that kind of team, there's nothing you can't do.

TL;DR

We can never truly be "perfect" in the way we interpret it. Worldly perfectionism demands that we raise the bar way up, making us struggle to attain something that only God can. Matthew 5:48 instructs us to be telios (perfect) or "complete" through Jesus Christ's perfection. Being complete is something that only God can help us do, though we have to be willing participants in our own personal perfection project. Grow in your faith, glorify God with your life, and continue to fight against sinful tendencies (2 Peter 3:18). Work hard toward the goal of changing into a better human being (Philippians 2:12), and you will be doing "perfectly."

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org and loves to write novellas with local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, five socially awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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