God often gets a bad rap. Many perceive the Eternal One as a God that demands our one-time acceptance of His Lordship or we go to hell. Others see Him as a stern boss; an impersonal being that demands unreasonable standards, whose favor depends on our performance. In other words, God tracks and tallies what we do and expects us to be perfect.
However, neither appropriately resembles the God who is Love and has the heart of a loving father. Scripture proclaims our heavenly Father loves His human offspring more than we can grasp, making provision for our imperfections. In fact, the New Testament speaks of God as Father more than 250 times! So where do the ideas originate of a distant, impersonal God who expects us to be perfect?
Several often-referenced Scripture verses are taken out of context to incorrectly indicate God expects perfection. The most obvious one is:
You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
The dictionary defines “perfect” in these ways: absolute, complete, being entirely without fault or defect, flawless, corresponding to an ideal standard. Certainly, God alone is perfect. He is a supernatural being, nearly unfathomable, which separates Him from all other beings—both human and angelic. It is impossible for fallible human beings to “…be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.” So, what does this verse actually say?
Born to Mature, Not be Perfect
When we consider that God alone has no beginning or ending, and that He alone is always able to be present everywhere, we can see this verse is not saying we are to be as God’s essence. We are constantly growing, maturing, and changing (as we should) while God remains the same; so we cannot become wholly perfect like God. Consequently, the above verse must speak of something else. So, let’s dig deeper to better understand what God, through Christ Jesus, is saying.
Since we cannot become wholly perfect like God, what is His intention for us?
The first recorded statement God made about mankind proclaimed we are intended to be made into the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). We must ask, what is this image and likeness that we are designed to be? It obviously has nothing to do with a physical appearance, an ability to stand upright, an ability to communicate, or our ability to reason, discern, and learn by experience. Many animals are endowed with such abilities.
Rather, as explained in my book Created To Relate, God’s “image and likeness” speaks of His heart character, attitude, and personality (CAP). We are intended to reflect and resemble the CAP of our heavenly Father. However, even in fellowship with God, we do not always make the right choices as shown in Adam and Eve’s decision in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16-17). Doing so compromised their perception of God and limited their ability to clearly hear and respond to His insightful guidance. We are still suffering from their decision.
Reaching For a Goal
In what form or fashion are we to be as our heavenly Father? Clarity comes when we realize the word “perfect” is translated inappropriately from the Greek word teleios. In the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, the scholar Spiros Zodhiates defines the Greek teleios as:
Adult, full-grown…as opposed to little children. God’s perfection is absolute; man’s is relative reaching the goal set for him by God with each individual different according to one’s God-given ability…Teleios is not to be confused with anamartetos, without sin or sinless.
In other words, the statement “to be perfect” (teleios) really speaks of us reaching goals, completing a process, and finishing a cycle. It refers to the process of entering levels of maturity. There are indications that the finishing of teleios is preparatory to entering other stages or processes, like seeds maturing into plants that continue to grow and children maturing into adults who continue to mature. Life continues and we face a variety of trying situations, never as perfect beings, but as more mature children of God.
“To be perfect” refers to the process of entering levels of maturity.
Levels of Maturity
The NASB version translates teleios as “mature” four times and “complete” two times. The context of those verses confirms the word is connected with levels of maturity rather than errorless perfection. (See 1 Corinthians 14:20, Hebrews 5:14, Ephesians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 2:6, Colossians 1:28, Matthew 19:21.)
The following instance is one of 13 times the NASB translates teleios as “perfect.” Notice how the text verifies that the word actually speaks of a level of maturity:
But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Corinthians 13:10-11).
Why is this important? Perfect and mature refer to different ideas. Humans are unable, at least in this life, to be perfectly errorless. We can however, enter levels of maturity. Obviously we want to be on our best behavior, and yet, even our best discerning behavior can miss the mark.
Our maturity is an ongoing process wherein
we are able to adjust to the circumstances we encounter.
God intends us to be mature, not perfect. Our maturity is not a finished work but an on-going process wherein we are able to adjust to the circumstances we encounter. God is always willing to assist our maturing process, and relates to each of us in our own lifetimes and localities. In fact, God is the only dependable constant we can turn to for lasting stability.
The new covenant reveals how God sent His spoken word to us as a son, Jesus Christ, to demonstrate how we can mature into reflections and resemblances of God’s heart. Take a moment and consider the verse we have quoted, in context.
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:44-48).
We “are to be” perfect-rather mature-in our efforts to love. Our maturity is a matter of our loving as God loves, even those who are against Him. God wants us to come to levels of maturity so we can love as our heavenly Father loves. Yes, some of our brothers are close and some are distant, while some are really out there. Nevertheless, we are all God’s offspring even if we do not respond to His love as children of God. We are family.
We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).
God wants us to come to levels of maturity
so we can love as our heavenly Father loves.
Achieving the Possible
God does not expect us to be perfect. We are all intended to partake of God’s guiding presence and mature as His children. Rather than focusing on trying to achieve the impossible (perfection), let’s view ourselves and one another as God sees us—His beloved, growing and developing children.
Every person can communicate with the Eternal I AM. God-in-Christ is constantly available to all who ask, seek, and knock. Beyond occasional communication, our heavenly Father beckons each of us—beckons you—to interact and fellowship with His presence daily. Intimate encounters with God facilitate our maturity into greater and greater resemblances of the CAP of Christ, God’s image and likeness.
Sign up to receive an email notification of our latest blog so you won’t miss any fresh insights! And, get your copy of Created To Relate, Insights Into Our Design and Purpose. We’ve prepared a Guide to facilitate group discussions.
Keith Carroll, “The Relationship Guy”
Relational Gospel Founder