Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:48(HCSB)
Why is Jesus saying this? Surely He knows that no natural human is ever going to perfect? Yes, He does:
If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. -1 John 1:8-10 (HCSB)
Yes, Jesus knows that to be perfect as God is perfect is an impossible standard. And I think that is why He set it as a standard.
It’s human nature to want to meet the standard of essential goodness, and that’s a good thing. Where it can become a problem is when we are tempted to turn from amending our attitudes and action to amending the standard. And if we think the standard ought to be meetable we will naturally be temped. First we’ll care off anything which is “obviously impossible” and then “Impossible for all practical purposes” then “impossible while living a normal life” by which we will actually mean significantly inconvenient to us.
We’ll end up with a self created standard of righteousness that fits just fine into the life we were already living and are able to pat ourselves on the back at how well we’re doing. We can bask in the warm glow of our own moral accomplishments. And we get to look down on those lives that don’t match our carefully trimmed version of righteousness as well the the exact life it was trimmed for.
We’ll make a pro forma statement that of course we’re not perfect. But implicitly we reject perfection as inhuman and undesirable. We position ourselves as like the littlest bear’s bowl of porridge, not too cold and too hot, but just right. We slip into the feeling that we’re perfect by the standard that should really apply.
When I hear people railing against impossible standards, it makes me suspicious that they want to boast in their own works. I’ve found that the frustration of an impossible standard is because I want to check that box, put the trophy on the shelf, and get on with the fun stuff I really want to do.
But that’s going to take my focus away from a perfect God and direct my effort to lesser things. And as much as my sinful nature want to strive for something easier, seeking after God is really the best thing I can do with my life. So I accept the call to be perfect, I embrace the impossible standard. I accept that I’m not going to meet that standard but that’s my problem, a fault in my character, not a problem with the standard.