You must be perfect

“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The perfection Jesus demands includes loving our enemies. It expands, though, to include every commandment from God. If we are to be saved from sin, evil, and death by obedience to God’s Law, then our obedience must be perfect. Any failure, any shortcoming, leaves us falling short of perfect. For each of us who has sinned, even once, we deserve no blessing from God. We deserve only punishment.

Poison is measured in parts per million. God’s Law is stricter yet; his Law has zero tolerance for sin. Obedience to most of the commandments is like a chain with one or two weak links. If we break the Law at any point, we have broken the entire Law. Our obedience is like a toy balloon filled with air. One tiny hole, the point of a pin or needle, destroys the entire balloon. Even the smallest sin makes each of us imperfect, unable to deserve anything good from God.

A human tendency wants to receive credit for trying our best, for having good intentions. We want to do some good things that might cancel all the wrong we have done. Jesus denies this path to us. If we are to be saved by obedience, we must be perfect. If we are going to find our own way to God, we are not allowed a single mistake. Once we have fallen short of God’s standards, even in a little way, we have lost any chance of earning anything good from God. We deserve only anger and destruction.

Jesus declares God’s Law in all its purity and all its power so we will lose hope of saving ourselves. All we can do is throw ourselves on God’s mercy. None of us is perfect. Our righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. We need the righteousness of Christ. We need him to fulfill the Law for us. We need his blessing—his gift—which makes us acceptable in the sight of God by erasing our sins, replacing them with the good works of Jesus.

Jesus died on the cross to pay the full price for our sins. His blood washes away our sins. Because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross and the life he sacrificed, the water of Holy Baptism cleanses us from all sin and unrighteousness, giving each of us a personal guarantee that Jesus died for us. In Baptism we are clothed in Christ. His good works are credited to our accounts. God the Father looked at his Son on the cross, saw our guilt, and treated Jesus as we deserve. Now he looks at each of us, sees the goodness of Jesus, and treats us as Jesus deserves. In this way, we have become the children of God.

In God’s eyes we are already perfect. We will not see the perfection God sees in us until the Day of the Lord, the Day of Resurrection, but God sees it today. What God sees and what he promises has already begun to shape our lives, making us more like Jesus. We are glad for that transformation, and we are eager for it to be completed, but our hope is not in our imitation of Christ. That imitation is a result of our hope, not its cause. The only source of our hope is Jesus himself—his perfectly obedient life, his sacrifice, and his resurrection. J.

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