Q. Please Explain to me Matthew 5:48. How is it ever possible for a human to become perfect? If God requires us to be perfect we are all going to be lost.
48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5,6,7, is Jesus’ explanation of the requirements for citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. Jesus talks about righteousness which must exceed that of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). The Beatitudes deal with the inner man, with the changes that must be made in order to please God. In this teaching we come face to face with the superiority of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel as compared to the teaching of the Law of Moses.
The sermon on the mount is full of contrasts between the Law and the gospel. The gospel was intended to be a teaching requiring transformation of the individual. The goal of gospel teaching is to bring about spiritual maturity. That’s what is being taught here by Jesus when he says: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The word perfect cannot be understood to indicate sinless perfection, or perfect likeness to God, because such a claim would be tantamount to blaspheme.
1 Jn. 1:8, 10
8 ¶ If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
The Greek word for perfect is – (teleios) – which means “mature,” or “complete.” It is the will of God that we grow to maturity, no physically, but spiritually. Here is an example of how the word is used elsewhere in the New Testament:
1 Cor. 14:20
20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
God desires that children in his kindom become mature, and he has provided the means for their maturity.
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
It is clear from these passages that God expects us to grow from a childlike state to a mature state spiritually. Our relationship to the Word of God will determine our progress. Jesus is NOT teaching that all of God’s children MUST possess all of the qualities which make a person Christlike to the degree of absolute perfection. This would be impossible for any human to obtain. He is saying that Christians should have these qualitites in such a degree that his character will be well balanced.
As always, the context of this teaching is quite important for understanding and arriving at the proper conclusion. The word “therfore” is important to remember. “Therefore” referres to what has gone on before. In the preceding verses God is pictured as making the sun to shine on the evil as well as on the just. God eos good to hose who hate him and do evil. The Gentiles do good only to those who do good to them. In this respect they are unlike God, they are not perfect. Jesus teaches that His disciples be like God in this respect. God is to be their example, not the Gentiles, or even the religious leaders of their day, the Pharisees.
A Christian is one who has learned from the gospel all the Christlike qualities and has built them into his character to such a degree that he will fairly represent Jesus in his every day walk of life. God, in human form, the man Jesus is our exmaple. He showed us how the Father would life if he were in our circumstances and surroundings. And we are to live before the world in such as way as to manifest his life in our lives. Paul said of the apostles:
2 Cor. 4:10-11
10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Cor. 3:2-3
2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
The apostle John wrote:
1 Jn 2:4-6
4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Here is how John says it, “whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.”
Does this mean that the Christian is incapable of sins or mistakes? The answer, biblically, is no.
What this means is that as long as I am doing the best I can do to incorporate into my character the qualities of Christ I am maturing, I am becoming complete, I am becoming perfect in the sense that the word is used in Matthew 5:48.