The Truth About Being Perfect
he word, teleios, translated into English as "perfect" or "mature" is used in Matt 5:48, and 19:21, Rom 12:2, 1 Cor 2:6, and 13:10, Eph 4:13, Col 1:28, and 4:12, James 1:4, 3:2, 4:17 and 25, and 1 Jn 4:18. It is defined as: complete (In various applications of labor, growth mental and moral character, etc.): neut. ( as noun, ) completeness:- of full age, man, perfect. It is not always used in a moral context, but often it is.
Matthew 5:48. In the context, Christ expounds on what it means to let our light shine and to be obedient. He then tells us that the standard is perfection. We are called to be completely committed to knowing and following Christ, aiming for anything less then perfection is open rebelion and is abhorrent to a Holy God.
Matthew 19:21. The rich man had apparently lived a moral life in many regards, but seeing Christ, he was moved to ask what he still lacked. To this Christ responded, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow me." Whereas Matthew 5 deals with Christ's message to the crowd, this message was spoken to an individual. It is still applicable to us in that this man refused, and we have recorded Christ's response. The rich man was offered the Kingdom. He could have learned from one greater than Moses and was offered fellowship with the King of kings. Yet he went away sad. Jesus could have said, "Don't feel bad - you don't have to be perfect," but such is not the case.
Romans 12:2. Paul speaks here not about being perfect, but of knowing God's will; his perfect will. This verse contains both an admonition and a promise. The promise is that, if we will be transformed by the renewing of our mind, we will know His perfect will. The perfection here is, as in many other verses, connected with knowledge. It is in this class of verses that we see the commonly espoused definition to be inadequate. Here obedience is a prerequisite to knowing His will. If we don't conform to the world, but instead are transformed, then we will know. Don't we have to know His will before being obedient to it? Knowing and doing go hand in hand. God lights the way with each step you take.
Ephesians 4:13. It is not enough to have merely a few mature individuals in the Church. One of the duties of ministry is to work towards bringing all to maturity, so that "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their scheming", (Eph. 4:14). This is what the ministry should be aiming for. In this case, I am not talking about actualities, but about possibilities. God is not willing for any to perish, yet millions die and go to hell. Why? Because God didn't reach out to them? Nothing could be further from the truth! Christ's charge against Israel was: "But you were not willing." The light shines brightly, but people love darkness rather than light (John 3:17). Those who go to hell were not willing to respond to the light. Provision has been made for the salvation of the entire world (Jn 3:16) and the sanctification of the Church (1 Peter 1:3). The question is, will you work with God or against him?
The life of Paul constantly encourages and challenges me. Paul labored to present everyone perfect and complete in Christ.
"We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor with all the energy which so powerfully works in me." Colossians 1:28-29
Paul went on to tell the Colossians that he wanted them to know Christ in all his fullness. He didn't want them to miss out on any aspect of what was theirs in Christ. May this be the cry of our heart's as well.
" Epaphrus, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured."
In the King James translation, the verse is "perfect and complete in all the will of God." Finney commented that, "Paul knew that Epaphrus was laboring with expectation to this end; and he informed the church of it in a manner that evidently showed his approval of the views and the conduct of Epaphrus."1
James 1:4 " Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." This verse explains another requirement for maturity. We know from the parable of the sower that those who have no root fall away in the midst of trouble or persecution. But we find in James that for the believer trials develop the perseverance necessary so that "you may be mature and complete."
James 3:2b "If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check." Because the context of this verse is important, it will be dealt with more thoroughly in another place. For the sake of this discussion, however, this verse describes control of the tongue as a requirement for attaining this perfection.
1 John 4:16-18. Here the apostle chooses to use both variations:
"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. Love is made (telioo) complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But (telios) perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made (telioo) perfect in love."
"Every good and perfect gift is from above,"
James 1:25 "But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, [to obey it], not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does."
Here we have the word spoken of as the perfect law, what we are doing now is looking intently into it, and we will be blessed in all that we do if we obey it.
1 Cor 13:10 "When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."
The context of this verse is perfect revelation and perfect knowledge, which will happen when we see him face to face.
In the following passages, the word teleios is usually translated as "mature" in the NIV, used to describe stages of growth. We are born into the kingdom as infants regarding the faith, and we are called to grow to maturity.
1 Cor 2:6 "We do, however, speak a word of wisdom among the mature," Unfortunately, Paul was not able to count the Corinthians as among the mature. Like the Hebrews, the Corinthians were called babes or "infants in Christ." As a result, Paul concentrated on basic issues the milk and exhorted them to press on to maturity.
As noted, maturity is often connected with knowledge, but we see in Paul's writing that it is knowledge practiced. "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly - mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrels among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" (1 Cor 3:1-2).
It is my belief that the Church today, as in the time of the Corinthians, is to a great degree ignorant of some basic issues. Too much time is spent debating issues such as eschatology, when we desperately need to get back to the basics. Indeed, some of these issues are interesting to look at, but we first need a thorough understanding of the basics. I have heard many people such as Hank Hanegraaff make similar statement, but some of us are at odds as to just what those basic issues are. In my mind, much of what Hank considers to be basic, I would consider to be teaching for the mature. While many seems to view jealousy, quarrels, division, and other problems as an unfortunately normal part of Church life, Paul did not. Paul considered them symptoms of spiritual immaturity that need to be dealt with. Indeed, he regarded the state of the Corinthians as something that needed to be overcome before he could proceed with further teaching. Many of the issues Paul addressed were moral in nature, issues that related to practice. Paul was concerned enough about them that he would not go to solid food until the basics were known and practiced; for until then, he did not consider them ready. Let us look briefly at what the Apostles considered to be foundational, so that we may get these straight in our own lives and then aim to lead others to maturity as well. In Hebrews 6:1-2, the author urges us to:
"leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instructions about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment."
Repentance is often spoken of today in such a way as to leave the impression that you don't need to change your lifestyle. How different this is from Paul's own teaching in Ephesians 4:21-24!
"Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
Paul then continues to talk about truthfulness, dealing with anger, and many other things relating to a holy lifestyle. He tells us to live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. These are basics. Husbands must be taught how to treat their wives, and children how to love their parents. We should be entirely grateful to those who are strengthening families. But it seems that so often this is undercut by false teaching. There is a lot that is helpful, but it will not avail much if people are deluded into thinking that they can't apply it because they have to sin. We should not only pour water into the cup; we should fix the holes.
Dead works nekroon (NT:3498) ergoon (NT:2041). The phrase only in Hebrews. Compare Heb 9:14. Not sinful works in the ordinary sense of the term, but works without the element of life which comes through faith in the living God.
Faith: " is a confiding in God and in Christ, as revealed in the Bible and in reason. It is a receiving of the testimony of God concerning Himself, and concerning all things of which He has spoken. It is a receiving of Christ for just what He is represented to be in His gospel, and an unqualified surrender of the will, and of the whole being to Him." (2)
This of course relates to baptism in Christ, both in water and in the Spirit. Being baptized into Christ means being baptized into his death, so that we can be dead to sin but alive to God (Rom 6). Water baptism is significant as it is the "pledge of a good conscience towards God," according to 1 Peter 3:21. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is important for many purposes, including power to be his witnesses.
This is significant in regards to prayer and commissioning.
The resurrection is central to our faith; Christ's resurrection is at the heart of the gospel. Truly, it is the core of why we believe, and our very hope is in our resurrection. (See 1 Cor 15 for extensive treatment.)
This is almost never taught, yet there is surely going to be a day of judgment.
"Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." John 9:39-41
"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)- if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority." 2 Peter 2:4-10
"See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD." Isaiah 66:15-16
Part III Perfection Objections
1 Charles G. Finney, Principles of Sanctification, (Minneapolis Minnesota: Bethany House 1986), 73.
2. Charles G. Finney, Finney's Systematic Theology, ed J.H. Fairchild, (Minneapolis Minnesota: Bethany House, 1976), 465.
3. Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament, Vol 2, (Virginia: Mac Donald Publishing Co.), 1120.