said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess
and give to the poor…’” (Matthew
let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect
and complete, lacking nothing” (James
therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew
Do these verses frighten you at all? They do me. Why?
Perfection seems to be a pretty high standard. I’m not perfect
today. I have a hard time seeing that I’ll ever be perfect. When
I look at these verses, it is easy to get discouraged. I’ll
never measure up. I’ll never be good enough. In fact, it’s
impossible to be good enough because good enough equals perfection
and I’ll never be there. Do you feel perfect today? Do you see
yourself attaining perfection in the near future? What happens if
we die and we haven’t gotten to perfection yet? Should we even
bother being Christians if we know we won’t be that great at it?
These are the kinds of questions that go running through our
minds, especially when we’ve been involved in discussions with
Christians who say things like, “Boy, if we even miss it on one
thing, it could be detrimental to our souls.” Or when we’ve
consistently heard that others must be lost even though they are
Christians but they don’t have a particular doctrine correct or
they don’t agree with the “normal Christian view” on some
This can be very troubling for Christians of all maturity
levels. I want to assure you of one principle. Our job is
progress; God’s job is perfection.
Jesus has already perfected us.
Of course, we all recognize the problem. We have sinned. We
have fallen from God’s glory (Romans
3:23). We have fallen from God’s perfection. In reality,
even if we chose today to stop sinning and always did everything
we were supposed to, it wouldn’t remove the stains of
imperfection spilt all over us.
When God let us attempt to fix the problem by giving us a
law through which we might attain perfection, it didn’t work (Hebrews
3:21 says the law could not give life. In fact, the point of
that verse is no law could give life. Something else was needed.
Sacrifice was God’s answer to provide the grace needed to be
perfect. But the sacrifice under the Old Law didn’t work to
perfect anyone either (Hebrews
So, here we are…imperfect, flawed, sinful. Yet, we are to
be perfect. What do we do? Some seem to answer this by throwing
rules at us. Follow this rule and that rule and the other rule. If
you make sure to live by all the rules of the New Law, you’ll be
perfect and go to heaven. Do we really think Galatians
3:21 meant the Old Law couldn’t perfect us, but a new law
could? Don’t misunderstand. There is a New Law and it is
important (I Corinthians
9:21), but is the New Law intended to perfect us by our power
to keep it? If a man were drowning, would you throw more water at
him? In like manner, when a man is drowning in sin, which is
lawlessness (I John 3:4), would God throw more laws at Him? No. God had a
The Law and the sacrifices led us somewhere. They led us to
Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. That sacrifice has accomplished
one amazing thing. According to Hebrews
10:14, it perfected us. Did you see that? By His single
offering, He perfected us. Notice Hebrews 12:23; God says when we’ve come into Christ’s church, we
have come into the assembly of the firstborn, to the spirits of
the righteous made perfect. We are actually already perfected.
According to Acts 2:38-41,
47, we are added to the church’s number when we are saved
through penitent baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. At that
moment, we were perfected.
This does not mean we are perfected no matter how we live.
This does not mean we can dispense with God’s will, live
profligate lives, turning our back on God and stand before Him as
perfected children. Romans
6:1-4 demonstrates that. In fact, look again at Hebrews 10:14, Jesus’ sacrifice perfected those who are being
sanctified, that is, who are being set apart. “Perfected” is
past tense, but “being sanctified” is in the present
progressive. That is, the sanctification is a presently ongoing
process. There is an “already, but not yet” sense to our
perfection. Also notice the sanctification is passive. That is, it
is being done to the spirits in the church; it is not something
they are doing. So, in one sense, we are already perfect because
we are in Christ’s sacrifice and in His church. In another, we
are being perfected, but again, that is not our work, it is
God’s. Which leads us to our next point.
God is perfecting us.
While in one sense, Jesus’ sacrifice has already
perfected us, in another sense, God is actively working to perfect
us. He is working to help us overcome our sins and imperfections.
He set us free from sin by the death of Jesus and is actively
working in our lives to perfect us.
says God has predestined that those who love God will be conformed
to the image of His Son. This is not a guessing game for Him. This
is not a wait and see who makes the cut. This is something already
set in stone. If you love God, He has already decreed that you
will be conformed to the image of His Son. He will see to it.
Consider some other passages that demonstrate God’s work
in confirming, establishing, saving, and perfecting us.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel
and the preaching of Jesus Christ…” (ESV).
according to the riches of [God’s] glory he may grant you to be
strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so
that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (ESV).
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and
may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV).
“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you
against the evil one” (ESV).
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all
grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will
himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (ESV).
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to
present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great
joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and
now and forever. Amen” (ESV).
Read and reread these passages. These passages are
powerfully comforting. We are not on our own in this trek to
perfection. Not only has Jesus already perfected us through His
sacrifice, but God, the Father, is perfecting us through His Son.
That means we don’t need to spend today worrying about whether
we are perfect or not. God is working on that. Our job is not
perfection; God’s job is perfection.
What then is our job? Do we have a job? Does this mean we
can sit on Christ’s work, do nothing, act how we want, live how
we want and expect eternal salvation? I’m sure some of you fear
that is what I’m saying. In fact, I think the reason we don’t
preach this point about God’s job being perfection more is
because we are afraid people will take that to mean they don’t
have to do anything but wait around for God to perfect us. That
leads to our third point.
Our job is progress in Christ.
I don’t know how you will take the message that Jesus has
already perfected us and that God is perfecting us. But I do know
how Paul took it. In Philippians
2:12-13, Paul said, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have
always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in
my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his
good pleasure” (ESV). Paul did not think that God’s work on
our behalf meant we should or could sit back, take it easy, and
just ride the rapids of God’s work. He saw God’s work in
perfecting us as the very reason we should be working out our
salvation with fear and trembling. If God weren’t perfecting us,
that is when we should give up and quit working ourselves. If He
wasn’t working, we could never get anywhere. But He is working,
that is why we should work.
What work should we be doing? II
Peter 1:5-10 shows us the kind of work we need to be doing. We
need to work on our faith, our virtue, our knowledge, our
self-control, our steadfastness, our godliness, our brotherly
affection, and our love. We should establish those and grow in
them. Notice what Peter says in II
Peter 1:8. He does not say, “If these qualities are yours in
perfection, they keep you from being ineffective or
unfruitful…” Rather, he says, “If these qualities are yours
and are increasing…” If you are growing in Christ, then you
are fruitful and effective. If you are practicing and growing in
these, then II Peter 1:10
says you are making your calling and election sure and you will
Think about what that means. If my job is progress, I lack
something today. If I’m to increase in faith, virtue, knowledge,
self-control, etc. then today I lack some faith, virtue,
knowledge, self-control, etc. I don’t have it all. I’m not
perfect in it. But I work to progress in it. Why? Because God is
working in me to perfect me. He will conform me to the image of
His Son, as long as I love Him and progress in His Son.
This brings home our major principle: Our job is progress;
God’s job is perfection. Don’t let your fears about good
enough or perfection keep you out of Christ. Don’t let them
cause you to abandon Christ. We don’t come here because we’re
perfect. We come here because we aren’t but God is working on
Though imperfect, we are still heaven-bound.
I’d like to add a little icing to this cake. In one
sense, we are already perfected by Christ’s sacrifice. In
another sense, God is perfecting us. Our job is progress; God’s
job is perfection. We need to grow because we lack some aspects to
be completely conformed to Jesus. What happens if we die like
that? What happens if when we die, we’ve been growing in Christ
and His will but there is still something we have wrong or some
lack of virtue we’re still struggling with? Again, let’s look
at Paul’s life.
Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already
perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus
has made me His own” (ESV). Paul was doing everything in his
power to know Christ so he might attain the resurrection. But even
at this point, he made sure we understood that he wasn’t done.
He hadn’t grown all he needed to grow. He wasn’t perfect. What
would happen to him if he had died in that not perfect situation?
He actually tells us back in Philippians
1:21-23. For imperfect Paul, death was gain. Death meant going
to be with Christ. That is what it means for us. We’re not
perfect today. But we are in Christ. We are growing and
progressing in Christ. If we died today, not being good enough
wouldn’t keep us out of eternal life with God. God is good
enough to perfect us through Christ and conform us to His image.
We don’t have to live in fear of that one mistake that might
keep us out of heaven.
Does this mean we can just sit on our laurels thinking that
no matter what happens in the future we’ll go to heaven? No.
Remember Paul in Philippians
3:12, he didn’t simply revel in his lack of
perfection; he demonstrated he was still pressing on to make it
his own. He was doing His job. He was progressing. God, therefore,
was doing His job. God was perfecting.
19:21; James 1:4; and Matthew 5:48 still frighten me? No. I do have to be perfect like God.
But God is working on that. My job is progress. I’ll do my job
and I can trust God that He is able and willing to do His. I’m
not going to lose sleep over it anymore. But this only works for
those in Christ. If you let your fears about not being perfect
keep you out of Christ, then you really have reason to fear. You
aren’t perfect and the only one who can make you perfect is not
working on you. Why not enter Jesus today? Let God work on you, be
perfected now and grow to perfection through God’s work and
grace as you progress in Christ.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ