How To Be Perfect, Part 2

Considering the verse in 1 Peter we looked at last time (click here to read Part 1), there’s an important distinction we first need to make as we continue our discussion. Notice God’s call is to “be holy”, not to “be perfect”. What’s the difference? Plenty. First, the word “perfect”. When we use it we conjure up an image of purity and clarity, nothing out of place and everything in right order. In the language of the bible we would call that “sinless”, having no fault in God’s eyes either physically or spiritually.

If there is one clear point that God is trying to make in the bible, it’s the opposite of that. None of us have or can live up to his standard (read Romans 3.23). In fact, there are several words in the New Testament that translate into “perfect”, many of which apply to us, but none of which imply “sinlessness”. The majority of those Greek words give a sense of finishing or completing, mending or repairing, and usually in the process of such. In other words, “perfect” in scripture has more of a sense of something broken on the mend, something unfinished becoming finished. This is much different than our definition, but much closer to our reality than originally imagined. So God isn’t expecting us to “be perfect”, at least as we define it.

On the other hand, we could very well take on the status of “being perfected” as scripture describes. So how does this start? Well this is where “being holy” comes in. We know by now that we can’t measure up to God, no matter how much we are being perfected. So Peter’s directive to “be holy as God is holy” cannot be a realistic comparison. It can, however, describe whose we are more than who we are. When you place your faith in Christ, a exchange takes place in which he takes on your imperfection (sin) and you take on his perfection (holiness). Not practically of course, but in the eternal record where it matters most. From God’s viewpoint, you are no longer defined by your sin but are redefined by Christ’s holiness. Read again and carefully what Peter said to this point: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1.16) Our holiness depends on God’s holiness. We have it backwards. We think we have the impossible task of becoming holy in a vain pursuit of God. In truth, we become holy after he pursues us. When we become his, we become holy.

Of course this is all a spiritual exchange. So how does that play out in the physical world? If you read one verse prior you’ll find this command: “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” (1 Peter 1.14) From your youth group days you may remember a similar verse from Romans 12.2: “Do not be conformed to this world.” These are the only two verses in which the Greek word for “conformed” appears. Imagine sand on a beach pressed into the mold of a castle or a crab. This is the image conveyed here. The call in both of these verses is to remove yourself from the mold into which the world has pressed you, or that you have pressed yourself. On the most basic level, it’s a call to change the shape of your life to look more like the life of Christ. The caveat is, this can only apply to those who already know Christ, those who have made that spiritual exchange. If you haven’t, then all your efforts to change will again fall short and leave you frustrated. But if you have, then you are now holy (spiritually) and therefore being perfected (worldly). You now have the ability to live out a holy life that reflects a holy status because of the Spirit of God who is “perfecting” you.

It should be obvious by now that none of us will ever be truly “perfect” in this life. Indeed, the Greek words for “perfect” mentioned above always imply a process that does have an end, but not here and now. So though our heavenly status is complete, our earthly status will always be incomplete. We are a continual work in progress, but with a certain completion date. In fact, this is the basis for Peter’s call to “be holy”, for in verse 13 he states, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. This is the end-time revelation of Christ, his second coming where all will be set right. Looking forward to this is our motivation, our energy to live a life that reflects our holy standing, a hope that is perfecting us.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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