Matthew 5:48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” God enables us to obey his commands, and I would like to tell you today that this verse is good news. Not because Jesus didn’t really mean what He said, or because His blood covers us while we wallow in our sins. It is good news because God is offering us, by the power of the blood of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, freedom from sin. He is calling us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Lest this topic fill anyone with terror, let me first remind you of the infinite price Christ paid to purchase salvation for each and every person on planet earth. He is not willing that any should perish, and He has unfathomable patience for rebellious humans. Read again the account of Christ’s death and resurrection, take to heart the truth that His sacrifice was for you, and be assured that He has provided the means for you to obtain perfection of character. If we were to rely solely on our own effort to try following Christ’s example, our goal would be hopelessly out of reach, but Christ has provided us with cleansing from sin, grace to overcome sin, and the Holy Spirit to guide us.
We’ve all heard so much anti-perfection rhetoric that some might be wondering if I’m really writing about actual perfection. When I say “perfection” here, I mean nothing less than the perfection shown by the life of Jesus Christ.
In Revelation 3:15-19 Jesus tells our church:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire (suffering is a very effective tool for driving us back to God, if we let it), that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment (the righteousness of Christ), that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve (we need the help of the Holy Spirit to discern spiritual truth), that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Repentance is the key to overcoming sin—John the Baptist’s message, and the message we should be proclaiming to the world, is “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, explains exactly what repentance looks like and how it can be accomplished:
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright (Hebrews 12: 1-16).
Ellen White had this to say about character development:
“Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character. If you come to this decision, you will certainly fail of obtaining everlasting life. The impossibility lies in your own will. If you will not, then you cannot overcome. The real difficulty arises from the corruption of an unsanctified heart, and an unwillingness to submit to the control of God” (MYP 99)
“We may flatter ourselves that we are free from many things of which others are guilty; but if we have some strong points of character, and but one weak point, there is yet a communion between sin and the soul. The heart is divided in its service, and says, 'Some of self and some of Thee.' The child of God must search out the sin which he has petted and indulged himself in, and permit God to cut it out of his heart. He must overcome that one sin; for it is not a trifling matter in the sight of God” (MYP 91).
There are many and rich rewards for following the advice given by these servants of God and by Jesus Himself. The greatest is still in the future, of course—“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Cor. 2:9) Here and now, we are promised the fruits of the Spirit and divine protection and guidance. We are promised that God will supply our needs, and that His plan for our lives is perfect.
One pervasive deception is that sin is fun, and that God, by forbidding it, condemns us to lives of mind-numbingly dull piety. I’m not going to argue that sin is not fun, but I will say that God’s plan is better, and leads to everlasting life, joy, and honor rather than death and contempt.
The best news is this: "'When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.' Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own" (COL 69). I can think of no greater miracle than the reproduction of Christ’s perfect character in our degenerate minds, wracked with the accumulated degradation of thousands of years of sin.
We have largely lost sight of the Day of Atonement, though we are in it. It is time to study it again, as Ellen White admonished us to do, and to put away sin in preparation for the great Day of the Lord. The Holy Spirit will eventually fall on the church, and those who have made themselves ready will receive the Latter Rain with gladness, while those who have consistently violated the voice of the Holy Spirit by excusing or downplaying their sins will be shaken out of the church.
By the grace of Jesus, perfection is not an impossible goal. It is the goal we must be striving for. We must hunger and thirst for righteousness. To excuse ourselves in any way from following Christ’s perfect example will blunt our consciences and lead to suffering and eventually destruction. We cannot walk with God as Enoch did unless we “resist unto blood, striving against sin.”