As I sit in the pew at this church that closely resembles the atmosphere of my childhood more than my current church, I notice something—a passage from Matthew. If a person gets this one passage wrong, it can be a stumbling block for the many.
Self-worth and confidence are important things—things that we all need to have on a basic level. But when we arrive at the dreaded Matthew 5:48 passage, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we are befuddled.
If verses 1 through 47 did not show that we’re not pulling off the Christian life, then this passage surely will. Or will it?
At this point many will proclaim the viewpoint that “God would not command, what we could not do,” or “The word in the Greek language can be translated as mature”.
How cute! Seriously, it is a noble attempt at trying to ease the gut punch that Jesus has just landed. (Looking at the context of this passage, both of these premises fall flat, but that is not the point of this article.)
As a Christian, I truly wish I could live a life that is perfect (as described in verses 1 through 47). Viewing this passage as being “attainable,” slowly takes our eyes off of Christ and places them on ourselves. Either we think we are reaching a point where we need Christ’s daily mercy less, or we place a burden on our neighbor about them pulling themselves up by their boot straps. Both postures remove relying on God for our daily bread (Mt. 6:11).
If we could be as perfect as our loving Father, what is the need for Jesus as our substitute? Yes, this question is offensive, but it must be asked. Even if you change the word “perfect” to “mature,” God is still the perfect example of any word change.
Can you be perfect?
I cannot be perfect, and this truth slams my soul to the foot of the cross. I try my hardest to walk the walk and be salt of the world, but I know my only hope is Jesus. But could that be the point of Matthew 5:48? To drive us back to the cross? To remind us that God is holy and perfect, and that is his standard?
Moses was a pretty “mature” kind of guy in the faith. If I recall correctly, after God used him to rescue his people, split the red sea, and lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses was denied entry into it for not trusting God (Num. 20:11-12). If perfect is not God’s standard, was Moses not “mature” enough?
To view this passage wrongly results in people thinking they are David slaying the Goliath of their life, rather than Jesus conquering on our behalf. Such a stance may seem very small, but it eventually leads to the logical question: Is the Gospel for Christians? Do we need Christ in the office of Savior after we come to faith in him, or do we turn the cross into a ladder to ascend to perfection?
I beseech you, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, never to take your gaze off of Christ. Christ tells us he came to fulfill the law, and that is exactly what he did. Everything demanded in the sermon on the Mount, Christ accomplished for us: “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Christ was spat upon, mocked, and beaten for our sake. Although he could have called a legion of angels, he turned the other cheek. “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” After the bloody melee of Good Friday, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them.”
God’s standard is perfection, and Jesus was, and is, that. There is zero need to water down God’s law in an attempt to make it attainable for me. I am baptized into Christ (Rom. 6), purchased not by silver or gold, but by his royal blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19), so my comfort rests with my Lord. There is no need to reword Matthew 5:48, because it reminds us of our sin and brings us helpless to the foot of the cross. And that is a great thing.