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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #19: Imitating God, Who is a Perfect 10

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:48

Of all the controversial things that are contained in Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the kingdom, perhaps this one has caused the most confusion. It probably gives you the sinking feeling that, if our life goal is to be perfect like God, you’ll never measure up. But what Jesus is saying is good news.

Minutes earlier Jesus challenged his hearers that their righteousness needs to exceed the Pharisee’s standards. He repeated the popular teachings and then showed how deep the application of these commandments needed to go. Being perfect like the Father completed the thought Jesus started about what kind of righteousness one needs to enter God’s kingdom.

But what a staggering requirement! Some skip lightly over these words of Jesus because they require too much. Others take them to mean that sinless perfection is our life’s goal. Still, others want them to be Jewish hyperbole, an overstatement to make a point.

What Jesus is saying is that we are to be like the Father, in whose image we were created. This is the main point of the good news of the kingdom. The gospel is restorative. We are being transformed back into who we were created to be had the Fall never happened. We broke the Law. Jesus is fulfilling the Law himself—not the smallest tidbit Moses wrote down would be left undone by Jesus during his world tour—so that his death on the cross would make it possible for God to be both faithful and just to forgive our sins.

Being like the Father is not about keeping the rules so we can exude perfection. It is about radiating a wholeness which is produced in us by the Spirit, cleansing us from all unrighteousness. More to the point, Jesus connects ‘being perfect’ with expressing agape, even for people who are hate-filled towards us. We were hate-filled when God loved us—loved the world.

Jesus’ inner circle understood this since it later became the focus of their teaching for the church. John, who was one of the disciples present as Jesus taught, captures this best. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. This is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:7-13)

To John, loving others is the way that people see God—in us. Note also that as John speaks of us being perfected in God’s love, he refers to the gift of the Spirit as the reason we are transformed into lovers. Jesus’ good news of the kingdom never strays from this theme. No matter how demanding righteousness is, God supplies the power to achieve it through His Spirit. Be perfect like your heavenly Father is perfect? Achieve righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees’? All this will happen—is happening in you—as you surrender to the work of the Spirit.

Steve Smith