“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
What do you feel when you read the verse above? I remember reading this verse in junior high and my heart skipping a beat. Be perfect—really? I remember thinking. If this is what it means to be a Christian, I’m doomed! My emotions quickly went from being perplexed, to utter hopelessness and fear.
Looking back, I can see that the hopelessness and fear I felt was the correct emotion because it was based on a false identity I had adopted for myself. At that time in my life, I was buying into a false religion of Christianity that said, “Try harder, do more, you have to earn it.” If you’re reading this and you can relate, please keep reading, because there’s great hope and truth for you today.
Verse 48 concludes Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount found in Matthew 5. In the verses leading up to this jaw-dropper, Jesus essentially takes what the people believed based on the Law and takes it up a level. We see this based on the repetitive nature of the phrase, “You have heard [pointing to the law] . . . But I say [establishing a higher standard] . . . ” In short, Jesus is saying, “I’m giving you a higher standard of righteousness than what you’ve heard.”
If it’s impossible to keep the Law to perfection, and now Jesus is presenting a higher standard, how in the world can we “be perfect”? After all, Jesus doesn’t say, “Try to be perfect” or “Do your best to be perfect” —Jesus says you must be perfect.
The truth is this: on our own, we can’t be perfect, but in Jesus we can.
In order to make sense of this truth, we need to look back at verse 17. In reference to the Law, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the Law has been fulfilled in him. No matter how hard you try or work for perfection, you’ll never reach it—and this is actually a wonderful thing. Take a breath and rest in the truth that you can “be perfect,” but not through your efforts, only through a new identity in Jesus.
The Law condemns you to death, but only Jesus brings you to new life. The Law says you’re named as a sinner, but through Jesus, God names you a saint. The Law says you’ll never reach perfection, but in Jesus, God sees you as perfect through his Son.