It’s Biblical Series:
by Michael Roberts, D. Min.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was fond of the biblical concept of “going on to perfection.” Using this concept, he wanted to emphasize the importance of moving beyond mere belief and growing in the persons God created us to be. He believed this to be the calling of every Christian. As United Methodist Christians, we continue to emphasize this belief.
In our day, however, the concept of “perfection” can create several misunderstandings. Perfection, as it is typically defined in our society, is not a healthy thing. Perfectionism can be very debilitating. Many people are plagued by the feeling that they have to be perfect in appearance in order to be noticed and accepted. We could call this “physical perfectionism.” Others are consumed by “environmental perfectionism,” where everything around them has to be clean and in perfect order. Equally damaging is a form of “relational perfectionism,” where one is not happy until others do exactly what the perfectionist wants, when they want it done, and how they want it done. We could also develop the idea of “behavior perfectionism” where a person believes they have to do exactly what others want in order to be loved. In all of these forms, the perfectionist is unlikely to see the blessings of the journey. They are blinded by a goal that is often unattainable. Life is marked by frustration and pain. When we talk about the biblical concept of perfection, we must move beyond these aforementioned forms. Biblical perfection is a healthy goal that can help us overcome these more debilitating forms. Biblically, perfection means to be made whole by the grace of God.
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,” Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, See also Romans 12:2; Hebrews 6:1). The context of this statement is very important. This statement is the last sentence of a paragraph on love. Love, in this biblical context, is more than a feeling or emotion. It can be defined as “seeking what is good for others, regardless of who they are or what they have done.” Love is a state of being, a commitment to live in relationship with others in a certain way. Spiritually, it is the most powerful force in all the cosmos. As United Methodist Christians, we believe that “perfection in love” is the goal that is set before us (I John 4:12-19). Wesley called it “entire sanctification.” He believed that realizing this spiritual state was possible in this life, even if only for fleeting moments that gives us a glimpse of our future (Acts 26:18; Rom 6:19-23; I Cor 1:2,30,6:11).
Like the word “perfection,” the word “sanctification” denotes wholeness. It is the goal of the Christian life, but this does not mean that it is something we can earn or achieve on our own. Sanctification is a state of grace. We do not achieve this state by relying on our own ability, but by trusting in God. We do not earn it by our own goodness; rather, we grow in it by the goodness of God. The concept of sanctification helps us to realize that we do not have to be “perfect” in order to be loved and accepted. Rather, we are called to live and grow in the perfect love and forgiveness of God. In this we are made whole (See Ephesians 2:8-10;3:17f).
In a personal witness, the Apostle Paul says, “not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect (whole), but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). This is a wonderful witness to the call and challenge to strive towards wholeness. As United Methodist Christians we believe in the importance of “pressing on.”
The Christian life is a lifelong process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming whole or perfected in love. (See I John 3:1-3; 4:7-12). God has given us means of grace or methods to help us along the way—worship, prayer, bible study, fellowship, and service. As the great hymn, Amazing Grace, says, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” By God’s grace we are led to the home of perfect love.