Just how good do you need to be in order for God to accept you? Surely He has given some indication of His standard of measurement so we can know for sure. In fact, God HAS declared a standard of measurement for those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Sometimes people think God was really strict in the Old Testament but in the New Testament He relaxes His standards so we can actually achieve salvation. Isn’t that what grace is all about? Doesn’t God give us an easier time today than He gave the Jews?
I don’t deny that we live in a better time and under a better covenant, but Jesus did not come to relax God’s standards! In fact, He clarified God’s moral standards, raising them in the eyes of a people who had been lowering them and stripping them of their power and righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.19).
At the end of Matthew 5, Jesus states, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How exactly is our heavenly Father perfect? Is He just kind of perfect? Maybe “perfect” doesn’t actually mean perfect in the way we normally think of it. As people sometimes ask, “What does the Greek say?” The word (τέλειός) is translated through the New Testament as perfect, complete, mature. Oh good. I can see how I can be “mature” and not be totally “perfect,” so maybe I can relax the standard just a bit. Maybe God isn’t seeking full and total perfection (because, ha ha, who can achieve that standard?); maybe He just wants someone who’s “pretty good” (an admittedly fuzzy definition). But…whatever word we want to plug in there, it says to be perfect/mature/complete AS GOD Himself is perfect/mature/complete. That seems fairly unattainable!
Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1.15, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Again, Peter compares us to God Himself–we are to be the same kind of holy as He is! How do we adjust this so we can actually meet the standard?
We are not supposed to adjust anything! What God said, God meant, and we have no business trying to wiggle around until we feel comfortable. We ought to understand that God demands nothing short of complete perfection.
But I’m not perfect.
I’m betting you’re not, either.
What are we do do?!
Some theorize that we can become so mature in Christ that we can go for hours, days, perhaps even weeks without sinning. Really? And what do those theoretical pockets of perfection buy for you? Are you hoping Christ returns during one of your perfect hours? That sounds tenuous at best, and most of us haven’t yet come close to that theoretical perfection. I say “theoretical” because what these folks actually do is decided on a level of comfort they call “perfection,” and they lie to themselves thinking they have gone without sinning, when, in fact, God has said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8).
God tells us not to sin; then He says if we say we have no sin we are liars. It’s a no-win situation. We might as well give up, throw in the towel, go home and cry. Not! This is the GOSPEL message! God wants us to understand this–come to the end of ourselves–feel totally powerless and vulnerable, because only then will we give up on ourselves and cling fully and completely to Jesus Christ.
Jesus walked perfectly without sin (Heb. 4.15). He endured the cross for our sake (2 Cor. 5.14-15), and through Him God reconciles us back to Himself (2 Cor. 5.18)! How did He bring us back into relationship with Himself? He made Christ to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21)! He no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5.19), because He laid all our sins on the back of His Son, Jesus. Jesus swapped places with us–the righteous for the sinner–so God now looks at men and women who are in Christ as being righteous, holy, perfect.
But I’m not perfect. That’s right! Christ is. And God counts the perfect righteousness of Christ to my account and imputes all my sin to Christ’s account. Glory be to God! He didn’t have to do it, but He did, freely. And so I am completely saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Praise God today if you are in Christ because He has taken all your sins and counts you now as holy!
If you’re not in Christ, it’s of utmost importance that you come to Him! I pray He draws you and shows you the path to true reconciliation and freedom. Please let me know if I can help you on your journey.