Is perfection attainable according to Matthew 5:48?
Matthew 5:48: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Perhaps we might ask this question: If we have been baptized into Christ, have all our sins not been washed away just as we have been promised? While we will be tested, and fail the test, we must brush ourselves off and continue to "walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light." (1 Jn. 1:7a) This results in our being "[cleansed] from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7b). Note that this is an ongoing process of purification throughout the remainder of our lives in Christ.
If this were not true, how could we ever stand before God holy, blameless, and beyond reproach (Col. 1:21)? How does God treat imperfection in His presence? Obviously, no human being is perfect; but they can be continually purified, and that is the point that many seem to overlook.
Consider more of what the New Testament has to say. Note the many times that God has proclaimed (or implied) that while we walk in the Light, we are not to be judged:
John 3:18a: “He who believes in Him is not judged" (emphasis added).
Only two chapters later we read:
John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears [obeys] My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (emphasis added).
How can we reconcile these passages if, after our faithful obedience to Christ, we are not spiritually perfect? Why would Christ ever make such claims (those emphasized in Jn. 3:18a, 5:24, Matt.5:48)? Of course, He is addressing those who have exercised obedience to His Word. Take a look at the next passage that speaks to the status of the saints:
Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added).
This passage appears to demonstrate that once we have clothed ourselves with Christ -- and keep our garments on, there is nothing to judge, we are spiritually flawless. Otherwise, how can we stand before God (as we do right now) with a clear conscience?
Those in Christ should understand that they have passed from being slaves of disobedience (imperfection) to become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:18, perfection) as the children of God. Consider Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, which argues the point more emphatically:
Colossians 1:21-22: “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet [Christ] has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before [the Father] holy and blameless and beyond reproach…” (emphasis added).
We were once alienated and hostile to God. We were “engaged in evil deeds” just as the text reads in verse 21. That is how God sees everyone outside of Christ, irrespective of whether we consider them “good” or “bad” because what we happen to think is irrelevant.
Paul’s letter to the saints at Corinth echoes the same sentiments as those in his Letter to the Colossians:
1 Corinthians 6:11: “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God!” (emphasis added).
As before, note the similarity of the words to Col. 1:21-22: “washed,” “sanctified,” “justified.” Of course, those who have not been washed (baptized), sanctified (set apart), and justified (removal of condemnation, guilt, and sin) are filling up the measure of their wrath before the Throne of God right now.
As we walk in the Light, we have done all that is humanly possible to please God. Otherwise, we must ask ourselves this question: How do the words washed, sanctified, and justified as well as holy, blameless, and beyond reproach, not equate to spiritual perfection? (1 Cor. 6:11, Col. 1:21). Are there other such qualifications that do, and just what might those be?
Here are another set of relevant passages:
1 Thessalonians 4:17: “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
What is missing here? Well, where is there any mention of judgment as imperfect humans? Are we to insert words that do not exist such as: “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up to judgment and later be together with them in the clouds…”? How does such reasoning not imply that we are to stand in judgment for sins that have been washed by the blood of the Lamb?
Note what the writer of Hebrews has to tell us:
Hebrews 9:28: “[So] Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (emphasis added).
How can we read this and not understand that Christ will appear a second time without reference to sin. What does it mean to appear “without reference to sin”? Is this not equivalent to saying that we are perfect before God? When does God allow anything imperfect into paradise?
Elsewhere, Paul reveals the destiny of the saints when absent from the physical body:
2 Corinthians 5:8: “[We] are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
How is anyone “at home with the Lord” if they are still in sin -- imperfection? These are questions that beg to be asked.
Lastly, there are these two vital passages to consider:
1 John 1:7: [If] we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Only two verses later, this message is repeated, as though God is emphasizing the text for our benefit:
1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Of what sin and righteousness are we "cleansed"? That would be all sin and all unrighteousness. There is nothing but “glory and honor and peace” (Rom. 2:10) for those who have attained everlasting life through perfection in Christ, as long as we remain perfected.
The saints will always exist with God because they are "holy, blameless, and beyond reproach" (Col. 1:21-22).
It is our allegiance to God's Word that keeps us in this perfected state (1 Jn. 1:7, 9).