When you get up Monday morning, there are some things you'd rather not think about. Like the fact that God orders us to embrace perfection. As Jesus suggested:
"You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father
is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
A lot of us would fail to see why this is good news. Fortunately, the command stems from God's innate personality, not ours. I'm perfect, God says. Flawless and free in every way. You be that way too. And in a sense, every fiber of me wants to say, "OK, God. All right, I will!" If only I could.
Who hasn't felt the awkward desire in his own heart? Sure, I'm ready to stop struggling with the same old thing. It sounds great. To live up to the ideals I secretly cultivate? I'm raising my hand. Pick me, God. I'm eager to be someone I never have been. To be someone perfect. I sense that God's perfection means something powerful, compelling and complete. People who could be, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "possible gods and goddesses."
It's a bittersweet thing to look at the mysterious person in my mind's eye, the person who, somehow, could only be known as "me." But a "me" that is seemingly beyond my ability to realize. It's into this self-conscious, reluctantly-articulated inadequacy that Christ reaches when he says, Be perfect. And when I am most honest, I must admit I am no stranger to this longing. But does the story end there, in a dead-end alley?
Well, if Jesus was actually God, and not a first century variety of our twenty-first century psychopath, then no. Perfection is not a standoff between me and my angry delusions. There's something else. Another man in the fight, arbiting between me and my inertia, the incredible heaviness of my being. Because the perfection that Christ commands, he also empowers. As the apostle Paul said:
I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
This isn't an isolated suggestion in the gospels. It's a central tenet of Jesus' message; those he calls, he "glorifies" (Romans 8:30). Today, in the middle of lay-offs, managerial tirades, spilled coffee, car wrecks, whatever, Christ's people are gradually growing into the perfection he envisions for us. Why? Because he has intended it, predestined it, if you will--and what he intends inevitably comes to pass. How? Because Jesus is the one doing the work, crafting us, shaping us, pouring us into a mold that he made when he walked the earth.
We're slowly filling his shoes. Steadily filling them out. We're gradually growing into these salvation clothes that right now flop about our shoulders like an XL T-shirt on a two-year-old.
I think our deepest true desires--for clean brightness, glorious freedom, a personality fully realized--Jesus commands us to grasp. And rightly so, since he was the fully integrated human, the complete man. He calls us to be like him, aficionados of true life, and then he takes the burden of authorship upon Himself. Do it, he says. And then, if we submit, he sets about doing it for us. Perfection is Christ's command and his work. The artistry of eternity waits upon our assent.