Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Problem with the Popular Perception of Perfection

OK, the title is intentionally over-the-top alliteration, but it accurately reflects one of the biggest problems of the apostasy - and, I believe, one of the greatest obstacles in understanding the heart of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The great commandment "in the law" is, in summary, "Love God and everyone else." However, the great culmination of Christ's penultimate sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is a powerful commandment outside the law - and, in a very real way, is the practical application of the command to love. This foundational command is contained in Matthew 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which art in Heaven is perfect."

Apostate Christianity has addressed this commandment in two ways: 1) by applying a legalistic meaning ("never make a mistake/commit a sin") and, based on the impossibility of that definition, 2) turning it into a suggestion - something one cannot hope to achieve but a nice platitude regardless. ("Try not to make mistakes/sin, but realize it doesn't really matter in the long run.") While this sounds fine - and even laudable - to most people, it totally destroys the power and beauty of the command itself. It is my conviction that someone simply cannot understand the atonement (and the full grace that makes "atonement" possible) if they accept and internalize this apostate definition of perfection.

The footnotes to Matthew 5:48 make a critical definition distinction - one that changes the entire meaning and empowers the command in an amazing way. Footnote (b), which is attached to the word "perfect", defines it from the Greek thus: "complete, finished, fully developed." This means that the verse can be read as follows:

"Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which art in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed." What an amazing difference!

I am planning on delving further into the practical application of this principle in future posts, since I don't want this one to be a novella all by itself, but suffice it to say here that this definition changes fundamentally how our quest for perfection should be understood and approached - and, at the most basic level, lies at the heart of nearly every aspect of the atonement (grace, repentance, faith, works/fruits and, perhaps most importantly for many - especially women - guilt, shame and spiritual/emotional freedom).

If you take nothing from this post but one message, take the fact that you do NOT need to feel ashamed and guilty and overwhelmed by your "incomplete, unfinished, partially developed" state. The world teaches that such a state is irreconcilable with God; Matthew 5:48 says otherwise - saying it can be done - and the practical way to do so is provided, as well.

That practical process is what I will address in upcoming posts.

4 comments:

Mama D said...

As a perfectionist who is very hard on herself, I have spent years trying to understand and accept this principle. (You know that you are an integral part of my progress and self-acceptance!)

Keep teaching this correct principle of perfection (via blog posts, HC talks, and other means). I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs to hear it often!

Love ya, bud. Thanks for posting this.

ANTSYLLI said...

Amen to Mama. I have wondered about this scripture often and the additional meaning from the footnote makes it more understandable. I believe this is one of Satan's greatest tools (to make us think that we are a lost cause) and too many of us allow him to use it against us. Thank you for giving us a wonderful weapon to fight the battle against the devil! I love reading your posts. Can't wait to read more. You help me so much.

Jared said...

I enjoyed this post.

My personal approach to the problem you address is to place my focus on the highest priority the Lord has given me to date. That being none other than fulfilling my baptism covenant--receive the Holy Ghost. This being the case, then everything else; the church, the scriptures, and etc, are in a supporting role to help accomplish receiving the Holy Ghost--the first comforter.

Elder Packer recently asked a Stake President what the biggest problem in his Stake was. The Stake President replied, “Programs and activities of the church are becoming a substitute for testimonies.”

If we're active in the church but somehow miss being active in the gospel our testimonies will be built on sand. A true testimony comes by the Holy Ghost and the refreshing of our testimony should come by the Holy Ghost as well.

Enough said, starting to ramble.

Once again, thanks for your post.

carrie said...

wow...lightbulb moment...that really makes sense, what you said about perfection and adding the meaning of the footnote. thanks for sharing your insight on this scripture. very cool!