Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Reason for My Resolution

The following is the genesis for my New Year's Resolution this past year - and the New Year's Resolution that will post tomorrow for 2009. In order to re-introduce the rationale behind my effort to those who were not here last December to read it, I am re-posting it today:
OK, the title (The Problem with the Popular Perception of Perfection) 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 about my New Year's Resolution for the upcoming year.


Tim Malone said...

I love that footnote - always have. Like you say, it sure makes a lot more sense and turns it into a command that can be envisioned. It gives us hope and allows us to work on things over a lifetime as we seek perfection - complete and finished. It allows us to rejoice in our current state of imperfection as we realize that all progress moves us patiently towards that finished and fully developed state in Christ.

Anonymous said...

If you compare the "be ye therefore perfect" scriptures in Matthew and 3 Nephi, you'll see that Jesus didn't consider himself perfect until after the resurrection. Elder Nelson's conference talk on the subject is most illuminating.

Papa D said...

Thanks for the comment, witteafval. I agree that we won't be truly perfect (complete and whole) until we are resurrected, but I do think we are commanded to actively work toward that state throughout our lives - to get as close to it as is possible before we die.

I also think, given the examples we have in our scriptures of some who were called perfect, that we can be considered "humanly perfect" - as complete, whole and fully developed as it is possible for us to get in this life. That should be the object of our effort, even, like Tim says, as we rejoice in the Atonement that makes our faith and hope worthwhile.