How many times have we heard or said “Only God is perfect,” and yet, God calls us to reach perfection of character. I have seen people absolutely horrified at the idea that man could actually be perfect this side of heaven, but Mrs. White says that we are to be as perfect in our sphere as God is in His. We are told repeatedly that we must be overcomers; we must be justified and sanctified.
I want to suggest that we do not have to be afraid of the word perfect or any of its derivatives—perfection, perfectionism, perfectionist. And here’s why.
When used as a noun, the word perfection means the quality or condition of being perfect. But when it is used as a verb, it means the act or process of perfecting. As an adjective it means the highest degree of a quality. As a philosophy, perfection is a doctrine holding that religious, moral, social, or political perfection is attainable, especially the theory that human moral or spiritual perfection should be or has been attained. A perfectionist is a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards. And perfectionism is the disposition that regards anything short of perfection as unacceptable.
Now it is true that in this world, perfection has been distorted and misused, even abused. But from the perspective of the Bible and what God requires, we should not be afraid of achieving perfection. God means for us to have a perfected character in order to be with Him for eternity and it is a character that must be developed here, before He comes.
“A heavenly character must be acquired upon earth … or you will never possess it; therefore you should engage at once in the work which you have to do. You should labor earnestly to obtain a fitness for heaven. …” Testimonies, Vol. 2, 430
“A character formed according to the divine likeness is the only treasure that we can take from this world to the next. Those who are under the instruction of Christ in this world will take every divine attainment with them to the heavenly mansions. And in heaven we are continually to improve. How important, then, is the development of character in this life.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 332
Perfection seen as the action or process of improving something until it is faultless is sanctification. Think of what Jesus said to the woman caught in sin, brought to Him by her accusers. Accused of sin by the world, but forgiven by God, He said, “ ‘… Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’ ” John 8:10, last part, 11. Were it not possible to no longer sin, why would Jesus instruct her not to? The more we obey, resist temptation, surrender and submit to do the will of God, then by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit and because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf (Hebrews 10:10), one day that is all we will do.
“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.” The Desire of Ages, 668
Sanctification is a journey with a very specific destination—a Christlike, perfected character. What is a Christlike character? Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38. “I can of Myself do nothing. … I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” John 5:30. “I always do those things that please Him.” John 8:29, last part
The Bible says in Psalm 14:3, “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.” And John 15:5, last part, says “without Me, you can do nothing.” It is obvious by these verses and many, many others that alone we are not able to achieve this perfected character. So how is it accomplished?
First Thessalonians 5:23, 24 say, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful who also will do it.”
John 17 says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. … And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. … I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (verses 17, 19 and 23, first part). Are we seeing a theme here? Who sanctifies us?
“How can we reach the perfection specified by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—our Great Teacher? Can we meet His requirement and attain to so lofty a standard? We can, else Christ would not have enjoined us to do so. He is our righteousness. In His humanity He has gone before us and wrought out for us perfection of character. We are to have the faith in Him that works by love and purifies the soul. Perfection of character is based upon that which Christ is to us. If we have constant dependence on the merits of our Saviour and walk in His footsteps, we shall be like Him, pure and undefiled.
“Our Saviour does not require impossibilities of any soul. He expects nothing of His disciples that He is not willing to give them grace and strength to perform. He would not call upon them to be perfect if He had not at His command every perfection of grace to bestow on the ones upon whom He would confer so high and holy a privilege. He has assured us that He is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him than parents are to give good gifts to their children.
“Our work is to strive to attain in our sphere of action the perfection that Christ in His life on the earth attained in every phase of character. He is our example. In all things we are to strive to honor God in character. In falling day by day so far short of the divine requirements, we are endangering our soul’s salvation. We need to understand and appreciate the privilege with which Christ invests us, and to show our determination to reach the highest standard. We are to be wholly dependent on the power that He has promised to give us.” That I May Know Him, 130
This is a commitment, a covenant, God has made with us and we need only to look at the rainbow to know that God keeps His covenants. “[B]eing confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
There is no need to be afraid of being perfect in this world. God has a standard that we are meant to reach in order to spend eternity with Him. We do not know when we reach that standard, but He who has required it is faithful to see that we reach it. We should not be anxious as to whether we can reach it or spend a great deal of time wondering “Am I perfect yet?” The Spirit of Prophecy says, “As the will of man cooperates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent [that is, all powerful]. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 333. If He bids it, He promises He will make us able and that is really all we need to know. We need only to claim the promise.
Friends, we should not be uncertain of or concerned regarding our ability to reach perfection of character in this life, for Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” It should be unacceptable to us not to be doing our part—exercising the faculties of the mind, obeying the requirements of God’s law and cooperating with His will—to reach perfection of character.
“Every living Christian will advance daily in the divine life. As he advances toward perfection, he experiences a conversion to God every day; and this conversion is not completed until he attains to perfection of Christian character, a full preparation for the finishing touch of immortality.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 505
“At this time in the history of the world, we should have but one object in view—to gain eternal life. Every other desire should be subordinate to this. The work of regeneration must go on in every soul until perfection of character is reached; for nothing short of this will meet the mind of God.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 5, 338
I am reminded of a story I once read. I don’t know where the story originated or even if it is a true story or just a spiritual allegory. While shopping in a store, an elderly man accidentally hit a shelf and many things fell to the floor and were broken. Embarrassed, the man knelt and began trying to pick up the broken pieces, but soon the store manager came, and kneeling beside him he said, “Leave it, we will clean it up.” But the elderly man was so embarrassed and he said, “But I need to pay for all of this.” The manager smiled, helped him to his feet and said, “No sir, we have insurance for this, you do not have to pay anything.”
Imagine God doing the same thing for you! Imagine the broken pieces of your mistakes and failures, your broken heart from the many blows life has thrown at you, all over the floor and you’re trying to collect all the pieces and fix them yourself. Imagine that God comes and kneels down right there beside you and says, “Leave it. I will clean this up for you.”
He loves us that much. He will put all the pieces back together, restore us to that state of perfection we were always meant to have, if we will let Him. With Him we have this assurance. All we have to do is ask Him to save us, forgive us, help and heal us. He is faithful. He has promised. [Emphasis supplied.]
Judy Rebarchek is a member of the LandMarks team. She may be contacted by email at: email@example.com