So far in this series we have established that obedience to God’s word typifies the normal Christian walk. We should not focus on the possibility of failure but upon the privilege of showing love to the Lord through our submissive life style. All of this is contained the first epistle of John. Yet it is not only John’s letter that seems to demand sinless perfection. Jesus himself taught we are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect, and he did so without John’s corresponding look at forgiveness. This is in keeping with the Old Testament admonition to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 19:2 etc.). Nevertheless, Jesus’ call to perfection in Matthew’s Gospel is not a demand for moral flawlessness.
The Greek word translated as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is teleios and means “brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” To say something is teleioi is like saying a clock has all the wheels and gears it needs to function properly. Thus, when teleioi is applied to a person, it means his piety exhibits a completeness of parts in consistency and regularity. In other words, the rule of God is evident in every part of his life. He is consistent and regular in his submission; he does not submit one day and refuse to the next or submit one part of our life while refusing to surrender another. He is not pious in just one or two areas of his life but uniformly. No component of his being is missing from the equation. All aspects of his life and sphere of influence are progressively being brought under the lordship of Christ.
This must be understood in the context of the whole Bible. In other words, the idea of a functioning watch does not mean you can neglect right moral action simply because you claim all aspects of your life are functioning under the umbrella of the kingdom. Indeed, to draw all facets of life under the lordship of Jesus means they are oriented to his will. It is not enough to say your piety is more than personal, it must be true.
Jesus had this in mind when he questioned the rich young ruler about his lifestyle. When the young man said he had brought his life under the lordship of heaven, Jesus uncovered an area remaining outside the dominion of the kingdom, saying, “If you want to be perfect [teleios], go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:21-22). Jesus meant the young man was missing a gear in his clock. He was not perfect because he did not have all aspects of his life and being submitted to God. He was right in claiming that much of his life was in working order (not morally flawless), but Jesus made it clear God wanted all of him.
This is the goal of biblical doctrine. God’s word is given that each of us might bring all of us under the reign of Christ. Paul says, Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [teleios] in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28). Every man perfect, not the select few. Every Christian with every part of life in working kingdom order. Again, not moral flawlessness, but obedience – and quick repentance when necessary.
Unfortunately, many Christians claim the Faith has nothing to do with certain aspects of life. They claim the Bible has nothing to say about politics, economics, sociology, history, science, culture, education and so on. Christian reader, if you have fallen into the trap of limiting your obedience to personal piety, please understand, you will never be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.