Perfection – definition

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Traditional Legal Model – Perfection is the standard God requires of us and anything less displeases Him. We can be accepted as perfect by God if we claim Christ’s perfect record to replace our own imperfect one.

Biblical Healing Model – Perfection of our relationship with Him is what God is really seeking more than perfect compliance to a list of rules just as a loving parent desires a close relationship with a child. Of course, He also wants us to keep His rules as they are all designed for our blessing.

“Be ye therefore perfect (G5046), even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)

Has that verse ever challenged you? Does it seem like an unattainable requirement? Here are more:

“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” (2 Cor 13:11)

“For the perfecting (G2677) of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (G5046) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Eph 4:12-13)

Are we being called to a standard that is beyond our capability to achieve? Is perfection, however that is measured, relationship-based or performance-based or both?  Do we even understand perfection correctly? Even when we do obey, is that obedience tainted with our impure motives?

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Perfection, noun

The state of being perfect or complete, so that nothing requisite is wanting; as perfection in an art or science; perfection in a system of morals.

3. Moral perfection is the complete possession of all moral excellence, as in the Supreme Being; or the possession of such moral qualities and virtues as a thing is capable of.

Here are some definitions of Greek words translated as “perfect” from the On-line Bible:

5046 τέλειος teleios tel’-i-os

from 5056; adj;
AV-perfect 17, man 1, of full age 1; 19
1) brought to its end, finished
2) wanting nothing necessary to completeness
3) perfect
4) that which is perfect
4a) consummate human integrity and virtue
4b) of men
4b1) full grown, adult, of full age, mature

5048 τελειόω teleioo tel-i-o’-o

from 5046; v;
AV-make perfect 12, perfect 4, finish 4, fulfil 2, be perfect 1, consecrate 1; 24
1) to make perfect, complete
1a) to carry through completely, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end
2) to complete (perfect)
2a) add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full
2b) to be found perfect
3) to bring to the end (goal) proposed
4) to accomplish
4a) bring to a close or fulfilment by event
4a1) of the prophecies of the scriptures

5056 τέλος telos tel’-os – end, goal

2677 καταρτισμός katartismos = equipping

Has Any Human Ever Been Perfect?

Here are verses that describe certain Bible characters as perfect:

“These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Gen 6:9)

The marginal note for perfect is “whole-hearted, blameless”

“But the high places were not taken away out of Israel: nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days.” (2 Chron 15:17)

Other versions use the similar word “blameless” or words such as “loyal” or “faithful.” Of course, Asa did not live a perfect as in sinless life as the Bible tells us that all have sinned (Rom 3:23).

“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” (Job 1:1)

Despite those descriptions it is hard to see absolute perfection in any of those men. Didn’t Noah end up in a drunken stupor (in chapter 9)? Was Asa perfect all his days – all his life? Did Job have a perfect understanding of God? Adam and Eve could have been described as sinless but only from their creation to the point when they sinned.

In every use of the word “perfect” we have to consider the context and who is being described as “perfect”? Like man’s wrath differs from God’s wrath, perhaps perfection can mean something different when used in reference to God:

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him.” (2 Sam 22:31)

God (alone) could be considered 100% perfect in the ultimate sense we use the word “perfect” today – without the slightest flaw; never making a mistake; never having a wrong thought or motive. Here is an example of the gospel writer Luke claiming for himself what we would expect (thinking of perfection in the ultimate sense) only of God:

“It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,” (Luke 1:3)

It seems that perfection can mean less than what many would understand (when applied to other than God). For example, Luke, claiming “perfect understanding” in the verse above, got much of his information from Paul who was not even a first-hand witness of many of the events included in the gospel of Luke. Luke even reported the words of Jesus differently than other gospel writers. At times, they did not quote perfectly, word-for-word what was said. While the reporting could be said to not be imperfect, they were inspired to write what they did without it being dictated to them word for word. “Perfect” can vary in meaning.

Is Perfection the Same as Sinlessness?

Jesus was always sinless:

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21)

The Bible is quite clear that He never sinned but can that be equated with Him being always perfect? Consider these verses:

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb 2:10)

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;” (Heb 5:8-9)

As a man, He learned and developed character as we can do.

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:8)

Learning implies previously not knowing and therefore less than perfect knowledge.  This, of course, is speaking of His knowing during His incarnation.

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)

If Jesus “increased in wisdom,” He had less than perfect wisdom at one time (as a human) and that level of wisdom increased. So, while He was always sinless, He was not always perfect in the performance of everything He did. We could ask of Him “did He ever cut a board too short?” or “did he ever miss hitting a nail on the head?”

It is evident that perfection and sinlessness are not equivalent terms. Let’s consider the question of our perfection more from the spiritual or relationship level.

Perhaps our standing with God is not determined by our performance but by our relationship with Him. That would involve our level of faith and trust. Do we truly know Him (not just know of Him) as in truly understanding and appreciating His character?

As we come to understand His character more – based on evidence and personal experience – our trust in Him will grow and we will be more perfectly connected to Him. Remember, any weakness in the connection in the relationship is from our side, not His.

Character (never mind perfect character) cannot be created. It must be developed by life experiences and the exercise of freewill choices.

Why Didn’t God Make Perfect Beings Who Would Never Sin?

Bible perfection for humans is, most importantly, about a mature, perfect character that completely trusts in God for everything which requires knowing what He is truly like.

Think of this. Many believe something like “if I don’t keep God’s laws perfectly and don’t somehow have my imperfections and sins compensated for, He will punish me with fire.” (The Traditional Legal Model) Could God be pleased with that? No. It would be the equivalent of a loving parent being distressed over a child who, perhaps due to some misunderstanding, fears the parent. Compare that to this:

“But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.” (Jer 9:24)

God wants us to obey, of course, even to be perfect on the performance level but that is because He knows that sins hurt us and others and it hurts Him to see us hurting:

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Isa 63:9)

Even when giving His people a new heart it is primarily that they might have the proper relationship to Him:

“And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” (Jer 24:7)

Jeremiah makes it even more clear that this is about relationship:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:33-34)

God puts His law in our hearts and the result is relationship: “I … will be their God, and they shall be my people” and that is “for” or because “they shall all know me.” Knowing Him – as He really is – will result in a change of heart – the new heart (or understanding).

The keeping of His law (the performance) is a result and evidence of that but not because He has reprogrammed our wills or rewired our brains. When He says “I will put my laws” He is referring to any and all of His laws which can be understood like this:

Layers of the Law

Each level is an expansion of the one above with the most basic being God is love, the key principle of His character. This verse makes it plain that knowing God is more about really understanding His character and having a relationship than it is about being able to simply recognize or know the identity of a person:

“Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9)

God could have made beings with no possibility of disobeying Him but they would have been merely robots. Character cannot be created or externally manipulated – that would deny free will.

Character is Developed Over Time and Experiences

Perfect = mature = total dependence on God

The process of being perfected is an increasing maturity and growing dependence on God and it involves temptation and suffering.

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;” (Heb 5:8)

Do you suppose that in the process of being perfected we might learn obedience through suffering? Jesus did, and it brought Him to the point, at the end of His life, where He could, in perfect trust of His Father, be “obedient unto death.” (Phil 2:8)

“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46)

Does God Demand Perfection?

Why would God demand or require absolutely sinless perfection from us in order for us to be acceptable to Him? That would definitely be putting performance ahead of relationship. (We are always accepted (loved) by Him even though our behavior might be lacking. To demand perfection implies that if we don’t produce it, His relationship to us will be affected.

Do we demand that of our children? It is easy to see that demanding perfection is inconsistent with love. It could only be for reasons of something like self-glorification. It might be helpful to remember the types of people that Jesus associated with on earth. He loved and ministered to them in spite of their sins all while pointing them to a higher standard.

We are told to keep the most important commandment – to hear and pay attention to God’s word.

“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:” (Mark 12:29)

If we will do that – hear and trust enough to actually follow His directions the result will be:

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30)

At the end of that verse, Mark repeats that “this is the first commandment” referring back to the command to hear (verse 29). The “thou shalt love” is in the future indicative (rather than the imperative). It is stating the result – hear and follow God and you will become loving like Him.

The “command” to love (Deut 30:16) is not “love me or else.” That would be inconsistent with a God of love Who honors free will. See the definition for “command.”

Even the Ten Commandments can be understood as promises. And we are free to disregard those (remember Israel’s attitude at Mt. Sinai – Exo 20:19) but will experience the natural consequences if we make that choice.

Here is an interesting verse:

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

The verse does not include: “and don’t forget you must be perfect.” It is interesting to look at how “require” is rendered in various versions of that verse:

Of the 27 versions listed at

1 uses: “demands”
24 use: “requires”
1 uses: “wants”
1 uses: “… the thing that is useful that you may seek LORD JEHOVAH for yourself …” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

The Hebrew word “darash” (H1875; “require” in this verse in the KJV) is translated in the KJV as: seek 84, enquire 43, require 12, search 7, misc 18; total 164. It is never rendered as the stronger term “demands.”

Is it possible that perfection is more offered than it is required or demanded? Did the father in the prodigal son story demand perfection of his lost son?

Bible perfection is not only about task performance. It includes maturity of character and trust in God. That maturity of character or trust is demonstrated in our actions as Job showed trust in God when he said:

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” (Job 13:15)

Paul and Perfection

“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Phil 3:12-15)

“I count not myself to have apprehended” and “I press toward the mark” indicate that Paul saw himself as having not yet attained his goal. He then (verse 15) includes himself in “as many as be perfect.” It seems, as many versions render the verse, that he is there referring to maturity of relationship. Earlier in the chapter, Paul puts that relationship ahead of anything else:

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” (Phil 3:8)

Is Sanctification or Perfecting of Self a Continuous Work?

Perfecting behavior will be an endless and unattainable task if we don’t deal with more fundamental issues. We perform sinful acts because we have sinful natures and simply changing behavior does not change our nature.

Sink with question

I have often used this illustration which so well shows the three-fold problem we have. If it is at all applicable to us, it shows that the sinful acts are not the biggest problem. They (the mess on the floor) come from a sinful heart or mind or nature (the overflowing sink) which cannot but express what is within.

“A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” (Matt 12:35)

“A good man out of the good treasure of the [renewed] heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure [of the natural, unrenewed heart] bringeth forth evil things.” (Matt 12:35)

And the sinful flesh, mind or heart cannot be changed without some new input (what is coming out of the tap). That has to do with our attitude toward God. That is often (even subconscious) distrust of God due to wrong information about Him (For examples: He will burn me, perhaps even forever, if I don’t get this right).

We need to know God (John 17:3) and truly appreciate His wonderful character and it is by that beholding that our natures can be changed:

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)

Then what comes out of the regenerated heart, the renewed mind will look different and perfection of performance will be possible. The key is to deal with the issue at its source.

See a video of a group study on the meaning of perfection.

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