"Be Ye Therefore Perfect"
Jesus, in teaching his disciples from the mountain, spoke about personal relationships in Matthew 5.21-48. Five times, Jesus said, “Ye have heard it said…but I say…” In the last of these, Jesus spoke to his disciples about how to react toward those who persecute us. We are to love them and pray for them. By doing this, Jesus said we, as disciples, prove ourselves to be sons of our heavenly Father. This manner of behavior is what shows how a disciple is different from a publican. Jesus also mentioned the just and the unjust in this text. The disciple shows himself to be “just” by this behavior. Then, Jesus concludes by saying that disciples are to be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5.43-48).
Being perfect is what God is. It should be no surprise that he desires his children to be perfect. How do we become perfect? Are we born perfect physically? John Calvin, in his T-U-L-I-P doctrine, taught that we are totally depraved at birth, having inherited Adam’s sin. Passages such as Psalm 51.3 are cited in support of this. What did David mean in Psalm 51.3? We need to look at his statement in view of the immediate context as well as other related passages to make sure that our conclusions are in harmony with the scriptures.
First, let us consider Adam and Eve (man). What do the scriptures declare about their beginning? Genesis 1.26-27 reveals that they were made in God’s image. Genesis 2.7 says, “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” In Genesis 1.28, we read, “God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’”
God planted a garden eastward in Eden and put man in this garden to dress and keep it (Genesis 2.15). Then, God gave man this stipulation: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou latest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17).
Up to this point, had Adam and Eve disobeyed God? Let this question be asked another way: Had sin entered the world yet? God had given them commands (Genesis 1.28; 2.15). had Adam or Eve obeyed God in regard to these commands? Then, in Genesis 3, we have recorded the disobedience of man in the garden. Is this in chronological order? Consider, as evidence that this is indeed true from the following passages:
In Genesis 2.25, we read, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Notice that, at this point, they were not ashamed of their nakedness. However, after their disobedience, we read, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3.7). Again, in Genesis 3.10, after God confronts him, Adam says, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” The teaching is clear. What does this prove?
It proves that Adam and Eve were not created in sin. Sin entered their lives through their choices. Yes, they were deceived, but this did not excuse their actions. Satan is deceptive. Sin is disobedience to God’s word. Satan spoke a like (John 8.44). Adam and Eve submitted to Satan’s words instead of God’s. This is how sin began.
In Romans 5.12, the apostle Paul’s words agree with this. He wrote, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” Notice that Paul does not say that sin passed; he said death (the consequence) passed. The reason for this is that “all have sinned.”
David’s words in Psalm 51 reflect this. He is not saying that he was born with Adam’s transgression. He is simply stating that he was conceived by his mother in a world wherein sin is prevalent. This is true because “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3.23). Someone else’s sin is not inherited at physical birth, but each person commits his or her own sin in the same way that Adam and Eve did.
At birth, we are in God’s image, blessed as was Adam (Genesis 1.28). When we disobey, we become sinners. We have lost fellowship with God as Adam and Even did (Genesis 3.23-24). To be restored into fellowship, we must be born anew (John 3.3-5). The goal is then to be(come) perfect. What does this mean?
It simply means to be obedient to God. Noah was perfect because he walked with God (Genesis 6.9). When God told Abraham to be perfect (Genesis 17.1), he was speaking of being obedient (Genesis 26.5). This was also true of Solomon (1 Chronicles 29.19) and of Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1.6).
Let us remember the blessing of being as our heavenly Father: “The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance” (Psalm 37.18-19).