What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible? Part 2

Perfect. What does it really mean anyway?

This is the question we asked last week as we took a close look at Matthew 5:48 which says this:

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NKJV)

You can read our conversation from last week HERE. What we discovered was that in this verse the Greek word which is translated “perfect” is really talking about completeness and maturity, not flawlessness or being without sin.

For me, and I think for others, this has been such a freeing idea. I still remember the day that my study of the Greek root word revealed this concept. It changed everything in the way I thought about what it meant to be called to be perfect in Matthew 5:48. It lifted a weight off my shoulders and became a defining moment in my life.

My idea of perfect before this revelation was more like this Webster’s dictionary definition.

being entirely without fault or defect
satisfying all requirements
corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept

Understanding perfect in this way created a lot of bad cycles in my life that looked like this.

A never-ending cycle of trying to be good enough
Being driven by unrealistic expectations
Trying to live up to impossible standards
Cycles of guilt or self-condemnation

These things are common and hard situations that many women face. You are not alone if you see any of these things in your life. There are many other women around you struggling with these things, but feeling alone, too. We don’t open up so we’re never aware that others feel the same. The enemy wants it that way.

But fortunately, we have a God who loves us immensely. He thinks so highly of us that He does not want us to be stuck in these kinds of damaging emotional cycles in our lives and His word is full of answers and insights for us.

We have a God who thinks so highly of us that He does not want us to be stuck in damaging emotional cycles. Click To Tweet

Let’s take a deeper look at Mathew 5:48 in combination with another verse, Philippians 3:12-16.

First, let’s remember that the Greek root word, teleios (which is translated as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48) means this:

complete in all its parts,
full grown, of full age,
especially of the completeness of Christian character.

What a relief, right? Remember, Matthew 5:48 is calling us to maturity rather than demanding we be flawless and without sin.

And here is Philippians 3:12-16.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Philippians 3:12-16 (NASB)

The word perfect in this passage also comes from the same Greek root word as the word perfect in Matthew 5:48. In reading this passage, we get a clearer idea of what God had in mind for us for our Christian walk, especially in regards to being called to be perfect.

Do you see in this verse where I’ve highlighted the word perfect in green? Replace the word perfect with the word mature and then consider the passage.

You might see the following:

It’s a journey. Becoming mature and complete, (being perfected), takes a lot of purposeful, determined steps that happen throughout the course of our lives. In Philippians 3:14 we are told to keep pressing forward. We are to forget what was in the past, reach forward to what lies ahead and press on. And what are we to press on toward? We are to keep moving toward the upward call of God in Christ. Through each step we are growing up in all things to be like Jesus. And Jesus is perfect, right? One day, we will be with Him and we will be perfected in all ways. Until then, we need to keep walking. It’s in this walking and growing that we are living out perfect in our lives. Isn’t it a relief to know it’s not about being flawless?

Isn’t it a relief to know it’s not about being flawless?Click To Tweet

Our attitudes are important. Philippians 4:15 tells us to have the attitude of moving forward and pursing the prize of being like Christ. This means determination and perseverance. When we keep this kind of steady, purposeful attitude, we are becoming “perfect” or mature and complete. Do you feel the weight of   having to be perfect lifting off of you when you realize your efforts to have the right attitudes place you on the right path in life? It’s all about perspective, sisters, and we’ll talk more about that next week.

We have to keep living it out in our daily lives. Philippians 4:16 tells us to “Keep living that same standard which we have attained.” This means that as we grow and mature we keep holding on to the level of maturity we have reached. We keep living it out in our daily lives. In this way we can move on to the next higher level of becoming more like Christ. Can you feel the relief in understanding that your efforts to grow and be more mature in Christ are molding you into the (eventually) perfected woman God intends for you to be?

Can you feel the relief in understanding that your efforts to grow and be more mature in Christ are molding you into the (eventually) perfected woman God intends for you to be? Click To Tweet

God’s ways are full of irony. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).  Verse 12 in this passage brings up something very ironic. In order to be perfect, we have to admit that we are not perfect. That’s a tricky one for anyone who deals with perfectionism. We don’t want to admit that we make mistakes. We don’t want to feel like failures. Even when we clearly know we are not perfect, we still tend to have a drive to live a try harder, always do better type of life. Wether we realize it or not, this is all about trying to earn God’s approval.  (If you are looking to get out of that type of cycle in your life, please consider joining me in April for our new book study. You can find more information HERE.)

When we take these two verses and wrap them up together we see in an even clearer light that Matthew 5:48 is not an impossible goal. Jesus is asking us to be mature or complete. This is what the intent and meaning is behind the word “perfect” in that verse. It’s simply the daily journey of becoming more like Christ which is reflected in even more detail in Philippians 3:12-16.

But one very important thing we must never fail to understand is that Jesus is the one who makes us perfect.

Hebrews 12:1-2 is the theme verse of this blog. It is so foundational and there is an important insight here that we must not fail to see.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)

The word perfecter in this verse is also a form of the Greek root word teleios. And this verse clearly tells us that Jesus is the perfecter (or completer) of our faith. He died on the cross for us and took our sin upon Himself. He was perfect and sinless and flawless and we aren’t. We need a Savior. It’s the only way we can come before God.

When we accept Jesus, we are given a perfect life in Him. We become identified in a new and perfected way. We can claim this perfection, because it’s who we are in Christ, but we have to live it, too, and our humanity doesn’t allow for a sinless life. So although at the moment of our salvation, we are made perfect through the righteousness of Christ, we still have to keep moving forward toward perfection by answering the upward call to maturity that we find in Matthew 5:48 and Philippians 3:12-16.

When I finally understood this new Biblical concept of being perfectI could step right out of that never ending cycle of trying to be good enough. I came to realize that without even perceiving it in my life I had been living in a cycle of guilt and negative self-talk because I could not live up to impossible standards of perfection I had set up for myself. I was trying to earn God’s approval rather than receive God’s love.

When I finally understood this new Biblical concept of being perfect, I could step right out of that never ending cycle of trying to be good enough. Click To Tweet

This whole understanding shed a new light on things for me and lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. And God is into lifting weights, isn’t He? He takes our burdens. And this one was one of mine. If it is one of yours, I’m praying that this discussion we’ve had the past few weeks will help you feel relief and find a new joy in what Jesus has done and is doing for you.

Because of Jesus and because of the truths we find in His word, we can let go of destructive thought cycles in our lives and find a new freedom we never knew was possible. God does not want us living defeated, discouraged lives and He does not ask us to do the impossible. He always makes a way for the things he calls us to, even when it’s perfection. : )

Blessings,
Leslie

Read the first part of this series here: What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible (Part 1)

Focus Verses
These are the verses references in this week’s blog post. You can click on them and you will be taken to Bible Gateway where you will find many free resources to help you study them in more depth.

Matthew 5:48 (NKJV)
Philippians 3:12-16 (NASB)
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)
Isaiah 55:8 (NKJV)

Let’s Talk
Does this study of the Greek root words change your perspective? If so, in what ways?

Let’s Pray
Heavenly Father, We praise You and thank You for Your living word. It brings light to our days and answers our deepest questions, even before they are formed on our lips. Be with us and help us to have understanding and discernment and lead us to places and resources that will help us understand Your word in a deeper way. Thank you for loving us so much that You would send us Your only Son to be the perfecter of our faith. In Jesus name, Amen.

Next Week
Next week we’ll have an encouraging talk about perspective!

The post What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible? Part 2 first appeared at Journey to Imperfect. 

This post is linked in other encouraging places. Click HERE to find out where!

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28 thoughts on “What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible? Part 2

    1. Sarah, Thank you so much! I really need to figure out how to assign Pinterest Images for sharing! I appreciate you stopping by and reading and being willing to share! Blessings!

  1. Leslie, I am loving all of this talk on perfection. I believe in striving to be better but can get so caught up in the worldly view of perfect. Thank you for uncovering the biblical explanation of perfect.

    Blessings,

    Maree Dee

  2. Perfection is such a battle. It can lead depression, grumpiness and a slew of other issues. It is a relief to know that God doesn’t give up on us. And, He doesn’t require perfect, except through His son.

  3. Leslie, it is a great comfort to me to know Jesus is the source of my righteousness and He still wants me to grow up and be mature and whole, not lacking in anything, as James puts it. Understanding the definition of perfect is freeing. Thanks for sharing your research!

  4. “In order to be perfect, we have to admit we are not perfect.” — God likes to “confound the wise,” doesn’t He? I like that distinction, Leslie. 🙂 And, weight-lifting God — *smile* — that took my mind back to the ’80s and Hans and Fans and “Manly-man.” (Saturday Night Live) *smile* — Not sure why my mind went there, but it made me chuckle so I thought I’d share. 🙂 Loving the idea of a truly weight-lifting God. Thank you, Leslie. ((xoxo))

  5. I spent many years of my life trying so hard to be perfect and caught in that cycle of guilt and self effort because I wasn’t perfect. Even though it has been several years since God has given me the understanding that I don’t need to be perfect, It is so encouraging to be reminded again because at times I fall back into my old thinking patterns of perfection.

    1. Yes, Naomi, me too. I write to help others that might be going through the same issues and I am constantly reminded of things He taught me and things I need to keep focusing on. It is so easy to fall back into old thinking patterns. It’s a life long journey and He’s always revealing new things, too! Thank you for stopping by today! Blessings!

  6. Thanks for fleshing out these truths that don’t always get translated as accurately as we need, Leslie. It truly is a burden lifted when we know it’s maturity and completeness in Christ that we should strive for and not perfection. Very encouraging post, my friend!

  7. This is so good. What a great perspective to know that perfect does not mean flawless. That is the definition I have always grabbed and one that I have never been able to live up to. I love that God takes our misunderstanding and reframes it to teach us that we are able with Him by our side. May we work toward maturity knowing we are reaching a new kind of perfect.

  8. That verse has always bothered me (mostly the accusatory way some people use it). Thank you for the thoughtful study that shows we don’t need to meet the Webster’s standard, just the standard of God wanting to complete a good work in us!

  9. Hello Leslie! I love word studies and I so appreciated learning more about this oft misunderstood word. Thank you.
    God is asking us to step up, to grow up, to take our calling seriously. To live each day with Christ at our center. But thankfully He doesn’t expect total “perfection”. That’s where Christ comes in.
    Loved this study! Thank you again.

    1. Gleniece, I am so glad you enjoyed the study. I really loved being able to write it out for others to read. This understanding was such a huge thing in my life. I’m praying it helps others and I’m so appreciative of your comments today!

  10. Leslie – I too think of the word perfect as being without sin or flawless, it is such a relief to know God is talking about completeness and maturity instead ! Oh that does my heart good today to read your words and thoughts. I am shouting an hearty amen too. Thank you Jesus that you are the one that makes us complete and it’s not all us. Leslie, I also like your points at the bottom – attitude is important, in fact as the saying goes… attitude is everything. I am blessed to be your neighbor today at #SoulSurvival
    Also, I would love if you would consider linking up to my NEW Thursday Party #TuneInThursday it stays open until Sunday. You can find it here: http://debbiekitterman.com/blog/
    (Please feel free to delete the link if you feel it is inappropriate to post here).

    1. Hi Debbie, It is a relief for sure! Thanks for your kind words and the invitation.: ) I will for sure hop on over and check out your link up. I’m glad you stopped by today!

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