What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible?


Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word perfect like this:

(a) being entirely without fault or defect
(b) satisfying all requirements
(c) corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept

This definition is a very accurate picture of the way I viewed perfect in my own life for a long time. I was striving to be without fault, satisfy all the requirements, and live up to an ideal standard I had for myself.

None of that is a very good idea, though. It leaves one living in a constant cycle of trying to be good enough.

Here’s the thing. I’d known for a very long time that I couldn’t be perfect. Obviously, Jesus was the only sinless and perfect person that ever lived. Although I knew I couldn’t be perfect, every aspect of my thought processes had me in a cycle of trying to achieve perfection in my life. It was undoable, and I knew that, yet I was always in the pursuit of it. Ironically, I didn’t see that this cycle was so ingrained in my life. Strange, but true. The pursuit of perfection is extremely deceptive.

Fortunately, however, there is Someone who does see all these things about me. He understands all of us, even better than we understand ourselves. He created us, so He knows every single struggle and issue we face. He doesn’t want us to be in the dark, and if we’ll spend time with Him, He’ll show us things about ourselves. What He showed me was perfectionism. It was hard and painful, but I’m so grateful He took me there.

I knew the answers I needed would be found within the pages of the Bible. And I wasn’t disappointed. As I began to pray and dig deeper to search out word meanings, I was reminded of how God’s Word is living and active, full and rich. Ultimately, I discovered the most incredibly relieving thing that entirely changed my thought processes in regards to the pursuit of perfection.

I learned that the Bible gives us a different definition of perfect.

So what was this newly discovered definition? Let’s take a look:

Whenever the meaning of the word perfect is discussed, one of the most frequent verses to arise is Matthew 5:48. Here, Jesus is talking and He says this:

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

This verse has often been misunderstood to mean that God requires us to live a sinless, perfect life. This feels defeating since we know we can’t be sinless. Many have questioned why Jesus would ask us to be perfect when He knows it’s not possible for us.

I believe if we will lay aside the Webster’s definition and take a deeper look at the original Greek root words in this verse, we will have a much clearer understanding of what “perfect” really means.

According to Strong’s Concordance, the word perfect in this verse was derived from the Greek term teleios.

Teleios is defined this way:

(a) complete in all its parts,
(b) full grown, of full age,
(c) especially of the completeness of Christian character.

Going even further, Greek philosophers used the word teleios (which is translated “perfect”) in regards to something being in it’s intended function.

Yes. Let that sink in for a minute.

Redefine it in your mind.

What if being perfect really means being complete, full grown, and in my intended place? What if Jesus was not asking for sinless perfection after all?

What if being perfect really means being complete, full grown, and in my intended place? Click To Tweet

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus is asking that we be complete, that we imitate our heavenly Father, that we be ever moving and growing and doing our best to become more and more like Him. What He is asking for is maturity.

And sisters, being mature does not mean being sinless. As a matter of fact, part of becoming more mature involves the growing that happens as a result of our sins. When we repent, make things right, and handle our sins in the correct manner, maturity is the result.

There is an additionally important point in this verse. The verb tense used in Matthew 5:48 is a future tense form. It is a “shall be” or a “will be.” So in essence this verse says, “You will be complete as your heavenly Father is complete.”

Yes, this verse is a command, and a promise. Can you see it now?

Obviously, none of us will be truly complete or perfected until we reach heaven. But right here, right now, we can most certainly be in the process of becoming complete and mature, right? And we can certainly be in our intended functions, living, loving and doing life within the plan that God has laid out for us.

This means that what Jesus asks of us in Matthew 5:48 is not an impossible goal.

What Jesus asks of us in Matthew 5:48 is not an impossible goal. Click To Tweet

What Jesus does here is set a standard (imitating God) and He reveals to us a pathway towards that (we work on being complete and mature).  It’s a lifelong process, but it is something we are more than capable of doing through the strength and grace that God gives us.

God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect. 2 Samuel 22:33 (NKJV)

He is telling us that one day, we will be perfectly complete, whole, and mature – finished vessels so to speak. And we get there by working on our maturity today in the here and now. When we are doing the very best we can to be the women God creates us to be, the burden of perfection is entirely lifted off of our shoulders.

Do you feel the relief?  This, my dear friends, is something worth holding on to!



*This discussion is continued in this post: What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible? Part 2

Focus Verses
Our focus verses today are highlighted in green in the article above. If you would like to study them in more depth, click on each verse and you will be taken to Bible Gateway where you can study further.

Let’s Talk
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what the word perfect means in a Biblical context. I have chosen to focus on one verse today, but there are many others. How has understanding the true meaning of perfect (according to this verse or any others in the Bible) changed or impacted you?

Let’s Pray
Dear Heavenly Father, We ask you to be with us today and renew our minds. Help us to understand the true meaning behind the words inside the pages of our Bibles. Direct us to places and people that tell us the truth about Your precious Word. Thank You for loving us so much that you would give us Your living Word bring it come live for us. In Jesus name, Amen.

Next Week
We’ll talk next week about some cycles of thinking that misunderstandings can cause and we’ll look a little further at perfect as defined in the Bible. To read Part 2 of What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible go HERE. 

The article What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible? first appeared at Journey to Imperfect.com. 

This article may be linked in other encouraging places. Click HERE to find out where!

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Have you ever wondered about that verse in the Bible that asks us to be perfect just like God is perfect?  It’s Matthew 5:48 and it is often misunderstood. Join me today as we discuss the intent and meaning behind the word “perfect” in this verse.

21 thoughts on “What Does Perfect Really Mean According to the Bible?

  1. Thanks Leslie! I’m so glad you included the Greek definitions. It will be helpful to many I am sure. It also softens the intention too! Our heavenly Father intends for us to grow and mature, and to choose the perfect path He has set before us!
    I’m sure glad that you are no longer fighting that old battle of our human nature side to be perfect- as the world thinks of perfect!

  2. Love the additional insight you added, Leslie, about what “perfect” means according to the Bible.
    “something being in its intended function” — such encouragement, sweet friend. Great reminder that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us. ((Hugs))

    1. Crystal, Thank you for stopping by and reading today. I loved that insight, too. It really made a difference in how I understood that passage. Hugs to you, Crystal!

  3. Great piece. I used to think that verse meant I needed to be perfect too. Life quickly taught me that was not possible. I love the real meaning. To be growing in maturity. So many bible verses support that concept. Like, moving from milk to meat. Thanks for this knowledge.

    1. Thank you Theresa. Yes, many other verses support this concept, too. I’d love to write on other verses some day! Thanks for stoping by today!

  4. Thanks, Leslie. I struggle with perfectionism, and if there’s anything that makes me “incomplete” THAT’S IT! So grateful for God’s work in making me aware that His standard of righteousness has nothing to do with flawlessness on my terms.

  5. Its so comforting and encouraging to see perfection as maturity.I have enough trouble with maturity! 🙂 Psalm 138:8a is a comfort, too: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me”.

  6. I’m loving the freedom found in this, Leslie. How easily we like to take on weight that He never intended us to own. Thanks for breaking that down and simplifying it, friend. Have enjoyed getting to know you through #ChasingCommunity. ((hug))

    1. So true, Brenda. And thank you for the kind comments! I’ve enjoyed getting to you know and #ChasingCommunity is always so encouraging to me! Blessings!

  7. Thank you, Leslie, for doing the work to ease the burden of being perfect. Now the Matthew scripture makes perfect sense. Now it beckons me to succeed rather than taunting me with my failures.

    1. Alice, I appreciate your comments so much. I knew from the beginning that God would not ask something of us that would be impossible because He always provides a way, but it took a lot of deeper digging to really flesh out what that verse really meant. For a long time I had the wrong definition in mind because of my own perceptions about the word “perfect.” Thank goodness God’s word is living and the truths are there for us if we keep going to Him and asking Him to reveal them to us. Blessings!

  8. This is so important to understand that we are maturing and will continue to do so until death unto everlasting life or the second coming of the Christ – thanks for your words today I needed to hear them desperately

  9. Maturity is what happens as a result from growth from our sin – great insight and all so true. Easy to get caught up in our own works-related spiritual growth – yet repentance and focus is work! Good insights !

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