Some years ago, in a question/answer session, a woman accused me of thinking I was perfect. I asked her what she meant by the word “perfect.” That resulted in a long string of profanity about how she was sure I was far from perfect. She even pointed out a spelling mistake in my latest journal.
I asked her to define “perfect” because the word means a different thing in the Bible than in our common English usage. The fact that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) makes it clear that becoming “perfect” in a biblical sense is not the same as a spelling error. Jesus called people to “…be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Old Testament identifies four men as being “perfect” – Noah (Genesis 6:8-9), David (1 Kings 11:4), Asa (1 Kings 15:14), and Job (Job 1:1). None of these men were sinless, so how could any of them be said to be perfect?
In the New Testament, we also see “perfect” used differently. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that Jesus “was made perfect through His suffering.” Jesus didn’t need to be made sinless. He was sinless. The Greek word translated “perfect” is “teleios,” meaning “to be an adult and full grown, not immature, infantile.” Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that scripture can make us perfect. Numerous New Testament admonitions command Christians to be “teleios.” (See Hebrews 6:1 and Colossians 1:28, 3:14. and 4:12 for examples). Another Greek word, “katartizo,” is sometimes translated as perfect, and it means “a state of wholeness or completion in which defects or shortcomings are left behind.” (See 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 2 Corinthians 13:11.)
Christians strive to be complete, but we know we will never be sinless. First John 1:8-10 tells us that sinlessness is not within us as mortals, and James 3:2-10 points out that our tongue is a challenge we all face. Christians often say, “I am a work in progress.” That is a biblical concept, and while I strive to be complete and try to be without sin, it is only through the power God gives us that I make any progress in either of those.
Please join me in prayer that God’s Spirit will be active in helping us to do better today than we did yesterday as we progress toward being perfect.
— John N. Clayton © 2022
References: Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible and The New Bible Dictionary – Eerdman’s Publishers.