To His followers, both in Galilee and among the Nephites, Jesus gave a lofty command—to be perfect.
King Benjamin urges us to “consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” But for many who seriously seek for perfection, they would more likely say, “Consider on the stressful and frazzled state of those who strive to keep this commandment.”
Why? Heavenly Father’s commandments are meant to bring peace and happiness. Why does the commandment to be perfect often bring anxiety and insecurity instead?
I believe it’s because, in many cases, we are missing the mark. We’re reading this commandment incorrectly in two different ways.
1. Be Ye Therefore [a] Perfect[ionist]
Instead of seeing this commandment as God’s ultimate desire for His beloved children—what He wants to transform us into so we can receive all that He has—we tend to read it instead as the prerequisite for worthiness to return to His presence. In other words, we feel that our worth is based on being perfect (the definition of perfectionism).
We hang our worth on our perfectly clean home or our perfectly dressed children. We hang our worth on our perfect job, body, to-do list, neighborhood, friends, Sacrament Meeting talk, clothes, family, grades, volunteer service, put-togetherness, etc.
And since none of those things are ever actually perfect, we try to at least keep up the appearance of perfection, and thus protect our sense of self worth.
However, there are two problems with this approach.
1.It alienates us from each other.
As everyone plays the same game, we are all left seeing perfect homes and perfect smiling faces knowing that we’ll never measure up, but not realizing that everyone else is thinking the same thing when they look at us.
2. Our worth is inherent, not earned.
Our worth was already hung—on a cross in Calvary. It was proved there beyond question or dispute, and we never need to hang it anywhere else again.
In order to achieve the kind of perfection the Lord intends for us, we need each other and we need to fully receive Christ’s undeserved love and the infinite worth it carries.
But what kind of perfection does He intend for us?
2. Be Ye Therefore Perfect, [Period]
As we aspire toward perfection, we often cut out the end of the commandment. Christ did not just say “Be ye therefore perfect[.]”
He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” And to the Nephites he said, “I would that ye should be perfect, even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”
The end of that commandment is often the key we are missing.
When we think of someone who is “perfect” we usually think of a person with a well-kept home, a promising career, a well-toned body, polite children, fashionable clothing, a happy, out-going personality, etc.
While none of these things are bad, they are not necessarily what Christ meant. He gave us a very specific model for perfection—Himself. But too often, we’re striving for the wrong kind of perfect. We’re following the world’s model instead.
Jesus Christ was not perfect according to any of those worldly standards.
- Home: He lamented of His own homelessness, and was even a refugee as a child.
- Family: His mother was already pregnant when she married, He likely lost His step-father when he was young, and His own siblings did not initially accept His Messianic mission. And as far as we know, He never had his own wife or children.
- Appearance: He had no form nor comeliness, with no beauty that we should desire Him.
- Clothing: His only garments were divided among the soldiers at His death.
- Happiness: He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
- Friends: He was despised and rejected. Even his closest friends denied and betrayed Him.
- Education: The Jews asked, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” presumably having no formal education.
- Career: He left His training as a carpenter in His prime and asked His disciples to do the same, subsisting as a traveling rabbi.
And yet, Jesus is perfect.
So that leads us to ask, what is God’s perfection? In what ways is Jesus perfect?
Perfect faith, love, forgiveness, obedience and other attributes probably come immediately to mind.
But this question can bring even deeper answers and more profound insights as we truly ponder it. I think this is an excellent question upon which to focus scripture study as we shift our idea of what perfection really means.
(Chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel is a great place to start, as well as the Sermon on the Mount from which this command comes.)
Seeking the Right Kind of Perfect
Like Nephi, I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men save He shall prepare a way for them, that they may accomplish the thing which He commandeth them. I also know that His commandments are perfectly designed to bring about our greatest happiness.
We can be perfect—Christ’s kind of perfect.
Repeatedly He tells us the way when He says,
“I am the way.”
“My grace is sufficient for all men who humble themselves before me.”
“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Christ’s Atonement can transform us, ultimately into His kind of perfect. And after everything He has done for us, how can He expect anything less from us? For only in our perfection can we truly receive the ultimate glory He has in store for us, only then can His Atonement have absolute efficacy.
C. S. Lewis explained the process and goal of perfection like this:
I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’
Let me explain. When I was a child I often had toothache…I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache.
Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists… Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of or which is obviously spoiling daily life. Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.
That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through.
Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect— until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’
If we keep our trust in Christ and let Him “see the job through” He will make us perfect, His kind of perfect. Then, as Mormon promises, “when he shall appear, we shall be like him.”