I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe, human nature being what it is, we ought to do a little of both. I am talking about our tendency as human beings to go to extremes. And nowhere is this more evidenced than in our religious or spiritual lives. For example, these days we are hearing people say, "I don't think we ought to be emphasizing our doctrines. What we ought to be preaching is the gospel!" Now, this is confusing to me. Before we agree or disagree with this line of argument, we need to define what we're talking about.
Remember in our spiritual journey we are searching for truth. We are not being confused by truth, but by error. The frustration of this age is not that truth has failed us, but that error continues to overtake us and entangle us. We must be careful that truth should struggle against error and not be made to appear to struggle against itself. Why should our need for love and forgiveness overthrow our need for the Sabbath or our need to have healthy bodies?
Yes, some are saying we should not preach our doctrines, but that we should be preaching the gospel. To these who would say that, I have two questions to ask:
You say we should be preaching the gospel. But, the gospel according to whom?
My second question: You say we should be preaching the gospel, but since when are the Bible doctrines of salvation not a part of the gospel?
Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, but the gospel--that is, the Good News for the 21st century--the message that will prepare a holy people to meet a holy God--is precisely the doctrines long held by this church.
Our problem may have been a less than even-handed presentation of those doctrines. In other words, we probably tend to emphasize some doctrines while taking others for granted. We even did this with some of what Jesus would call "the weightier matters of the law."
After all, a contractor doesn't begin to build a house from the chimney down, but from the foundation up. And so it is to be with the truth.
An issue of the Review and Herald carried an article entitled, "The Unfavorite Text." The article said that if John 3:16 is the favorite text to many then Matthew 5:48 must top the list of the unfavorites.
Matthew 5:48 is the one that says, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
I don't need to tell you that there are strong opposing points of view in respect to the matter of perfection in the Christian life, and they have resulted in some less than perfect attitudes. The behavior that we have one to another when we argue about perfection is anything but perfect! As a result, two camps of opposing views have been pitched and the giants from both sides come out from time to time calling the other side to battle.
I was with a group of Christian workers recently. We were praying together. One prayed, "Lord, help us stop trying to be perfect, and worry about loving one another." When the prayer was over, I must admit, I was confused. And I hoped God could understand. I thought to myself, "Since when are perfection and love not on the same side?" Really, couldn't my friend have prayed, "Lord, give us perfection in everything, but especially perfect love?"
Perfect seems to be an appropriate goal for everything but the Christian life. People try to attain a perfect weight or a perfect figure; they look for a perfect job or a perfect car. The athlete tries to play a perfect game. Perfect is perfect for everything, it seems, but the Christian life. Not only do people feel uncomfortable with the term, but also some would even fight against it.
It is "in" to excel in sports, your career or other accomplishments. To have a role model is recognized as important as long as it's a human role model. Somehow we feel more comfortable around the concept of having Shaq O'Neil or an astronaut as a role model than we do around the concept of having Jesus as a role model.
By the way, you know we tend to become like those who we habitually admire. We become like the people who are our heroes. It is a fact that the highest form of respect and admiration is imitation. Because of this fact many people are having great difficulties these days.
The Scripture says, "Love not the world neither the things that are in the world, for whoever loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." How can a person know--that is, how can we tell--if we love the world or not? The answer is to the extent to which we imitate it. This is where the whole matter of Christian standards comes in. I don't need to tell you that many do not see eye to eye on the matter of what Christian standards should be these days.
When we talk about standards--(I see lifestyle to a large extent as the same as standards)--a question, it seems to me, that needs to be addressed is, "Is there ever a merit in being different for different's sake?" The question could be put another way, and that is, "Is it reasonable to expect that those who love God will live and dress differently than those who don't?" What do you think?
You know, come to think about it, there may, in fact, be nothing intrinsically wrong with the way a worldly person dresses. For example, a new hairstyle may not in itself be right or wrong. The question is, who wears it? Is it something from Madonna or Michael Jackson? Do you see what I mean?
It goes back to the matter of influence. We become like those who we habitually admire. Scripture puts it another way. It says, "By beholding, we become changed." We actually become like that which is the center of our emotional focus.
It is hard to dress like a rabbit without sooner or later beginning to act like one. Of course, that is not to say that Christians and non-Christians will not have things in common. But in a diminishing way.
Let me explain. You see, it all has to do with the direction that a person is headed. People who are getting well may exhibit some of the same symptoms as those who are getting sick. For example, in a hospital two patients may have a 100-degree temperature. The difference is one is getting sick, the other is getting well.
I heard a story of a man who found Jesus while studying the Bible with a glass of beer in one hand and a cigar in the other. Yet my wife was perplexed to understand why four or five of her classmates from 35 years ago--people raised in the Adventist culture and lifestyle--would suddenly decide one day to get their ears pierced. Yes, the man found Christ with a cigar in one hand and a glass of beer in the other. But if the majority of you who are listening to me try to find Jesus that way, I'll tell you now, you will be disappointed.
How a soldier dressed, or I should say, what uniform he or she wore during Desert Storm was not a moral issue, but it was an issue of staying alive and indicated where your loyalty was; that is, whose side you were on and who you took your orders from. Personally, I believe that is what Christian lifestyle is about.
Back to the text in Matthew 5:48. It may be of interest to some to learn that Matthew 5:48 is not the only text in the Bible to mention the word "perfect." If the concept of perfection bothers a person, I don't know what we can do with the fact that the call to be perfect is all through the Bible:
Genesis 17:1 - "I am the almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect."
Deuteronomy 18:13 - "Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord your God."
1 Kings 8:61 - "Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God."
2 Chronicles 16:9 - "For the eyes of the Lord run to and from throughout the whole earth; to show himself strong on behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him."
Psalms 101:2 - "I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way."
Luke 6:40 - "The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
Matthew 19:21 - "If thou will be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor."
2 Corinthians 7:1 - "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
2 Corinthians 13:11 - " Finally brethren, be perfect."
Colossians 1:27,28 - "Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom: that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
Colossians 4:12 - "Laboring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. "
Hebrews 6:1 - "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection."
Hebrews 13:21 - "God make you perfect in every good work to do his will."
James 1:4 - "Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
1 Peter 5:10 - "But the God of all grace...shall perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you."
Personally, I don't find the Scripture's call to perfection to be discouraging or intimidating. I am thrilled by the fact that salvation is not flawed, it is not second class. It was not damaged in shipping.
The truth is, anybody who wasn't born yesterday knows that we're in trouble these days. Friends, our selfishness, pride, lust, bitterness, and criticism is ruining our lives and the lives of those around us. Our homes are falling apart. We are becoming universally dysfunctional as individuals and families. Not even to mention what is going on in society.
Salvation, if it is going to be relevant, the gospel, if it is going to be real, must be impacting on my present life or the gospel is not relevant for the 21 st century. But the fact is, the gospel is relevant for the 21 st century; the gospel is a perfect gospel. Our salvation is a perfect salvation that has come to us from a perfect Savior. This perfection of our salvation rubs off on those who get involved in it.
Please think now. God made mankind in His image. God is perfect and we were made perfect. The gospel is a gospel of perfection by which we are actually restored into His image. The problem is, we are like the woman whose husband had halitosis. Someone asked her how she stood it and she seemed surprised. "Oh," she said, "I thought all men's breath smelled that way."
Our problem is that sin has lead us to see the abnormal as normal and to accept the unacceptable. We have become so accustomed to our imperfection that we are actually defending, as it were, our own bad breath. Selfishness, pride, lust, criticism, and the lack of self-control are seen as normal, or if not as normal, as permanent disabilities which somehow we must live with in spite of the personal and social devastation that they cause.
Listen, ladies and gentlemen. Man was created perfect in the image of a perfect God. God will not be satisfied until He has restored that perfection that was lost back to us. I will not be satisfied either. And the Bible writers were not satisfied with the status quo either.
It is incredible, but perfect is perfect except where we really need it and that is in the kind of people we are. Having a perfect figure is okay; getting a perfect job is okay. Being a perfect basketball player is okay, but in the Christian life, don't try to be perfect or say that we believe it is possible.
Perhaps it is time that we stopped and thought about perfect as God has invited us. I am going to be talking with you about what it means to be perfect. How does a person sign up? Now where do we begin? How can you know if you are and can we get there from here?
Perhaps the reason many have avoided perfection as the orientation for Christian living is that they have had a personal bad experience themselves or with someone who had become a perfectionist. This is possible and understandable. Before we are through I hope you will have "bought into" making "to be perfect." Include not only your basketball game but your Christian life as well.
Really, the goal of perfection--of being perfect--is what gives us hope and direction in the Christian life. A person who does not know where they are going never gets there. How can we have target practice unless we have a target?
But we say we don't need to concentrate on being perfect, we need to concentrate on having love, compassion, forgiveness, and self-control. Wait a minute! That we should have love, compassion, forgiveness, and self-control was never the issue. The issue is, how much love, compassion, forgiveness, and self-control? What's wrong with perfect love, perfect compassion, perfect forgiveness, and perfect self-control?
God is calling us to allow Him to restore in us the perfection that we had when He made us. What's wrong with that? In Jesus Christ we may have that perfect salvation. I invite you to ask God to forgive us for accepting anything less than the best and to accept His perfect gift.