“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48].
Talk about pressure. That’s pressure.
I am going to make some “blanket statements” regarding Matthew 5:48. These kinds of statements always get me in trouble. Notable exceptions to my thoughts exist. Notable people exist and they come forward to poke holes in my statements.
But here they are anyway…
People in American society don’t deal well with the challenge put forth by Jesus in Matthew 5:48. When Jesus calls on us to be perfect, he is reflecting a big goal of God for man and it is what we call a “high bar”. When we think about what God wants, it seems impossible. “How long is it going to take me to get perfect?” “Is there some pill I can take to get that way or maybe some quickie diet that I can start?”
Then it occurs to us that Jesus is not talking about quick; He is talking about a life-long process, for most of us, a lifelong struggle. Pastor Labberton* likes to talk about us getting to the point where we can see the needs of the less fortunate. This new vision does not come overnight, but it stems from a person taking on the title of Christian. Pastor Deron Spoo states that this is just the beginning. “The process of following Jesus daily and allowing His presence to transform our character into something more like His” is the biggest challenge that anyone will ever take on. “The process necessitates a lifetime of labor and unrest. Following Jesus is an out-and-out effort until we drive home the final spike–until we draw our last earthly breath” [243-44]**
It is hard work and let’s be honest; many of us don’t want to work hard. It is a commitment and that is a scary word for many. It also is a frustration because we continually fall short of our goal. One of the most quoted verses of the New Testament comes from Paul in Romans when he says “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That is not a pleasant message. We won’t experience success at this “Christian thing” all the time. We will fail over and over again. Does that sound like something you want to commit to? I don’t know about you but when I think I have made some progress, I find myself falling back into old habits, committing old sins, thinking those same impure thoughts and doing those same ungodly acts.
The only way we pick ourselves up and move forward is the idea of grace and mercy, grace and mercy from our loving Father God.
If I have learned anything over the years, it is that I cannot live this life without God’s tender love. He knows me. He sees my every act. He is aware of my every thought and yet He loves me. When I fail, I am shamed, but he does not want me to remain in a failed state. He wants me to grow closer to Him. He wants me to do what I can do to further His kingdom on earth. He does not want me to grovel and be ineffectual due to my failure. He extends His loving hand to me to pick me up and get me going again.
Grace and mercy…
Labberton says the “only hope for [a] clearer and deeper vision is grace. But we receive such grace usually by acting, asking for it and taking steps to receive it. Admitting our need for a renewed mirror per se does not produce hope. . . .My life has changed and continues to change because of friends and others who are much further down the road than I am. . . .people I know call me into a new and different life.”
It works like that. God alone can inspire us but also God working through people inspires us to be better than we are.
I have been teaching my adult Sunday school class and lately we have been concentrating on The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” In Labberton’s book, he wants us to know that Christians need to “pay it forward.” As God shows us mercy, we should show mercy ourselves. Jesus speaks of the man in Matthew 18 who owes a staggering amount of money and his entire debt is forgiven. Despite this awesome act of grace on the part of his lender, he does not extend the same grace to someone who owes him a much smaller sum of money.
Grace seems to do nothing for him. It does not stimulate him to show grace, to grow, to transform from his greedy state.
He is stuck.
I don’t believe God works that way. I need His grace. I can’t follow His path without it. I need to learn to forgive. I need to choose an attitude of less judgement and more generosity. If He is growing in me, I need to understand the needs of others and put my needs aside.
As I get mercy, I need to show mercy.
Indeed, if I can do that, that is transformation, transforming grace.
*The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor
**Deron Spoo The Good Book