A simple thought on Perfection

A simple thought on Perfection:

We frequently see two contrasting models of personal production: perfectionism and slacking. These two are natural opposites, and so we can only search in vain for the point of righteousness (“balance”) in between.

Perfectionism and slacking represent two unhealthy extremes of much subtler principles: excellence and reason. The perfectionist craves excellence without constraint, whereas the slacker will reason and rationalise away the necessity for excellence.

In this tug of war we can be encouraged by two sure things:

  • Righteousness cannot be inherited, and so we are all born and bred with a bias for either excellence or reason
  • But all righteousness is attained, and so each one of us must grow into this beautiful harmony: excellence within reason

The Finch – 25 April 2012

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5 thoughts on “A simple thought on Perfection

  1. Franz, an interesting perspective. Talking about the ‘concept’ of perfection may sound philosophical to some, but if we are prepared to consider it then it touches us deeply in the personal and practical areas of motivation and identity. Who do I think I am? And how does that influence why I am a slacker or a perfectionist? This is also so relevant to our relationship with God and how we serve Him. For now, I have a few thoughts to contribute:

    1. I have always liked the biblical view of perfection, where it is defined as specific wholeness (being mature, healthy, everything you were created to be – or as you say, perfect within reason), as opposed to the secular conception of perfection (probably Greek) as generic faultlessness (being optimal in every way – or as you say, without constraint). The Greeks loved to speculate about ‘eternity’ and ‘infinity’ in ways that are really alien to the Hebraic worldview of the bible. Similarly, in education we have generic scales of excellence (0 – 100% for your test). A ‘perfect’ score for that test would thus supposedly be 100%. Or would it? This pervasive mentality is actually an unbiblical paradigm. Does God grade us all on the same scale? Wouldn’t one child’s 60% be another’s 80%? Couldn’t both have been perfect scores based on ability?

    2. The Greek view of perfection also compares us to some ‘external’ and ‘unattainable’ standard, instead of comparing us to ourselves. This is why our world is filled with competitiveness instead of self-improvement (excellence?). In the church, much preaching makes us feel like God compares us to the unattainable and finds us all falling short. But perhaps this is because we think God is from Athens. To God, wickedness has never been weakness (less than unattainable perfection), wickedness is being less that what you could be. We have been conditioned by the secular idea of perfection to think about ourselves as ‘never going to be perfect’, when in fact Jesus said ‘You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). So to the slackers, this will be an encouragement because perfection is in some way possible and necessary. And to the perfectionists, it is also important to see that to be within reason is to be perfect only within your calling, and not generically or in every way.

    3. Applying the attributes of ‘infinite’ Greco-perfection to God and Jesus has also had some profound influences on the way we think about divinity. In some way it may appear to give God glory by trumpetting His omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence – but it can lead to ridiculous speculation e.g. ‘Can God (in His ‘omnipotence’) make a rock too heavy for Him to pick up?’. Perhaps we need to rethink what we mean with all this omni- business (is it even biblical?). In fact, does infinity even exist at all? Similarly with Jesus, we preach only a barely human Messiah if we talk about His sinless ‘perfection’ and then speculate about what he knew and didnt know (in His ‘omniscience’). It gets crazy and complicated when you read the bible thinking like a Greek about perfection, and God’s Truth is not crazy and complicated – man’s wisdom is.

  2. A few comments related to the admin feedback above. Firstly, point 2:
    The Bible does talk about perfection – that is, moral perfection – in terms of an external standard against which our thoughts, actions and deeds are weighed. It does not compare us with ourselves, or what we could be, but rather with the standard of righteousness which the Lord Jesus Christ showed us in his walk on earth, God’s standard of holiness. The Bible charges us to strive towards “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14); God commands “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet 1); and we are told to be “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1). Matt 5: 17-22 is one passage that discusses God’s standard: “19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven…” (KJV). Matt 5:48 also refers to God’s standard of holiness.

    Our growth in holiness comes through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as we seek to be conformed to the will of God – which is written in the hearts of God’s people (Heb 8:10) by the Holy Spirit. If we all seek to obey the Lord Jesus and walk in his path of righteousness, we will not be competitive, because we will look to him and not to those around us.

    God does find us all falling short of his holy moral standard: it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ we are justified, not by our works, which are a necessary consequence, not a cause, of our faith and salvation in Christ. Rom 3 21– 28, particularly “… 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … … 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (KJV)

    Wickedness is not about being less than we could be; it is about disobedience to God’s standard of holiness, the moral law, summarised by the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. (1 John 3) – “4 Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Jer 17 – “9 ¶ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Unless we are quickened (made alive) by the Holy Spirit, we cannot obey God’s holy will, for our thoughts and intentions are evil from our youth (Gen 8:21), and we are conceived in iniquity (Ps 51:5).

    As far as holiness is concerned, we are commanded to do all things – every single thing – to the glory of God: (1 Cor 10) – “31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Christianity is not about what we are able to do within human reason – it is about what our Father enables and commands us to do by his Spirit in His service, which we could not do of our own ability. As Christians, we will not be completely free of sin in this life: Paul wrote in Rom 7, “22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (KJV).

    Our challenge is as Paul wrote in Phil 3: 8 – 14 “… But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

    With reference to point 3:
    Declaring – trumpeting – the knowledge and power of God does glorify him: a brief look through some of the Psalms will make this point; another example is Job 38-42 where God himself declares his power and glory. Whether or not speculation about a particular subject is possible has no bearing on whether or not the subject is true. Speculation – however ridiculous – about how or why an aeroplane flies in no way alters the fact that it is flying.

    The omni-business is biblical – the Bible makes it clear that there is nowhere that we can hide from God; there is nothing hidden from him in all creation; he is immanent (there is nowhere in creation we can get away from him), yet transcendent: he is not limited or confined to the universe he has created, and He is able to perform whatsoever he wills. For example, Heb 4:13 – “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Ezek 11:5 –“For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.” He knows our secret sins (Ps 90:8). When we pray, God knows what our prayer is before we even speak the words (Is 65:24). Ps 147:5 “Great is the Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite.” Acts 15:18, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning”. Prov 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” Dan 4:35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (KJV)

    In terms of ‘infinity,’ what other concept is there to describe the existence of a God who says, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” a God who was not created, who had no beginning and will have no end (in fact, IS the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End), who is not limited by time or space or the universe which he created?

    As far as the Lord Jesus Christ and his life on earth before the crucifixion is concerned, moral perfection (sinlessness) and omniscience are separate issues. Sin is the transgression of God’s law of holiness – whereas a lack of knowledge (for example knowing how many stars there are) is not necessarily sinful. Adam was sinless – morally perfect – before the fall, but not omniscient.

    We should be careful about making statements about Christ’s knowledge and understanding before the crucifixion. As far as I know, the only occasion on which the Lord Jesus Christ made a statement which possibly suggests his knowledge was limited is Matt 24:36; Mk 13:32 (note also Luke 2:52 concerning him). Apart from these statements, every question he asked was didactic, to teach those around him, and there are no occasions on which we are told it was for him to find out something he didn’t know. There is no record of the disciples asking him a question to which he did not know the answer, and it is clear on many occasions that he knew (supernaturally) what people were thinking or doing even when he couldn’t see or hear it, and he also knew what would occur in the future. For example, Mark 2 – “6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?” (See also, for example, Matt 17:22; 26:2, 12, 13, 21-25, 28-34; Mk 9:1; 10:33-34; 13:2-37; 14:18, 20-30; Luke 5:3-9; 6:6-8; 8:45-48; 17:22-31; 22:31-34, 61; John 1:44-51; 2:19 (note ‘I’); 4:17-19; 8:13-16; 10:17-18, 30-33; 11:9-15; 13:18, 21, 26-28)

    After the resurrection (John 21: 15 – 19,) “… Peter was grieved because he [the Lord Jesus Christ] said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (KJV)

  3. Hi All,

    This is indeed a very interesting discussion to follow! However, I think that John and Ken might be missing each other. John, as an older Christian, seems to be comfortable with exploring questions about the realities of Jesus as a living person here on Earth. I know for certain that this does not cause him to doubt what Scripture says nor does it derail his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at all, which is great. I do, however, think that questioning qualities that Scripture is clear on such as God’s omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience to be futile and maybe a bit dangerous. I.e. it maybe okay for us, as older Christians, to speculate about these things while still believing wholeheartedly that God’s Word really does reflect what He is like with no serious consequences BUT for a young Christian to come across such speculation would be unfortunate. What I mean is, such speculation may not derail one of us but for someone who is just starting out on their Christian journey, it is imperative that they know these things to be true! God IS omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent as He said He is. This must be so to a young Christian otherwise He (God) is no more than a created being and not the Creator Himself.

    With reference to young Christians, older Christians and people in general, I feel that it is important that we seek first to understand one another as much as possible. Within counselling situations, everyday interactions or marriages and friendships, listening and understanding go hand-in-hand. Once we have understood each other as much as possible, it is easier to understand how to position oneself when introducing God’s story (His holiness, moral law, mercy, grace, omniscience etc.) through Scripture and revelation into the person’s (person being counselled, teller at the nearby shop, one’s spouse or friend) story. Everything that Ken wrote is true but some people might struggle to accept it as is when dealing with the harsh realities of life.
    Thus I think it is important that we recognise two things:

    1. When we become Christians, Jesus asks us and expects us to accept quite a few facts (truth) about Himself, God, the Holy Spirit and life. Ken has listed many of these very well in his comment.
    2. However, Jesus also called Himself “the Truth” which means that “Truth” is also relational because it is embodied in the Personhood of Jesus. He said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” A Person is the Truth and he teaches us “truth” both through His Word and through relationship with Him.

    In conclusion, in my opinion, acceptance of the Truth needs to be both of these things: a steadfast belief and reliance on the facts of faith in God and a relationship with our glorious Saviour, who speaks to us through Scripture and revelation – to emphasise the facts about God without acknowledging a person’s context can lead to much anguish and frustration and in some cases, may cause a person to reject God. But to emphasise the relational aspect without the Biblical facts is just swinging the metaphorical pendulum to the other extreme. In my opinion, neither way is healthy or helpful, they need to be put together if we, as Christians, are going to live wisely among men and be true ambassadors for Christ here on Earth.

  4. Kenny, thanks for sharing your views, I will reply once I have had to time to think it through (its very long!). But perhaps two interdependent questions so long which I think have a huge bearing on how we perceive God and how we think about this issue –

    1) Does God expect things from us which we are not able to do/be?

    2) Does God differentiate between our weaknesses and our sins?

    If you think about it, these are very personal, relational issues and not just doctrinal…

    More later!

  5. Some thoughts related to point 1:
    God commands “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Yet the Bible tells us that we of our own will and strength are not capable of doing this, because we are sinful by nature : we have to be enabled and strengthened to do so by the Holy Spirit working in us.
    For example:
    1 Cor 2 (NKJV): 14 … the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    John 6 (AV) : 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

    65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
    66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

    And, in Eph 2, referring to Christians and their past life, it is pointed out that 3 “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” (NKJV)

    The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that (John 3, AV)
    “5 …Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
    6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

    Rom 8 provides additional depth on the difference between the nature of fallen man and the nature of the new man, in Christ, born of the Spirit (AV):
    6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
    7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
    8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
    9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

    On point 2,
    If by weakness you mean sinfulness, moral weakness, hardness of heart, then there is no distinction.
    But I don’t see that the Lord Jesus ever condemned people for a lack of physical strength (ie physical weakness) or a lack of ability in skill, strength, etc….

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