"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." —Philippians 3:12.
Does a perfect, humanly drawn triangle or square measuring all sides impeccably down to the most micro-measurement exist? If it exists, is it replicable? Who is that person capable of producing such a feat? Is it possible that all humanity can achieve such perfect standards if the right pencil and ruler existed, given the most pristine sheet of paper without any blemish? Such questions ruin my day—I refuse to think about it. Our attempts at seeking infinite measures of perfection in a world wrought with human limitations would end up being failures.
In Old Testament times, the people of God heard God call for the fulfillment of the law in perfectly righteous measure.
God’s law was given, and more laws were made to fulfill the original laws perfectly. It was soon about pursuing a perfecting of the statutes that perfected the law. The preoccupation of perfection of the law became excessive and obsessive for those wanting to please God.
Every stroke and dot of the written law was seen as a call was seen as a call to perfect performance in worship and daily living. Anything less than the high mark of perfection was seen as missing the mark. To miss the mark of perfection was to sin against God. But was God really calling for this level of legality? What was designed to be a fulfilling relationship between God and His people became a disorder of the soul—an obsessive-compulsive requirement to keep the law (the need to draw the perfect shape every time with imperfect tools).
The inability to fulfill such requirements ended in despair, and the tiring thought of starting over repeatedly became a burden. When would someone relieve God’s people by calling out “It is finished”? Is it not possible that God initially gave such laws for perfecting righteousness? That is, to keep His people safe from themselves, that they might remain well and whole while enjoying Him?
We are able to see the human struggle of works-righteousness from the Garden of Eden until that final moment when Jesus gave His life, declaring that the tiring, self-effort of perfecting our righteousness was finished! There are plenty of examples in Scripture and in our own lives where humans seek to earn favor with God through our own efforts. In the Old Testament, one could imagine how competitive priests might have brought legalism down to the level of perfectly cut firewood used in burnt offerings. We also see such competition as a central point in the story of Cain and Abel. The very fact that no one (from Eden to Gethsemane) understood that the giving of the original law was about God's love for His people reveals that something was broken in our relationship with God.
John Wesley, in his sermon on Christian Perfection, took great pains to explore that this perfection was not about creating the perfect outward performance. God’s laws on righteousness were about shaping the quality of a loving relationship. Perfecting our quality of love is the foundation of the matter. When I love with my whole body, mind, and soul, I do not hoard the “perfect lamb” for myself. I offer it happily and willingly to the One I love.
That is the point of Christian perfection. It is not about creating an outward appearance of perfection—it is about a love made perfect. A love so pure that it offers the Lamb of God, “the only begotten of heaven,” to save wretched but loved people. Now, I love Him with all of me. Not wanting in any way to offer anything less than my all, I can see that loving God perfectly, being perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect, invites me to give my entire being—my mind, body, soul, and strength; my all—in whole abundance. Though the shape may not appear perfect on the outside, that is true Christian perfection.
Gabriel Benjiman currently serves as the regional education and clergy development coordinator for the Church of the Nazarene in Africa. He holds graduate and postgraduate degrees in theology and social sciences. Gabriel and his wife, Mary, along with their two daughters, live in South Africa.
To read the full text of the sermon, click here.