As my first venture into this forum as an actual column contributor, I am going to post something I wrote for my own blog recently. First, however, a little background on my basic philosophy of life as a process of becoming.
I believe in a very simple framework for eternal progression: Identify the ideal for which you want to strive, then identify where you are in relation to that ideal. Accept the fact that you are unable to live / meet that ideal (that there is a gap between the ideal and the real) and that the goal is to figure out where you are right now, identify what the gap is between where you are and where you want to get, and draw up a step-by-step plan that lays out what you need to do to continually move toward your ideal – not to reach it in any particular time frame. I believe in tackling one thing at a time for a set period of time – and in being willing to accept incremental growth and improvement as good enough. I believe in the concept and power of grace – that God knows I can't do it all, that He has made allowances for my inability to do it all, and that His tears of both joy and sorrow fall more freely for his children who try to do it all than for for His children who ignore Him in more obvious ways. I believe in the real power of the Atonement – not just the suffering of Christ in Gethsemane, but the entire eternal process that constitutes the Atonement. I believe that if there is one great truth that is understandable to all, it is this: “I am child of God.”
I believe I am a son of God, with all that such a belief entails. I believe that the “Atonement” is the best name we have for Heavenly Father's overarching plan to take me (and each of you) from a strictly spiritual state to my eventual end – becoming, in actual reality, at one with Him. It is not an event; it is a process – and that process is laid out for us in detail by Jesus Himself, in the scriptures available to all Christians (and all humanity). It is that process that will be the focus of my column here.
As the foundation, here is what I wrote for my personal blog recently. I will re-title it here as “Understanding Perfection”.
The great commandment “in the law” is, in summary, “Love God and everyone else.” (Matthew 22: 35-40) However, the great culmination of Christ's penultimate sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is a powerful commandment outside the law – and, in a very real way, is the practical application of the command to love. This foundational command is contained in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”
Apostate Christianity has addressed this commandment in two ways: 1) by applying a legalistic (Law of Moses-like) meaning (“never make a mistake/commit a sin”) and, based on the impossibility of that definition, 2) turning it into a suggestion – something one cannot hope to achieve but a nice platitude regardless. (“Try not to make mistakes/sin, but realize it doesn't really matter in the long run.”) While this sounds fine – and even laudable – to most people, it totally destroys the power and beauty of the command itself. It is my conviction that someone simply cannot understand the atonement (and the full grace that makes “atonement” possible) if they accept and internalize this apostate definition of perfection. Let me emphasize that “mistake-less” and “sin-less” are apostate definitions for perfection as it applies to us as a command.
If you have the scriptures available, either in book form or via the Church's website, please open the Bible to Matthew and actually look at what I am about to describe. (Waiting for that to happen, so do that, if you can, before continuing to read. ————————— Giving you time and one more prod to do it.)
The footnotes to Matthew 5:48 make a critical definition distinction – one that changes the entire meaning and empowers the command in an amazing way. Footnote (b), which is attached to the word “perfect”, defines it from the Greek thus: “complete, finished, fully developed.” This means that the verse can be read as follows:
“Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which is in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed.” What an amazing difference!
I am planning on delving further into the practical application of this principle in future posts, since I don't want this one to be a novella all by itself, but suffice it to say here that this definition changes fundamentally how our quest for perfection should be understood and approached – and, at the most basic level, lies at the heart of nearly every aspect of the atonement (grace, repentance, faith, works/fruits and, perhaps most importantly for many – especially women – guilt, shame and spiritual/emotional freedom).
If you take nothing from this post but one message, take the fact that you do NOT need to feel ashamed and guilty and overwhelmed by your “incomplete, unfinished, partially developed” state. The world teaches that such a state is irreconcilable with God; Matthew 5:48 says otherwise – saying it can be done – and the practical way to do so is provided, as well.
That practical process is what I will address in upcoming posts.