“Keep perfection and choose integrity, because there is a good end for men of peace.” (Psalm 37:37)
When a new year begins, many people look back to tally their experiences: challenges and victories, losses and gains, adventures and relationships.
Whether prompted by the new year or by other moments unique to each person, it is not uncommon to assess what has passed in order to determine where there is room for growth or for better choices.
Looking back can be valuable as long as it leads to a decision to live to a higher standard—God’s standard; however, for many people, pursuing the perfect “New You” doesn’t always entail this.
We are often driven by ideas about perfection that have nothing to do with God’s standards.
What we strive for can reflect the standards others have imposed upon us—including behaviors and attitudes we adopt that can be damaging and even ungodly.
To align our lives more closely to our ideas of perfection, we often make New Year’s Resolutions that include losing or gaining weight, saving or investing money, working out or working harder, and traveling more or traveling less.
These can be worthy goals. If we give them greater importance than they should have, however, they may not serve us well in our walk with the Lord.
What matters is God’s view of our behavior and His definition of living “perfectly.” After all, the command to be perfect is His.
“You must be blameless [tamim / perfect] before the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13)
Is It True That Nobody Is Perfect?
In Judaism, perfection is perhaps divided into two categories:
- The perfection we pursue, and
- The perfection we must maintain.
“Judaism takes an ambitious but not obsessive view on striving for excellence in an imperfect world,” states Elicia Brown. “The oft-quoted passage from the Torah, ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue,’ teaches that our focus is not on the goal, but on the attempt to reach it.” (Jewish Woman Magazine)
So while perfection is the goal, pursuing that goal is what is important.
Such an idea might remind us of the saying “practice makes perfect;” however, what is really behind this pursuit is emunah (faith).
People are not born perfect. Pursuing perfection, therefore, involves learning.
It takes obedience, diligent effort, and commitment, all of which encompass a step-by-step, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
When it comes to grasping perfection, it is helpful to understand the Hebrew word tamim, which is often translated as blameless in English Bible translations.
This Hebrew word means perfect, unblemished, without defect, blameless, complete, and whole.
We see in the Torah, for instance, that God requires a sacrifice to be tamim, which means the sacrifice must be perfect or without blemish.
“You are to present before the LORD an animal without defect.” (Leviticus 3:1; see also 1:3, 10; 4:3, 23; 5:15, 18, 28)
Although it is easy to connect the idea of perfection to a sacrifice, we usually consider perfection as something unattainable and out of reach.
The axiom “nobody’s perfect” is often the knee-jerk response when somebody demands that we be perfect. This saying is also used as an excuse for our poor behavior or moral failures.
Still, the Bible does reveal that God considers some people perfect.
For instance, Noah is described as perfect:
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless [tamim] among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Genesis 6:9)
Furthermore, God calls Abraham to be perfect, as well:
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me faithfully and be blameless [tamim].’” (Genesis 17:1–2)
What Does It Mean to Be Perfect?
Common ideals of perfection often revolve around beauty and manner. This is connected to evaluating a person by their outward appearance.
Some people’s ideals of perfection revolve around fulfilling all of the Law, although Hebrews states that the Law in itself made nothing perfect. (Hebrews 7:19)
In Matthew, Yeshua told a young man who kept the law that to be perfect, he should sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him. The man was saddened by His answer, since he had great wealth. Though God wants us to have our needs met abundantly, to be perfect, our hearts must be set on Him and not on our riches. (Matthew 19:13–28)
God’s idea of perfection revolves around faith and behavior, as well as growing the substance of the inward man into the likeness of God.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
In the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant), the word usually translated as “perfect” in English Bibles is the Greek word teleios, from which “telescope” is derived. It implies reaching a completion of spiritual maturity, as in a telescope that unfolds until it reaches its full and complete length.
In Deuteronomy 18:13, God commands us to be perfect.
That demand is made in the context of not imitating the practices of the nations, specifically forbidding any kind of involvement with fortunetelling, which God finds abominable.
Only God knows the future and our trust should be placed in Him alone, and not in those who tell fortunes, as they will mislead us in a variety of ways.
Moreover, Bible prophecy does provide reliable indicators of what the future holds, and this generation certainly has much evidence of this in everything that is unfolding with the Jewish People and the State of Israel.
According to the medieval French rabbi Rashi, when we are perfect in our faith, we trust that our future is in God’s hands and walk with Him simple-heartedly. (Chabad)
This type of wholehearted love is behind the Hebrew word tamim (perfect), and those who love God this way find their peace of mind and security in Him.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)
James also provides an indication of what perfection looks like:
“We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)
In other words, people who are perfect are in control of their mouth, and their flesh or physical needs do not dictate their actions.
The Bible pairs the idea of being blameless or complete with integrity, faithfulness, honesty, and wisdom. Perfection involves mature decisions to avoid those things that would make us stumble.
“If we’re talking about matters of integrity and decency, then perfection is actually our bottom line,” writes Shais Taub. (Chabad)
“Perfection doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable expectation, if we are to think of the alternative as an employee who doesn’t steal 99% of the profits, or a spouse who is faithful 99% of the time,” Taub states.
Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) have an advantage to becoming perfect since the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) empowers us to lead holy lives, if we allow Him to:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
We know that the Holy Spirit is working in our life, when we bring forth good fruit:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
Several of these character traits can only grow and deepen during interactions with others; otherwise, they continue to be untested. It is in such interactions that we see our fruit and our failings.
Sometimes, during the course of an interaction, we are surprised to notice fruit rotting just below the surface. When we isolate ourselves from others, it is easy to be blind to our flaws and tell ourselves that we have reached the goal of perfection.
Good fruit grows out of pure intentions and obedience to God, and it reaches perfection when it is bonded together with love; however, it is “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life.” (Colossians 3:14; Luke 8:14)
A true commitment to God and enthusiasm for godliness are important ingredients in faithfully pursuing perfection.
That commitment begins with us being hungry to serve God as He would have us. It continues with us being willing to be corrected by Him. It is evidenced by our spiritual fruit and a delight in being a blessing to those around us, even at great personal cost.
It is hindered by being half-committed, prideful, or self-centered, just as a winter storm can slow the development of a tender plant.
But striving for perfection is worth the effort. It is not only personally fulfilling, it brings blessing and reward:
“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness.” (1 Samuel 26:23)
“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear Me and keep all My commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29)
Should we beat ourselves up when we realize that we haven’t yet reached a state of perfection? Romans 8:1–4 states that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua.”
If we are no longer condemned, should we even try to be perfect then? This same passage answers that with a resounding “yes!”
It emphasizes that Yeshua “condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4)
Paul makes it clear that we are obligated to be led by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and not by our flesh:
“We have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:9–11)
Although Yeshua is the final sacrifice for our sins so that we may have eternal life, He expects us to keep working out our salvation by pursuing a complete and blameless spiritual life, through reliance on His Ruach living in us.
The pursuit of perfection is our thank-you gift to Him, so during the days, weeks and months of this year, may we follow Him more closely and seek to be more like Him, who is indeed perfect.