Ground straight and polished smooth
By Robert J. Ross
As a volunteer night chaplain, I watched an emergency room doctor tying the last knot of the many stitches that pulled the flesh together of what had been, just a few moments earlier, a gaping hole. He straightened his back and with eyes still focused on the repaired wound, spoke—as if to himself—the words, “perfect, just perfect.” I later thought, What did he really mean by that? Was it the stitching itself? Or the wound now perfectly closed? Was it the great job he did, or all of the above?
Jesus’ prominent Sermon on the Mount covers three chapters (Matt. 5–7) and focuses initially on the attitudes we should foster, being blessed or happy, regardless of circumstances. We know this first section as the beatitudes. Christ then shifts the attention to our motivations as to why we do what we do. It is our motives, our attitude, what we think, that shapes our actions that ultimately count. Halfway through His sermon, Jesus makes this startling statement in Matt. 5:48: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”1
What Does “Perfect” Mean?
“Perfect,” in the Bible, is expressed in many ways by many translations. Perfect can be blameless, loyal, complete, mature, knowledgeable, patient, loving, and following Him. Perfect describes things such as the law of liberty (James 1:25), sacrifices (Lev. 22:21), or God’s will (Rom. 12:2). Perfection is also often linked to action: the church of Sardis is rebuked because Christ had “not found [their] works perfect” (Rev. 3:2). To the rich young ruler Jesus counsels, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have … and … follow Me” (Matt. 19:21).
With all these uses, what then is “perfect,” or put more colloquially, “how white must the color white be, for perfect whiteness?” Ellen White’s famous quote “As God is perfect in His sphere, so we are to be perfect in ours,”2 may be helpful here and alludes to two different levels of perfection, God’s and humans’.
We know for sure that God at His level is perfect. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4). We also know that Jesus is perfect, “having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). We definitely recognize that we are not perfect, for our “righteousnesses are like filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). What “perfection in our sphere” must we then have? Jesus gives us a hint in His high-priestly prayer of John 17:23, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” Perfection, then, has two levels, God’s perfect Oneness within the Godhead, and humans’ perfect oneness with Christ.
Objective Perfection: God’s Perfect Oneness
Only Divinity can ever stake claim to this perfect oneness. It is the ultimate perfection. Even though God’s Son clothed Himself with frail humanity, tempted when His human body was at its weakest, still Satan could not place the tiniest wedge between Father and Son. Only Divinity can change rocks into bread. Through obedience to His Father, Jesus refused to use His own Divinity independently of His Father. “In Christ, divinity and humanity were combined. Divinity was not degraded to humanity; divinity held its place, but humanity by being united to divinity, withstood the fiercest test of temptation in the wilderness.”3 “‘He… suffered being tempted,’ suffered in proportion to the perfection of His holiness. But the prince of darkness found nothing in Him; not a single thought or feeling responded to temptation.”4 Jesus had the perfect attitude and oneness toward His Father that motivated Him to resist all temptations.
Subjective Perfection: Our Oneness With Christ
I like the way Ellen White describes our need of atonement. “Man could not atone for man. His sinful, fallen condition would constitute him an imperfect offering, an atoning sacrifice of less value than Adam before his fall. God made man perfect and upright, and after his transgression there could be no sacrifice acceptable to God for him, unless the offering made should in value be superior to man as He was in his state of perfection and innocency.”5
Christ’s pure attitude motivated absolute obedience resulting in a complete Oneness with the Father. That is true perfection. It is that imputed perfection that becomes the only means of our salvation. “This sacrifice was offered for the purpose of restoring man to his original perfection: yea more … to give him an entire transformation of character.”6
The imparted righteousness of Christ is the work He does in us, of changing us into His image, a oneness with Him. This is what being perfect in our sphere truly means. It is to be perfectly one with Him. Our attitudes are changed, motivating obedience in us to reflect Him fully. The image He originally created us to be is reflected by our oneness with Him (see Heb. 5:8, 9). Oneness is not found by subtracting wrongs out of ourselves, for that will leave a vacuum. Rather, by addition we grab everything of Christ we can get a hold of, denying that which shadows His glory. By beholding we become like Him and are changed into His glory. We will not only be His image but will be one with Him.
Scientists have recently discovered a way to make the first 100 percent completely flat and smooth surface on machined and highly polished glass. It is so flat and smooth that when two of these thick sheets of glass are slid one over the other, displacing all the air, the bond between the molecules becomes so great that it is near impossible to separate the two sheets of glass. They are truly one. Jesus’ perfect oneness with the Father through His obedience here on earth becomes our robe of (His) righteousness imputed to us for all of eternity. The righteousness that He wants to impart to us is the perfect oneness we can have through His Spirit’s leading. Obedience motivated by genuine love allows Him daily to grind and polish us until we are so absolutely bonded as one in Him that we will be nearly impossible to separate.
I think that captures something of what the emergency room doctor meant as he finished his stitching job. The wound was closed. The flesh was back together again as it should be. No more tearing apart. No more bleeding. Healing could begin. Perhaps there would not even be a scar—perfect.
1All Scripture references have been taken from the NKJV.
2Ellen G. White, Christian Education, p. 217.
3Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1890.
4Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 422.
5Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p. 9.
6Ellen G. White, Manuscript 49, 1898.
Robert J. Ross, a native of South Africa, is pastoring the Meadow Vista church in the Northern California Conference, U.S.A. He enjoys woodcarving and drawing and his ever-growing family, including six grandchildren.