Perfection has been defined as many things throughout history. The Greeks believed in perfection through philosophical thought. The Romans sought perfection through conquering the nations and incorporating those ways of life into theirs. Darwin implied it through the process of evolution. America seeks it through social reform and The Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge.
But if anyone thought they had a handle on how to attain perfection, it was the Jewish nation. Having been given the Law by God Himself, it seemed simple that if the Law were kept, God would bless and perfect those who kept the law.
When the rich young ruler approached Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” it seems likely he expected praise from Christ for his diligence in keeping the Law. There was little doubt that Jesus’ answer must include some form of keeping the Law—and so it did. “If you want to enter into life,” Jesus replied, “keep the commandments.” Yet both the rich young man and Jesus seemed to share the understanding that “entering into life” was insufficient. “Oh?” the ruler responds. “What’s left? What is it that I lack?”
Jesus’ answer was scandalous (yes, there’s that word again): “If you want to be perfect, sell everything (so that you may have treasure in heaven), and follow Me.” His implication was clear: “I Am that which you are missing for perfection. I Am the Holy and Perfect One.” Consider the beginning of the discussion between Jesus and this ruler. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Jesus wasn’t implying that He wasn’t God. He was challenging the ruler’s perception of who He was: “If you are going to call Me good, then you must acknowledge Me as God—and thus, the Lord who will require of you your all.”
Inherent in the entire dialogue between Jesus and the ruler is this question, in its various forms: What constitutes goodness? What makes us holy? How can we be perfected? The answer is simple in the abstract but difficult in application: following Him. I once heard a pastor ask a group of college students, “How many things does it take to keep us from perfection?” The answer, of course, is, “just one.” That which is holy is that which pure, set apart, and without blemish. Just one blemish prevented many an honorable Old Testament sacrifice. Just one part of the ruler’s heart (the love of his possessions) kept him from following Christ.
“What do I still lack?” All the good works in the world, all the attempts at making the body and mind perfect, all the boycotts and all the churchgoing and all the missions work and all the giving—still these do not measure up. That’s not to say that they are not good things; they may even help us enter into a better natural life. But perfection—that which is Christ-like and signifies the abundant life extending into eternity—is of the heart: a heart fully devoted to the Master in every respect, so that possessions, pride, sin, and selfishness have no hold. After His perfection enters a life, all good things flow from the abundance of God’s presence in the renewed heart, rather than from a sense of legalistic obligation or pride in self-improvement.
Just like the Greeks, the Romans, Darwin, modern philosophical thought, and the rich young ruler, we are in need of perfection. Yet only Christ succeeded in demonstrating the reality of perfection. We either attain to or come short of perfection by just one criterion:
Does our heart follow Him?