“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:48 ESV)
Today we come to another verse in the Bible that is often quoted in isolation, i.e. out of context. I’ve heard numerous atheists point to this verse and the fact that Christian’s aren’t perfect as “proof” of Christianity’s impotence and irrelevance.
But as we learned a few weeks back, when we take a verse out of context we lose sight of its intended meaning. I call this fortune-cookie theology: taking just enough Scripture to fit in a fortune cookie and then making conclusions about it. This is always a bad idea.
In this verse Jesus is speaking. He has just wrapped up six examples of how human beings fall short of God’s standards. His audience is a large group of people who believed (because they’ve been taught) that the way to heaven is through behavior. They believed that a person could be “good enough” to get to heaven based on the things they did and/or didn’t do in life. This verse is the summation of Jesus’ previous statements. Therefore it should not be viewed in isolation from what preceded it.
What Jesus is saying here is “If you want to earn your way to heaven you can do that, but you must be perfect.” God’s standard is 100% holiness. Only perfection is allowed in heaven. That is why heaven will be so great. God, who is our heavenly Father, is the standard. He is perfect.
God does not grade on a curve. While we might pass a high-school chemistry test if we get 65% of the questions correct, when it comes to heaven we have to be without error. We cannot have sinned even once during our lifetime.
If we look at the areas of life Jesus previously addressed, we see a very high standard:
- We are to never have had unjustified, selfish anger towards another person
- We are to never have lusted after another person
- We are to never have uttered even the slightest bit of untruth
- We are to never have retaliated against someone who has wronged us
- We are to demonstrate love to all people, including those who hate us and persecute us
Needless to say, no human being meets this standard. Everyone one of us has fallen short of it by age two. It’s just our nature. Keep in mind that this list is just five of the many things God tells us to do/not do. There are many more sins we can and do commit.
But nevertheless, this is an impressive list. If everyone in the world just made an effort to do these five things this planet would certainly become a much better place.
But sadly the world actually espouses just the opposite of these behaviors. We see no problem with being selfish or with lusting. We think lying is just part of life and even think telling the truth is foolish in some cases. We retaliate endlessly against each other rather than seeking true justice. And we certainly don’t express love towards all people (social media is proof of that).
This, of course, begs the question, “How, then, does someone get into heaven”? The answer is by admitting that you are a sinner who deserves to be separated from God for all eternity because you’re not good enough to be in His presence. Then accept Jesus’ death as necessary and complete for the payment of those sins. If you do God will see your sins no more [Isaiah 43:25; Micah 7:19]. Then, when you die, you’ll be eligible to enter heaven because God will view you as perfect.
That is the best deal you’ll ever get.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.