Becoming Perfect

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

This verse, and John Wesley’s teaching on perfection, is some of what I struggle most with as a Christian. I certainly know I’m not perfect, and from where I sit, I doubt I would ever be able to achieve a state of errorlessness on this side of the veil. Wesley taught that it was possible, to some degree, to achieve perfection in this life:

…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’ ( A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism, p. 12). 

“In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: the royal law of heaven and earth is this, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end” (ibid.). Lastly, perfection is “deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin” (ibid., p. 26) and “a Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin” (ibid., p. 25).

Wesley is right in that it ought to be possible to achieve a “habitual disposition of the soul” towards Christ, and indeed, I know people like that, and I want to become one someday. I also know, though, that those are people who still sin. They are human, after all.


Jesus’ assertion that we are “to be perfect, even as” God is perfect, though, allows for the possibility that this completeness won’t happen on this side of death. And I think that’s OK: we will become perfect, one day, and while we can certainly strive for improvement, even perfection, in this life, it’s important (I believe) to cut ourselves enough slack to recognize our continuing frailty and humanity even after our justification through grace.